At this American airport an airliner is about to embark for Minneapolis, and the passengers are set to board it, though one of them pauses to buy a lipstick from the cosmetics counter. The Captain, Hank O'Hara (Charlton Heston), is surprised to see his old flame Angela Thacher (Yvette Mimieux) is the lead stewardess since he didn't think he'd be working with her again after they broke off their relationship, and besides she is now the girlfriend of his co-pilot Sam Allen (Mike Henry), but this will be the least of his worries as the flight commences. With the various people from all walks of life now ready to fly, including a Senator (Walter Pigeon), a cellist (Rosey Grier) and a G.I. (James Brolin) added to the list at the last moment, little do they know they are on a journey into terror...
Well, one of them knows, as he is the hijacker in one of the more obvious rip-offs of the worldwide hit Airport to arrive in the nineteen-seventies. Charlton Heston would of course go on to make his mark in an official entry in that franchise three years later with Airport 1975, so you could regard Skyjacked as a dry run for that, they certainly shared their campier elements in common, though the details were rather different. Not different enough for some folks, as this will always be in the shadow of the series that helped to make air travel seem all the more fraught with danger in this decade, though not half as much as the actual hijackers abroad in the world who were using terrorist tactics to divert planes and hold passengers hostage in the name of their causes.
Whether movies (and television) like this were reflecting real life of giving the terrorists ideas was debatable, but it was clear from the era when airborne crime really took off, if you'll pardon the pun, pop culture was embracing it in a way that suggested there was a lot more to fear in the modern world, even in supposedly mundane and everyday matters like simple travel. Nothing was simple according to these efforts, there was potential death, destruction and madness lurking at every turn and the scary thing was the agents of these blights on society could look like and conceal themselves in the bodies of ordinary people. So it is the hijacker here is not some easily spotted misfit, but the very person who the nation should be pinning its hopes on to secure a safer world.
No, it wasn't the pilot, but once a message appears on a toilet mirror written in that lipstick saying there's a bomb on the plane, and later one instructing the journey to be diverted to Anchorage, the flight crew have to work out who among the passengers is the culprit with the potential to blow them out of the sky. Actually, he's not that difficult to spot since he was played by an actor of lower celebrity power than the rest of them at the time, as the cast was studded with famous names, some in the Autumn years of their career like Jeanne Crain, and others new on the scene like Susan Dey. Another reason he's easier to spot is down to his character becoming a cliché as the era marched on, and the Vietnam War spawned fall-out from the shame of America's losses which in pop culture translated to the veteran who has gone nuts thanks to his harrowing experiences.
It's not giving much away to reveal James Brolin in rather farfetched fashion has smuggled aboard a bomb, guns and grenades, suggesting as long as you wear a uniform you can take all sorts of death-dealing paraphernalia onto an aircraft and nobody will check. Getting to the heart of America's unease with the war in the Far East in spite of being a throwaway popcorn thriller was not what you'd necessarily expect, yet many a flick to follow would exploit it, from Taxi Driver to First Blood and far lower down the quality scale, and Skyjacked got in fairly early - they were not all Coming Home, that was for sure. If you were a Vietnam War veteran who didn't happen to be a raving psychopath you had some justification in objecting to this portrayal, but the idea was too potent to resist for filmmakers. As for the manner this played out, it was like a more violent, widescreen TV movie that happened to have a more notable calibre of star, only interesting aside from the trashier amusements when Brolin reaches Moscow and wonders what the hell he was thinking. Music by (Incredible Bongo) Perry Botkin Jr.