Sole Survivor (1970)

Sole Survivor (1970), directed by Paul Stanley.

Years ago in an online film discussion group, the most common "what was that movie?" question was "What was that one about the ghosts around the crashed bomber in the desert?"

Answer: that was this film from the much-loved ABC Movie of the Week series. Richard Basehart -- the survivor who bailed out -- visits the wreckage 17 years later with a team of Air Force investigators. William Shatner is the kiss-ass officer in a hurry to cover up any scandal. Vince Edwards is the dogged major who just won't let it go.

Already there: five ghost crewman who survived the crash but died in the desert. They've been waiting all this time to be found, the same people they always were, although even ghosts get tired. They just want their bones moved home to someplace with water and greenery. Once found they can rest.

Imagine their surprise and outrage when their crew-mate -- now a general -- arrives and starts lying about the final mission. How are they going to set it straight? And how guide the visitors to their lost bones?

Ghosts can't be effective in the world, but one thing they can do is haunt the living.

It's strange: who do we most envy? The crew are still young and spend their days playing baseball. The general is old and drinks himself to sleep at night. One crewman says he has no real home to go back to, but feels that home is with the others in the desert.

I don't think I've seen the setup before, and it is strange and moving: the crewman's terror when his bones are finally uncovered, the frightfulness of being exposed and looked at.

In retrospect it could have been tightened up a bit; the political squabbling among the investigators could have been condensed. The score is of that modernist TV drama style; I don't know what to call the genre.

Said to be inspired by the case of the Lady Be Good, also used for a Twilight Zone episode: King Nine Will Not Return (1960).

Filmed at El Mirage Dry Lake in the Mojave.

This was unavailable on home video for decades; I'm not sure how often it was even broadcast. Just recently it became available on disc.

The region B Blu-ray is by MediumRare/Freemantle/CBS in the UK. The package includes a PAL DVD version.