[Translated title: 713 Requests Permission To Land]
Director: Grigori Nikulin
Starring: Vladimir Chestnokov, Otar Koberidze, Lev Kruglyy, Lyudmila Abramova, Nikolai Korn, Yefim Kopelyan, Vladimir Vysotsky, Lyudmila Shagalova, Nonna Ten, Aleksandr Barushnoy, Joseph Konopatsky
Screenplay: Alexey Leontyev and Andrei Donatov
Foreword: So. Part 2.
Back when I finished reviewing The Crowded Sky – which was, sigh, three years ago – I did what I always do and started checking my access to the next film in the genre queue. As far as I then knew, that was Fate Is The Hunter, which is both an example of the extremely rare outright disaster movie of the 1960s, and a critical film in its own right for reasons that I swear I will get around to explaining some day. But with a four-year gap between the two films in question, I also did the other thing I always do—which is spend some time poking around to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.
And I had missed something: nothing less than what was – or looked like – a Russian aeroplane-based disaster movie, from 1962.
It was soon evident that no English-language copy of 713 Prosit Posadku was readily available—or indeed, as it turned out, available at all.
That baulked me for a time; but the film became an itch I couldn’t scratch, and I started looking into untranslated sources. I thought I’d hit pay-dirt via an American outfit specialising in Russian films (and based in Brighton Beach, no less), and which had a reasonably priced disc listed. So I gave in and ordered a copy…and had my money refunded the next day: item out of stock.
That was as far as it went for quite a while; but my OCD had already been triggered—meaning that though I wasn’t getting anywhere, I also couldn’t bring myself to just move on. So this became one of a handful of films for which, every few weeks or months, I sit down and start poking around again, just in case.
Eventually I learned that 713 Prosit Posadku had been released on DVD in Eastern Europe…naturally enough without English subtitles (if you speak Czech, you’re good to go, though). And finally I got to the point of pondering an order—which required a stupid number of hours translating web-pages, doing currency exchange calculations (as always, it isn’t the disc, it’s the shipping that’s prohibitive), and getting deeper and deeper into my Google search…
…all of which ultimately led me to the discovery that there was a copy of 713 Prosit Posadku available free online…
So here we are.
Finding 713 Prosit Posadku was one thing; making sense of it was something else.
Hence the dry run of Flug in Gefahr…though that was something of a cheat, inasmuch as I was already intimately familiar with that film’s plot, plus being able to recognise enough random German words to gain hints as needed. A far cry from a film about which I knew little, and in which couldn’t recognise a word of the language. But, oh well, all I could do was give it a try and see how I went, right?
So did I go?
In a word—poorly.
To be fair, though, it isn’t all my fault. In-film, there are two significant reasons why I couldn’t make head or tail of much of what was going on in 713 Prosit Posadku, one of which was only apparent after I’d watched it and retreated to Google once again to see if anyone could help me out. And I did eventually find a couple of posts that gave me a clearer idea of what I’d missed; though alas, without offering anything like a full review.
In short, it turns out that the most significant detail in 713 Prosit Posadku is something that cannot be deduced from its visuals—with the plot literally revolving around Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.
And in addition to that, while this is in many respects a text-book disaster movie – by which I mean, many of the characters sit around having angsty conversations about their problems – those scenes are unsupported by flashbacks…leaving me none the wiser minutes of angst later. In most cases, I suspect, we aren’t missing all that much; but there is one character whose motivations we absolutely need to know, but which remain a mystery to the end.
All that said—I’m still going to go ahead with this rather silly project, partly because of the time already invested, partly because I think this is an important and rather fascinating film: a rare example of the disaster movie manifesting at this time beyond the confines of American and British film-making.
I’ll also let you in on some of what I figured out or discovered as we go along, so that this review isn’t as bewildering to you as watching 713 Prosit Posadku was to me.
After some rather arty opening titles, we watch stock footage of airports and people boarding planes—while a narrator, who makes no further contribution, offers something along the lines, I’m guessing, of, “Every day, thousands of people fly without incident! This is not one of those days…”
The first plane we see here is branded SABENA, which was a Belgian airline based out of Brussels. We also see a Boeing 707 intercontinental, which is less informative as this was the leading model of plane for international flights at the time. Inside the airport is an information desk bearing the logos of several airlines; while behind it, significantly, is a translated sign: ARRIVAL / LLEGADA, which places us in Spain, or at least a Spanish-speaking country.
In the film proper, the plane at the heart of the action is branded PANSA—which I think is a fictional airline, although the research waters are muddied by the current existence of the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency. We see the plane through the windows of an airport executive’s office, as he is confronted by a number of government sp00ks. The executive produces and flicks through a set of papers—possibly the passenger manifest for the flight in question. He hands the document over for inspection. However, he also shakes his head in response to a verbal request, which the others don’t seem happy about.
There is a significant cut away to a booking office, where a certain bespectacled individual is debating something with the attendant. We cut again to the airport lounge, where the camera begins showing an inordinate interest in the various drinks being prepared. It zooms in on a tray of coffee subsequently served to a flight crew, and watches as they drink it; though we note the hostess only has about half of hers before a PA announcement gets them on their feet.
Up on a walkway, three members of the media look on. One of them seems to recognise Glasses, though I’m not sure (given later events) how / why he should.
Meanwhile, the executive makes a couple of phone-calls. The last is to the booking-office attendant, who apparently tells Glasses that there is a seat available on the flight he wants after all…
The passengers begin to board flight #713.
(The flight in all the versions of Arthur Hailey’s Flight Into Danger is #714; surely this isn’t a coincidence?)
They are the usual motley disaster-move crowd, including parents with a small boy, an older Indian woman with her young granddaughter, a young man in a sailor’s uniform, and a priest (or a minister, or a missionary, or a pastor, according to who you ask). Some of the rest, we gather, are supposed to be American; there is also a young Vietnamese woman.
And there’s a middle-aged man who has a glass bowl full of goldfish with him—and I’m going to just get this out of the way: yes, they eventually do that, and yes, it is supposed to be funny. Bastards.
On board, we see that this plane offers that horrifying and tortuous seating arrangement, wherein four unconnected passengers are forced to sit staring at each other across a table—ugh.
Glasses boards late. As he walks up the aisle, three people react to his presence: another two middle-aged men in suits, one with no glasses, one with double-glasses; and a woman. The latter is obviously surprised and pleased; but Glasses, after briefly locking eyes with her, turns away and passes on into the first-class area—where he is almost the only passenger.
And this, I suppose, is as good a time as any to deal with the elephant that is not in the living-room:
The flight was supposed to be carrying a Soviet delegation. Only they cancelled, possibly due to information received. So whatever plot was set in motion at the airport, it now has no target.
But I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that Glasses had manoeuvred himself (with the connivance of the executive? – or was the executive ordered to let him on board?) into first class.
And it occurs to me now that in spite of what my online informant says, the absent men may not have been a Soviet delegation at all, any more than most of the other passengers seem to be Russian. The gentleman I’ve been calling “Glasses” is actually Philip Dubois (though that isn’t his real name either, apparently), and he is – according to sources – “an antifascist”. And given that this is the early 60s and we may be in Spain, this might be a film about an attempt on some of Franco’s ministers: a plot that would have caused less of a kerfuffle in Moscow, no doubt.
Shortly after the plane takes off – a five-man crew, we note, plus a single hostess – The Woman From His Past makes her way into first-class and tries to reconnect with Glasses—only to recoil when he rebuffs her. She retreats, hurt, though she does not confide in the man she is with. I think he is a reporter, though I am not sure (he certainly knows a lot of people); he carries a camera, and will film some of the later events. Glasses, meanwhile, is obviously dismayed by the woman’s presence on the flight.
We now enter the yack-yack phase of 713 Prosit Posadku (I’ll spare you most of it). In particular, we spend time with Priest, Sailor, Asian Woman and an individual I found myself thinking of as World-Weary. The latter two spend much time exchanging angst, after World-Weary intervenes in Sailor’s crude advances towards the young woman.
This is where online information about this film tends to get about twisted: Sailor is played by Vladimir Vysotsky, in his film debut. Vysotsky went onto to a lengthy and successful career as an actor (screen and stage), singer, womaniser and general troublemaker; and there is a tendency amongst those who write about this film at all to insist that Sailor is its hero (and note his prominence on the DVD image on the left above); when in fact his character is (i) minor, (ii) a nasty bit of work, and (iii) one of the inevitable Panicky Idiots, when things go wrong.
(Some of these confirmed; some my best guess:)
Glasses aka “Richard Günther” aka Philip Dubois………………………………..World-Weary aka Henry………………….
[Vladimir Chestnokov]……………………………………………………………..[Otar Koberidze]
………………….Cameraman aka Jiri……………………………………………….The Woman From His Past aka Eva Priestley
…..[Lev Kruglyy]………………………………………………………………………..[Lyudmila Abramova]
In the back row, a passenger tries to force some pills on the man next to him, who is obviously airsick. The man refuses, leading to Pills later doping his drink for reasons that remain baffling for some considerable time.
In the cockpit, a yawning pilot has already handed control over to the co-pilot so that he can take a nap. Now he resists his colleagues’ attempts to wake him up. They find it funny at first—at least until the navigator and radio operator also start yawning and rubbing their eyes. The co-pilot takes the precaution of turning on the auto-pilot…
Meanwhile, Double-Glasses approaches Glasses about…something. Maybe a seat in first class? He too is rebuffed. Another man approaches The Woman From His Past about…Glasses? Glasses, yes, but indirectly: he shows her a sketch-pad full of line-drawings of the various passengers, eventually in order to draw her out on the subject of her, ahem, old friend. The two fence verbally.
About this time, after a debate with his seat-mate, Gourmand, Double-Glasses makes his way up to the cockpit. He knocks – there is no reply – he goes in…
…and comes out again in a state of shock. He has to be helped into a seat by Cameraman, who responds to his inarticulate gestures and goes to see for himself what’s wrong.
He sees, all right: the entire flight-crew unconscious in their seats, the hostess on the floor. (So much for the seemingly significant shot of her only drinking half her coffee.) The steering column, under the control of the auto-pilot, moves gently back and forth…
[Nikolai Korn]…………………………………………………………………..[Yefim Kopelyan]
……[Yuriy Yenokyan]…………………………………………………………………..[Zana Zanoni]
Cameraman backs out and moves slowly down the aisle. Glasses glances up as he passes, then goes back to pretending to read his paper. At this point there is a shot of each of the other passengers, before Cameraman approaches—
—World-Weary—and we don’t know why—we never really know why—but obviously World-Weary is “someone” and Cameraman knows it—or thinks he knows it—but World-Weary only laughs—at first—but finally gives in and goes up to the cockpit.
Cameraman, meanwhile, tells the passengers only that there is a medical situation in the cockpit. He is pointed in the direction of Pills, but he denies being able to help. Indian Woman responds (she’s a nurse), but she is the only one; though Cameraman exchanges looks with Glasses.
“Is there really no-one else?” Cameraman asks at last, plaintively.
And with an exasperated gesture, Glasses gets to his feet and heeds the call—much to the interest of Sketch-Pad Man.
In the cockpit, as Glasses takes in the situation he absent-mindedly pulls off his gloves—revealing to us a deep scar across the base of one of his thumbs. He begins to examine the crew, one by one, and when he gets to the co-pilot, he says something I’m going to guess is either, “Drugged” or “Dead.”
At this point we get a cut outside, and watch the plane speeding across the sky…
By now the other passengers have gotten wind of what’s going on; and our Panicky Idiots du jour – including Sailor, Moustache and Blonde – go rushing to the cockpit and start hammering on the door. Also Sketch-Pad Man…although he has a more specific interest in proceedings. World-Weary shoves them all back, but Sketch-Pad Man responds by showing him some sort of official identification tag: “If found, please return to your nearest fascist government,” perhaps.
……[Nonna Ten]…………………………………………………………………….[Vladimir Vysotsky]
Moustache aka Don Lopes………………………………………………………….Blonde aka Teresa…
[Aleksandr Barushnoy]…………………………………………………………[Lyudmila Shagalova]
Asian Woman, meanwhile, gathers up the plane’s supply of oxygen and brings it to the cockpit; though neither that nor whatever else Glasses is trying – ammonia? – has any effect.
As Glasses works unavailingly, Priest leads a prayer service in the cabin, with the camera shifting again from face to face. In the middle of it, Sailor cracks and bolts for the cockpit, shrieking at the flight crew to wake up—to wake up and fly the plane. He even grabs at the controls—sending the plane into a dive, and tossing the passengers around the cabin. Cameraman and World-Weary between them subdue him and toss him out.
That’s not all that’s going on. Blonde has found in her bag a small packet of the gentle sedatives handed out by the hostess earlier for those suffering air-sickness. Suddenly, she remembers Pills and all his drugs – that he did drug his seat-mate, who hasn’t woken up – and softly, she denounces him to Moustache. He passes the word along – it ripples up the cabin – and the terrified, infuriated passengers turn on Pills and kick the shit out of him.
This is a fascinating touch: it makes me think that Jet Storm must have made it to the Soviet Union, or at least that director Grigori Nikulin and/or screenwriters Alexey Leontyev and Andrei Donatov saw that film somewhere. This is what kept threatening to eventuate there, though between ambivalence and interference it mostly didn’t. No such hesitancy here, however; and nor does World-Weary, though by now he has tacitly assumed the role of “hero” (one of them), intervene until after the others have had a good crack.
Two things halt the confrontation. First, Glasses emerges from the cockpit and shouts something that makes the attackers stop and turn; and then the little boy, who has been looking out the window, calls out in a way that makes everyone else rush to gape through the windows too—though I have no idea at what. Perhaps the plane has crossed land and is heading out over water again?
Glasses orders everyone back to their seats, generally taking charge of the situation. He has been consulting with Indian Woman, and they have agreed that the only chance is if there is something on board that they can use to counteract the drug. And guess what? – there is; because Pills is a pharmaceutical sales rep, and he has a case full of interesting drugs—including one that might work on the pilots. Except that the contents of his case are now strewn all over the cabin, and most of his samples have been trampled into the carpet.
There is a desperate scramble on the floor, with the badly-battered Pills finally locating an intact package containing several vials of a clear drug…with everyone else being so kind and friendly with him now…
(So, though it goes about it very differently, 713 Prosit Posadku does finally come to the same conclusion as Jet Storm about vigilante justice…)
Meanwhile, Glasses also calls for anyone with radio experience, and a young man nervously volunteers. He starts trying to make contact with someone – anyone – while Indian Woman prepares injections for Glasses. The other passengers are also put to work chilling water and carrying supplies of it to the cockpit in whatever they can find to use. (I may say that it’s not altogether clear what’s going on with all that water.)
Radio-Guy has mostly been picking up music, but now he tunes into something I’m guessing is a news broadcast—because everyone stops and stares at Glasses…
But this is pushed aside when Radio-Guy makes contact with someone on the ground. There is a rapid exchange of details, but then the person on the ground demands something…
This is one of the most important scenes in the film, yet one of the hardest correctly to interpret. Radio-Guy hesitates, then passes the microphone he has been speaking into back into the huddle of passengers pressed into the cockpit behind him. The object goes rapidly from hand to hand, no-one speaking, until it ends up with Sketch-Pad Guy—who, with an ironic smile, hands it off to Glasses. The two eyeball each other for a moment, before Glasses – returning the smile – begins an abrupt speech. The camera pans around, catching grim faces and widening eyes: we can only assume that Glasses is giving himself up and confessing the entire situation.
Towards the end, Sketch-Pad Man adds something that Glasses passes on, before gesturing for paper and pen and rapidly jotting down what we take to be flight – or landing – information. But even as Glasses takes down the information, the voice on the radio fades out as the plane continues to streak across the sky…
Eventually left alone with the still-unconscious crew, Glasses and World-Weary keep looking at their watches: perhaps they’ve been told when they can expect the plane to run out of fuel. Or maybe a certain amount of time has to pass before they can inject the pilots again.
There is a lull here, with several pairs of passengers having uninterpretable conversations. There is finally a gathering around Glasses, who seems to be justifying himself in the face of condemnation and despair—and of understanding and sympathy.
This gives way to an inadvertently funny touch as Cute Kid interacts with Glasses. This, too, might be a Jet Storm reference; but it’s reeeeeeealy hard not to start making gladiator-movie jokes… The scene ends, moreover, in an unmistakable “Will my dog Scraps be okay, mister?” moment, as – both visually and via the score (Russian choir music!) – Glasses decides that This Shall Not Stand.
(There may be a deeper significance here, though: it’s possible that Cute Kid is the son of The Woman From His Past – who may be married to Cameraman – it really isn’t clear, but some scenes imply it.)
We next see Radio-Guy back at work: there’s definite “da” in his conversation with the ground (that’s the extent of my Russian, folks!), but when he hands his headset over to Glasses the result is more despair. However—that might be purely personal.
Anyway—they’re running out of time. Glasses and Indian Woman then work on another round of injections—and finally, the pilot stirs…
At this point, Cameraman turns on World-Weary and starts pressing him to do something, ignoring his agonies and stubborn head-shakings.
And finally—World-Weary sits down at the controls…
(Fifty-nine minutes into a 73-minute film; 35 minutes film-time since the pilots were discovered unconscious!)
We don’t get a flashback here, either, so we never know what World-Weary’s problem is; though he may in fact be this film’s Ted Stryker. (Ted Stryker, that is, not Ted Stryker.) Anyway, he doesn’t hesitate about switching off the auto-pilot and taking control; while Glasses resorts to slapping the pilot into consciousness with wet cloths. He doesn’t fully recover, but between slappings, oxygen and heart massage, he is eventually able to offer verbal assistance to World-Weary as he takes on the task of landing the plane.
On the ground, an unidentified – and unidentifiable (it’s dark by now) – airport scrambles to prepare for a possible crash-landing. We also see an airforce jet tracking the plane—presumably tasked with shooting it down if necessary.
But the landing is the smoothest we’ve seen so far in this series of films—much to World-Weary’s own astonishment.
As the passengers start disembarking, the media closes in, with some of their targets enjoying the moment more than others. Glasses ignores all that, being focused upon the loading of the crew into ambulances. He and the pilot exchange smiles and nods.
Then a voice speaks to Glasses from the darkness…
Well—I said that the airport is unidentifiable, and so it is; but wherever it is, the sp00ks are there waiting: Sketch-Pad Man by now amongst them. There is a striking moment as Glasses is walked away in custody, with the other passengers almost forming a guard of honour for him. Some won’t look at him; some show signs of hostility; many are shocked; but others make gestures of solidarity or sympathy or just ‘good luck’ as he passes. The Woman from His Past has tears in her eyes…
So. Hopefully you’ll now understand why I got so fixated about tracking down a copy of 713 Prosit Posadku…and also why I found it rather impenetrable on a first viewing.
However, with that online hint about the missing delegation, most of Glasses’ plot is understandable. Granted, when we watch the crew being incapacitated, our first thought is a hijacking; but what unfolds certainly isn’t about that. My best guess is that, with the sp00ks closing in on him, Glasses decided to go out with a literal bang: a suicide mission, in which the plane flew on until it crashed, killing everyone on board and leaving no evidence.
Mind you, there’s seems a lack of appropriate consternation when Glasses discovers that his targets aren’t on board. After that, he seems to resign himself early to events unfolding as planned; he even gets a touch of sardonic amusement out of the presence of Sketch-Pad Man on the flight.
But as we know, he is not only an “antifascist”, he is also a doctor: and when Cameraman appeals to him on that level he cannot refuse his help any longer, despite what it might mean for himself in the long run—though that said, he doesn’t seem to be expecting the sp00ks to be waiting at the airport…
Glasses, then, is mostly decipherable, once we have the key. It’s World-Weary I couldn’t get my head around the first time, and to an extent still can’t. Is he literally the film’s Ted Stryker? Did he fly a disastrous mission during the war? Did he kill George Zipp? It has to be something like that, but in the absence of a flashback we have no way of knowing. (Noting too that online sources have him as a lawyer called Henry!)
Cameraman clearly recognises World-Weary – when the situation in the cockpit is discovered, he goes straight to him – but though he is at the centre of things for the rest of the film, he does precious little to help until right at the end. Possibly he’s suicidal, in the wake of whatever his personal tragedy was; perhaps, like Glasses, he’s prepared to let events play out. As it is, we don’t and can’t know his motives. Instead, we’re left to make what we can of his, yup, world-weary attitude: his half-laughing, is-that-all-there-is? reaction to pretty much everything—which gets really annoying.
(The other mystery is why Cameraman keeps his mouth shut so long…?)
Finally, another possibility is raised by the usual translation given for the film’s title, which may or may not be literally accurate: 713 Requests Permission To Land. Maybe the issue is not so much that they can’t physically land the plane, but that no-one will let them? – that no-one wants a diplomatic incident on their doorstep.
Anyway—such is 713 Prosit Posadku…or most of it. As with H-8…, it’s fascinating to watch the familiar disaster-movie tropes unfolding within an entirely different geographical – and political – milieu; though this film feels like the work of people conversant with disaster movies rather than a case of parallel evolution, as the earlier production seems to be. The critical point here is the merging of the disaster-movie plot with the political thriller, something we haven’t seen before (we’ve had bombs on planes before this, but for purely personal reasons), and which wouldn’t emerge in western film-making until the 1970s, after some tragic real-world events.
So, frustrating as this project has been in some respects, I’m glad I persisted with it. For if nothing else, the monkey is finally off my back—and I might actually be able to move on to Fate Is The Hunter…
Footnote: While we’re noticing things on DVD covers, check out the dramatic plane crash on the Czech release of 713 Prosit Posadku up above. Shame on you, FILMAG Zábava!