Hanging By A Thread
Hanging By A Thread

Irwin Allen’s big blockbuster disaster movies were well behind him when he came to Hanging By A Thread which shows the ever declining numbers of his disaster movie career. Put simply, the movie is almost devoid of disaster and spends more time in flashbacks than actually dealing with the action. As a result, it’s a messy and surreal affair.

Released: 1979

Run Time: 190 mins

The Premise

A child has been inflicted a bizarre tea party for his birthday on top of a mountain because “you always loved the cable cars”. However the cable car gets stuck and our motley crew get a bit angry.

The Disasters Faced

Cable cars stopping, breaking wires, smokers, your best friends being idiots, a lot of camera shaking and a horse.

The Execution

Hanging By a Thread, much like the similarly paced Night the Bridge Fell Down, is spread over three hours and two nights. As a result you spend a lot time being padded and not having a lot happen. Hanging By A Thread though has taken padding to a new level. After an awkward set of friends meet for the trip (why does the child have no friends his own age?) they bicker, moan, gasp at the wind and genuinely act like they’ve never been outside before. Once the cable car breaks down which is about 30/40 minutes in, we then have two and a bit hours of back story. Through flashbacks we see how each of the couples all came to hate themselves and each other and none of them are very likeable. We spend just as much, if not more time in flashback than we do in the cable car and the film is closer to a weird Columbo episode than a disaster movie. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was tooted as a character driven drama, but it promises dangling people and drama. However occasionally one of the actors climbs onto the roof whilst the worst gunmen possible are unable to shoot him. Yes, a subplot involves gunmen trying to pick off a character trapped in the car – yet it never really comes to anything. Much like the entire film really. Too much build up – no pay off.

Mum! I don't want to keep going for another two hours!!!
Mum! I don’t want to keep going for another two hours!!!

The Effects

Most of the effects are done by shaking the camera and whilst we see a cable car, it seems to be the same few shots repeated over and over. There is also a lot of helicopter shots where it seems to be struggling with the wind and shaking about a bit. This is fine, but it is used so many times it then becomes blatant filler. What’s more impressive is the acrobatic wire walker and the stuntman on fire – but alas they are underused.

Why Its Worth Watching

The acting is of varying quality whilst the story is completely silly and full of so many logic lapses you can’t quite explain how it was thrown together. It’s slow to the point of tedium and there is little to no action to speak of. The other problem is that you know that as long as all the actors are inside the cable car, it’s not going to drop. I was waiting for some tilting or something to happen to throw someone out but alas no. Instead we have a weasel of a love triangle.

Drinking Game

Either each time we get a shaking of the camera for no real reason or each helicopter shot where it seems to just waggle about for no reason!

Best Death

The high wireman that does a fake fall off of the cable line … but it all looks a bit circus act.

Best Character

I honestly don’t have one. They are all terrible and self loathing – except maybe the child.

Weirdest Moment

Possibly the climax of the love triangle is the most strangest thing where essentially one best friend tells another that he’ll never stop at stealing his wife…. WHY ARE THEY STILL FRIENDS?!?! Who needs enemies when they do things like that. Plus, bonus points for deciding to have a cigarette in the middle of your disaster…


Hanging By A Thread is a mess of a film. It’s a terrible character driven plot that just gives you people you wish would fall off the cliff and yet there’s little to no suspense. What could have been an interesting 90 minute diversion is a three-hour yawn fest and is by far the worst of Irwin Allen’s disaster movies. It gives me a heavy heart to say, this is for completest and mega fans only.

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