TV Reviews : A Potent Escape From Saigon in ‘Last Flight Out’
The scramble of Vietnamese civilians to catch the last commercial plane out of Saigon as the Viet Cong advanced on the city is suspensefully dramatized tonight in “Last Flight Out” (9 p.m. on Channels 4, 36 and 39).
One of the images from the end of that war is the crush of frantic people scaling U.S. Embassy walls and fighting to get to the Saigon airport before the capital fell. The chaos was re-created in the film “The Killing Fields” (whose co-star Haing S. Ngor is seen here). But enough fact-based drama, particularly of unheralded Americans who made the last unofficial flight to safety possible, remained to be told. “Last Flight Out” tells it well.
The two major characters are played by Richard Crenna and James Earl Jones. With the nerve and chicanery born of desperation, they essentially stage-manage the exodus of 500 evacuees on a last-ditch takeoff by Pan Am, which was the only American airline left in Vietnam. Their characters, and those of several South Vietnamese caught in the agony of leaving families, are based on real-life people, whose destinies are noted in a concluding credit role.
Walter Halsey Davis’ script doesn’t grind political bones. What it does is equate character with action. Faces on screen only a minute or two don’t fade away.
Director Larry Elikann seldom overstates the obvious. The emotional ending is a given. But what lingers is Saigon’s bus-clogged pandemonium, which says it all about those without the money, luck or U.S. connections to squeeze onto that Pan Am airliner on April 24, 1975--six days before the war ended.