The complete Non-Stop New York.
A murder mystery thirller reaches its climax high over the Atlantic Ocean in the 1937 film Non-Stop New York. Based on the novel Sky Steward by Ken Attwill, the film is directed by Robert Stevenson, who would also direct King Solomon's Mines that same year for that same company and go on to direct 19 films for Walt Disney including Old Yeller, The Absent-Minded Professor, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, In Search of the Castaways, Mary Poppins, Blackbeard's Ghost, The Love Bug and Island at the Top of the World. Like King Solomon's Mines, Non-Stop New York purports to star Anna Lee as he heroine. However it is pretty clear what the star of the show really is.
For the most part the film is a fairly typical crime drama. Lee plays a down-on-her luck actress trying to make her way in New York City when a very nice man buys her a coffee. Rather than take her to an island with a giant ape on it, this gentleman lures her back to his apartment with the promise of food and nothing but the best of intentions. While there she stumbles upon a homeless man who has broken into the apartment in search of food, and everybody is stumbled upon by the gang of hoods who have come seeking the nice man. It turns out that the gentleman is a lawyer whose bout of conscience has forced him to quit the mob. The hapless homeless man escapes and Lee's character is forcibly ejected, after which the lawyer meets his untimely end.
Continuing with her own plans to take a steamer back to her native England, Lee is trailed and framed up by one of the mob hoodlums. Taken into custody when the ship docks, she is bum-rushed to prison from which she cannot point the finger at the crooks and exonerate the homeless man who has been pegged with the crime. Once she is out of jail, her attempts to confess to Scotland Yard are thwarted by the lead mobster and his crony, who have followed just to make sure (as well as cash the lawyer's bonds). Confident that she's no longer a threat, the mob boss assumes the identity of a Paraguayan general and boards a transatlantic flight for New York. However his trail has been lit onto by a con artist and blackmailer, and Scotland Yard is suspicious of him. Unable to assuage her conscience, Lee stows away on the same flight with the mob boss, the blackmailer, and the detective.
It's all fairly typical stuff, and one suspects that filmmakers knew it. Therefore they had to punch it up a bit with a Scientifictional flying boat which was described by the New York Times review to be “as richly imaginative as a front-cover of Popular Science or a Buck Rogers space ship.” During the interwar years, flying boats were considered the high-end of intercontinental travel. While zeppelins have gone down in history as the iconic transportation technology of the time, flying boats had a definite advantage in speed. As fixed-wing, propeller driven aircraft, they had an added bonus of taking off and landing on water, which limited their use in landlocked areas but enabled the to provide direct links between the UK, its African colonies and New York.
Like zeppelins, trains and ocean liners, flying boats slowly phased out after World War II thanks to new methods of travel that better met the needs of mass transportation. All four modes of transportation focused on luxury, which Non-Stop New York demonstrates with its flying boat's Streamline Moderne cabins. One of the most reknowned of the flying boats - the Short S23 “Empire” - had a capacity for 24 passengers during the day and 16 for overnight travel. The film version had a full lounge and outdoor viewing platforms(!). Flying boats and zeppelins were the train and ocean liner paradigm put into the sky, and though flying boats were faster they could still not compete with the speed and capacity of the jet airliner nor the flexibility of the personal automobile.
The fact that I have now spent two paragraphs talking about the titular aircraft and two others simply summarizing the film's plot should tell you all you need to know about the quality of the film. The only real reason for watching is indeed the flying boat and its clean Thirties Deco lines, doing as best as you can with a story that could just as easily have happened on a steamer while adding yet another anachronous technology to your imaginary repetoire.