Film Censorship: Skyjacked (1972)


 

 

 

 

Skyjacked

Directed by John Guillermin / 1972 / USA / IMDb

In August 1972, a 2773.06-meter (101:05) print of SKYJACKED was banned by the Censorship Board. This decision was made on the orders of Don Chipp, the Liberal Minister for Custom and Excise.

Following their win at the December 1972 election, the Labour Government soon reconsidered the ban. On the orders of the Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, the film was resubmitted to the Censorship Board.

The same 2773.06-meter (101:05) print was finally passed with an M-rating on March 1st 1973.

In both cases, MGM BEF Film Distributors were the applicant.

 

Read on to find out why a bland Charlton Heston movie came to be banned in early-70s Australia.

 

 

THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT (1966): Australian theatrical and TV screenings

Rod Serling's THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT (1966) had an Australian theatrical release in 1968. The plot concerns a bomb threat aboard a commercial airliner.

The Censorship Board passed it with a 'Not Suitable for Children' rating, which was broadly equivalent to the old NRC and current PG-ratings.

The film had its TV-premiere on the ABC in November 1969.

Image courtesy of moviemem.com

 

The Doomsday Flight (1966) Australian Daybill Poster

 

 

May 1971: The Qantas bomb hoax

On May 26 1971, a Qantas Boeing 707 en-route from Sydney to Hong Kong was subject of a bomb threat. They were told that it would explode if the plane's altitude dropped below 20,000 feet. The airline went on to pay $500,000 to a 'Mr. Brown', only to be told that actually, there was no bomb on board. The plane landed safely back in Sydney at 6.40pm.

It soon became clear that the hoax was remarkably similar to the plot of Rod Serling's THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT (1966), and that it was not the first time it had been used.

 

Rod Serling regrets writing script for "Doomsday Flight"
nashuatelegraph.com, May 30 1971

Rod Serling says he is sorry for writing the script for the movie "Doomsday Flight" which officials say probably triggered three airline extortion plots.

"I have done a vast disservice to airlines" Serling said

"I didn’t realise there were that many kooks in the woodwork"

The writer was interviewed Friday after recent threats to Western, Qantas and national airlines that planes in flight would be blown up by pressure bombs unless money was paid. No bombs were found, but two of the threats brought payoffs totalling $585,000.

"I wish…I had written a stagecoach drama starring john Wayne instead. I wish I’d never been born" Serling said.

Airline officials said the extortion threats followed the pattern of the movie plot and that the calls were made shortly after reruns were shown of the drama written for television.

When the movie was released several years ago, Serling said the Airline Pilots Association sent him a telegraph asking that it be withdrawn.

He replied then, he said, that he was the author of the script and had no control over the films distribution.

 

Another echo of airline extortion
smh.com.au, August 4 1971

DENVER, Tuesday. —A British Overseas Airways Corporation 747 jet with 380 passengers aboard landed here early today after a high-altitude bomb was reported aboard.

The selection of Denver closely parallels the plot of the film "Doomsday Flight" which has been linked to three recent air-line extortion plots involving barometric or pressure sensitive bombs.

The Qantas "Mr Brown" extortion came several weeks after "Doomsday Flight" was shown on Sydney television and two later extortion attempts have been linked to it.

 

$250,000 sought for jumbo bomb
smh.com.au , August 5 1971
Rod Serling, the author of "Doomsday Flight" said last May "I fervently wish now I had never never written the script. I feel so hellishly guilty about it. You know, I wouldn't blame any country that banned the film."

 

Ban urged on jet bomb film
smh.com.au , August 11, 1971
The US Government has urged 500 television stations to ban the showing of “The Doomsday flight”, a television film depicting a bomb plot to extort money from an airline.

The federal Aviation Agency Administrator, Mr. John H Shaffer told stations in 150 cities "You will be making the highest possible contribution to the safety of more than 60 million passengers if the film is not shown".

In a letter, Mr. Shaffer said that each time the film is shown “the number of anonymously telephoned bomb threats received by the local airlines rises significantly."

 

 

September 1971: THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT trial

The perpetrators of the Qantas extortion were put on trial in September 1971, and sentenced to long jail terms in January 1972.

 

Film Link with Extortion Alleged
canberratimes.com.au, September 15, 1971
 
SYDNEY, Tuesday. - A man charged in connection with the $500,000 Qantas extortion case had allegedly spoken about an enterprise along the lines of the plot of a film titled 'Doomsday Flight', a police prosecutor told Central Court today.

An attempt had been made, in the film plot, to obtain money from an airline, Sgt R. Briddick told Mr H. Berman, SM.

Mr Peter Pasquale Macari had allegedly told Mr Francis William Sorohan that he had intended doing "something along those lines" himself, Sgt Briddick said.
 
Mr Sorohan, 21, miner, of Mt Isa, Queensland, appeared in court charged with aiding and counsel ling Mr Macari on or about April 10 to send a letter demanding money with menaces from Captain Robert James Ritchie on May 26.

Mr Sorohan, previously not represented, was brought before the court on an application for bail by his barrister Mr J. Bimey.
 
Mr Birney said Mr Sorohan had made little or no effort to apply for bail at a previous appearance.

Mr Berman remanded Mr Sorohan until September 29, allowed him S1,000 bail and ordered him to report daily to the CIB.

"It will be alleged Sorohan supplied the explosive used in the construction of the bomb in the Qantas extortion and at the same time was employed as a miner at Mt Isa mines'', Sgt Briddick said.

Mr Macari allegedly had asked Mr Sorohan to supply him with detonators and explosives from the mine.

"We also say Macari spoke to him about an enterprise on the lines of a movie known as 'Doomsday Flight' and in that flight an attempt was made to obtain money from an airline", Sgt Briddick said.

It was admitted that Mr Sorohan had not played a part in the construction of the bomb or the extortion of the money.

 

Qantas Case: Film screened to principals
canberratimes.com.au, October 1, 1971
 
SYDNEY, Thursday. - The principals in the 5500,000 Qantas bomb extortion case watched a showing of the American film, 'The Doomsday Flight', this afternoon.

About 35 people attended the one and a half-hour show, including Mr W. Lewer, SM, the three defendants and their barristers, and members of the Press.

Police have alleged that the man who master minded the extortion was given the idea from the film.

Before Central Court were Mr Peter Pasquale Macari, 36, driver, of Bondi, Mr Raymond James Poynting, 28, barman, of Bondi Junction, and Mr Francis William Sorohan, 21, miner, of Mount Isa.

Mr Macari and Mr Poynting are charged with having caused to be delivered on or about May 26 to Captain R. J. Ritchie the general manager of Qantas, a letter demanding money with menaces and without cause, knowing full well the contents of the letter.

Mr Sorohan has been charged with aiding and counselling Mr Macari on or about April 10 to send the letter.

Mr Macari also faces charges of having carried a hand grenade on or about May 26, and of having stolen a Volkswagen Kombi van from Hertz truck rentals the day before.

Most, of the morning court session was taken up with evidence on the. altimeter used in the bomb found by police in a public locker at Sydney Airport on May 26.

Witnesses from various sections of the RAN testified that the altimeter had originally been installed in a C47 Dakota aircraft, which had been used for training sessions as a flying classroom between 1965 and 1969.

Later it was sold to the Waltham Trading Co, in Oxford Street, Paddington.

Mr Harold John Pomeroy, the assistant employment officer at Mt Isa, said that Mr Sorohan had worked at the mine between April 13 and 16, when he would have had access to the explosives and detonators.

Another witness, Mr Andrew Barton Crook, unemployed, of Gippsland, Victoria, said he had met Mr Macari, using the name Peter King, in Townsville in late February this year.

He told the court that Mr Macari had been living in a van, which had been fitted up with various extras such as a television set, refrigerator and stove.

He said that he recalled having watched a film about an aircraft in the van with Mr Macari in March. When the film had ended, Mr Macari had said something like "that would be a good way to make money".

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

 

Qantas Pilot Tells Of Search for Bomb
canberratimes.com.au, October 2, 1971

SYDNEY, Friday. - The pilot of a Qantas Boeing 707 told Central Criminal Court today how the aircraft's passengers and crew had searched for a bomb that had never existed.

Captain William Godfrey Selwyn, of Wilton, told the Qantas extortion hearing that at one stage of the search a black box measuring 1ft by 18in had been found by the crew who had thought that it could have been a bomb.

However they had discovered that the box contained a footstool.

Captain Selwyn said he had been piloting the Qantas 707 which had been heading towards Darwin on a flight to Hong Kong, when he had been informed that there was a bomb aboard.

The aircraft had been diverted towards Brisbane and had maintained an altitude of 22,000ft.

The cabin pressure had been lowered so that certain areas of the jet could be searched.

Oxygen masks had been dropped out of their compartments so crew could check that nothing was hidden behind them, and ovens, drawers and garbage cans had been searched.

Panelling had been pulled off the walls of the lavatories and all passenger luggage aboard the jet had been identified.

The aircraft returned to Sydney eventually, where it landed at 6.30pm, with only enough fuel for 6 minutes' flight.

Mr W. Lewer, SM, admitted earlier the film. 'The Doomsday Flight', as evidence in the hearing.

Mr J. Birney, Mr Macari's counsel, had sought to have the film excluded from evidence on the grounds that it had no relevance to the proceedings. He said the film could create a gigantic prejudice against Mr Macari.

Mr Lewer said the film should be counted as evidence because anything that explained or tended to explain a fact in issue was admissable.

The hearing will be resumed on Tuesday.

 

Qantas Extortion: Two given long sentences
canberratimes.com.au, January 28, 1972

SYDNEY, Thursday. - Mr Peter Pasquale Macari, 36, driver, of Bondi, was sentenced in Sydney Quarter Sessions today to a total 15 years' jail for his role as "Mr Brown", the planner of the S500,000 Qantas bomb extortion on May 26 last year.

His accomplice, Mr Raymond James Poynting, 29, barman, of Bondi Junction, was sentenced to a total seven years' jail.

Judge Staunton back dated the sentences to August 7 last year. In passing sentence, he said Mr Macari was a daring, resourceful and clever criminal.

The penalty for the offences Mr Macari had pleaded guilty to had been fixed "long ago when this kind of act would be unimaginable, and was in adequate".

The judge sentenced Mr Macari to 10 years' jail for having demanded money with menaces, two years' hard labour for having stolen a motor vehicle and another three years' jail for having carried a grenade.

Mr Poynting was sentenced to six years' jail for having demanded money with menaces and one year for having stolen a motor vehicle. The sentences are to be served cumulatively.

The non-parole period for Mr Macari was fixed at nine years and at four years for Mr Poynting.

Both had pleaded guilty to the charges.

A third man, Mr William Sorohan, 21, miner, of Mt Isa, Queensland, was acquitted last October in a Central Court hearing of charges that he had aided and counselled Mr Macari in sending a letter to the general manager of Qantas, Captain R. J. Ritchie, demanding money with menaces and without reasonable cause.

A few days after arresting Mr Macari and Mr Poynting, police found more than $150,000 in the bricked-up chimney of a house owned by Mr Macari.

Police told a court hearing last October that they had accounted for only $261,382 of the $500,000 ransom.

In passing sentence, Judge Staunton said that although it was apparent Mr Macari had got the idea for the hoax from the film 'Doomsday Flight', he had added his own cunning and initiative.

Although it had been submitted that Mr Macari's plea of guilty had indicated remorse, and that this would merit a lesser sentence, the judge said he believed Mr Macari was "not in the least contrite".

"The best evidence of remorse would be the disgorging of the 5244,000 still outstanding", he said.

"You told police your share was $125,000 of which you gave $50,000 to Poynting. You said you gave $220,000 to a person known as Ken. This statement I reject".

In setting the parole period, Judge Staunton said, "It is incongruous that an offender who still has the proceeds of his crime, in this case a very large sum of money, should be paroled, this being for the purposes of rehabilitation".

 

 

January 1972: Mr. Brown and the Qantas extortion - The full story

Following the sentencing, Basil Sweeney and Gavin Souter wrote an in-depth, three-part article for the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

The Real Mr. Brown 1: Where is the missing money?
smh.com.au, January 28, 1972

WHAT IS the truth about Peter Pasquale Macari, alias Peter King, alias Peter Young, alias Brian Adams, alias Ivan Say, alias William Day — and finally, alias Mr Brown?

According to Macari there was yet another name behind that final alias—a mysterious Ken. Macari still maintains that the Qantas extortion was masterminded by a man known to him only as Ken, and that Ken took all but about $125,000 of the ransom money.

It was Ken, so Macari claimed, who asked him to make the bomb; Ken who had seen the film "Doomsday Flight" and Ken who kept in touch with him by telephone Macari the day of the extortion. Macari claimed that Ken was part of a large gang. "He threatened me personally," Macari told the police, "and spoke of what some of his mates would do to me."

 

The Real Mr. Brown 2: Prelude to extortion
smh.com.au, January 29, 1972

"It's an aneroid bomb," said a telephone voice in the film "Doomsday Flight," "and it's incredibly, appallingly efficient. It seems to me that any major airline that can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a fleet of 707s could certainly afford to divest itself of a few hundred thousand dollars, especially to save one of those shiny aeroplanes."

There was Mr Brown's scenario! The saboteur in the film made his deadly phone calls from a bar and grill called "Ritchie's," and a "Hertz" hire car sign was clearly visible in the last scene at the airport.

Peter Macari may not have noticed these coincidences at the time, but he was greatly impressed by the basic idea of an aneroid bomb that could be set to explode when an aircraft descended to a predetermined altitude.

The only departure from the script was a stroke of genius. Instead of putting the bomb in a plane he simply showed it to the airline. They didn't have to take his word for it: here was tangible evidence, that the bomb, if it was on the plane, was indeed appallingly efficient.

According to court evidence, Macari saw "Doomsday Flight" two months before the Qantas extortion in May, last year, during one of the frantic, far-ranging journeys which he often made in his second home, a compactly furnished Commer van.

This black-and-cream van was equipped with teak cupboards, a refrigerator, Porta-gas stove, fan, stereo, sun roof, folding divan and a small battery TV. He saw “Doomsday Flight” on this set at Townsville on March 24, last year, and afterwards remarked to a new-found acquaintance who was sitting in the van with him: "That would be a good way to make money."

Macari may have seen the film earlier, for it was shown in Sydney during 1970. He was later to tell detectives that "Ken," the alleged mastermind of the whole plot, had asked him in January, 1971, whether it was possible to adapt for bomb extortion purposes speed-control device which Macari and his best friend, Ray Poynting, had jointly developed.

Although the police will not have a bar of "Ken," they are inclined to believe that Macari was already contemplating a bomb extortion when he saw "Doomsday Flight” in Townsville. Like the bomb his speed-control device worked through contact with an indicator needle—in this case a speedo meter, not an altimeter.

 

The Real Mr. Brown 3: How NOT to lie low
smh.com.au, January 30, 1972

It seemed almost as though they wanted to be caught. Anyone as adroit as Mr Brown appeared to be would surely have resisted the temptation to start spending. He would have lain low for as long as possible, or quietly left the country. Macari and Poynting did exactly the opposite.

They flaunted their dangerous new $20 bills, squandering them on the most conspicuous cars they could find: an iridescent blue Chevrolet Camaro, a white E-Type Jaguar, and a tangerine Falcon GT. They not only sought the company of people likely to connect them with Mr Brown, but needlessly invited police attention.

Macari was booked twice for speeding, in Queensland and NSW, and on two other occasions he was stopped by Sydney police who wondered how he and his passengers came to be riding around in such a luxurious car. When a friend of Poynting's was stopped for a similar reason in the tangerine Falcon, Poynting rang Waverly police station to demand explanation (and also, one supposes, to test the climate).

The big spend-up did not begin straight away. About 7 pm on the night of the extortion, May 26, Macari arrived at Poynting's flat with a black briefcase containing about $50,000. He had left the rest in a canvas bag at his garage In Fletcher Street.

 There were two other men at Poyting’s flat. "After general conversation I went into Ray's bedroom" Macari told the police. "He followed me in. I showed him the money. We put the briefcase under the bed. We went back into the sitting room and joined the other two".

"The television was on and a short time later the news showed airport activity and a statement was made in relation to the Qantas bomb hoax. Later the other two moved to another room and I went back to the bedroom with Raymond, get the money out and showed him and told him to hide it quickly."

On May 31 Macari rang an 18-year-old friend in Darwin who had travelled with him from Townsville earlier in the year. He asked the friend to fly to Sydney and accompany him in the van on another trip to Townsville. Macari wired $150 for the air fare, but his friend spent the money.

Even before this invitation, the friend in Darwin had come to the conclusion that Peter King (as Mend was known to him must have been Mr Brown. "After all," he told the police later, he as an Englishman, and he'd got the explosives in Mt Isa – after talking about "Doomsday Flight".

 

 

August 1972: Minister for Customs, Don Chipp, bans SKYJACKED

Following pressure from the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, Don Chipp (the man who introduced the R-rating) banned SKYJACKED from screening in Australia.

 

National ban on US air-hijack film
canberratimes.com.au, August 9, 1972

By FRANK CRANSTON,
Defence and Aviation Correspondent
 
An American-made film which depicts the hijacking of an airliner has been banned from Australia.

The ban, which was requested by the Australian Federation of Air Pilots, was announced yesterday by the Minister for Customs, Mr Chipp, against the film 'Skyjacked'.

Ansett, TAA and Qantas managements backed their pilots in an approach to the Customs Department and the Department of Civil Aviation to have the film banned from Australia.

Several other airline pilots' associations, particularly in Europe, have made similar requests to their governments with the backing of the International Federation of Air line Pilots Associations.

'Skyjacked' is based on the novel 'Hijacked', by David Harper, which went on sale in Australia last year. More than 6,000 copies have been sold.
The simplicity of the method used by the hijacker in 'Hijacked* has caused considerable anxiety to airline pilots because it leaves the hijacker virtually invulnerable.

Earlier this year the executive vice-president of the AFAP, Mr Bruce Crofts, approached Mr Chipp, the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Sir Donald Anderson, and the Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, and asked that the film not be allowed into Australia.

The association secretary, Mr F. D. C. Caterson, said yesterday that the association was pleased Mr Chipp had acted.

"Pilots are very concerned at the rising incidence of hijacking and extortion in the industry", Mr Caterson said. "We believe that to have shown the film would have increased the stimulus of potential hijackers to follow its methods".

It is believed that a OCA promise to argue the "pilots' case against 'Skyjacked' was influential in the decision of Australian pilots not to join the 24-hour world-wide airline strike on June 20.

The IFALPA had called the strike after the massacre at Lydda Airport, Israel, in May in protest against the inaction of governments over the rising incidence of hijacking and the failure to produce positive steps to deal with the problem on an international basis.
 
As evidence that the screening of 'Skyjacked' in Australia could influence potential hijackers, the AFAP pointed to the $500,000 bomb extortion against a Hong Kong bound Qantas 707 airliner last year.
 
The plot of a film 'Doomsday Flight', which had been televised in Australia only a few weeks before the extortion threat on May 26, 1971, was carefully followed in the crime.

Qantas was told that a barometrically triggered de vice had been placed aboard the aircraft and that unless $500,000 was paid the airliner would not be told the location of the device.

The general manager of Qantas, Captain R. J. Ritchie, later handed a man the full amount in cash. No device was found aboard the 707, which was ordered back to Sydney only an hour after it took off.

One man was later sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment and another to seven years for their part in the extortion.

In 'Hijacked' a young soldier late to catch his Army transport back to Vietnam from San Francisco decides to divert the aircraft to Seattle where he hopes to be in time to board the ship.

The crew is advised of the hijacking by a message scrawled in lipstick on a mirror in one of the rear toilets of the Boeing 707, "This is no joke. I have hidden a bomb aboard this plane and I can set it off at any time with a radio. This plane must be taken to Seattle, not San Francisco. I don't care if I die because I have nothing to live for anyway. Take this plane to Seattle or else".

 Later, "when without his knowledge the aircraft, has already been diverted to Seattle, the hijacker leaves a message in a galley, sink, "Why won't you listen to me? I asked you to take this airplane to Seattle and you paid no attention. If I don't hear from you in five minutes, I will, have to set off the bomb." Please don't make me do it".

 The 'aircraft lands at Seattle and is being dis embarked before it becomes obvious who the hijacker is.
From there the plot sinks Into low-key melodrama as the aircraft is refuelled and flown first to Alaska and then Moscow where the hijacker gets shot by Soviet security police.
 
David Harper, a former USAF transport pilot, has skillfully described the Boeing 707, the various places where FBI agents can hide, and even the instruments to look for in certain circumstances.

The major worry for pilots, however, is the ease with which the hijacking message can be transmitted and the ability of a cool headed hijacker to escape detection.

Obvious counters to the system are a full physical search of all passengers and their baggage on any large airliner or an insistence that all diverted passengers go on to their intended destination.

 

Air hijacking film banned
smh.com.au, August 9, 1972

The film, "Skyjacked," was banned on the orders of the Minister for Customs, Mr Chipp.

He said in Canberra yesterday that he had acted in the interests of the travelling public. Mr Chipp saw the film and conferred with aviation safety officials and the Minister for Civil Aviation, Senator Cotton, before ordering the Chief Censor to ban the film.

The Australian airlines and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots asked that "Skyjacked" be restricted or prohibited.

Mr Chipp said, "The methods of hijacking and of holding crew and passengers hostage are explicitly and vividly depicted.

“The experience of air-lines and civil aviation authorities has shown that immediately following the release of films involving the hi-jacking, sabotage and other interference with aircraft, the techniques employed in the plot are reproduced in real life a short time later.

"In conscience I cannot ignore the advice of those responsible for the safety of passengers and security of aircraft.

"I am mindful of the need for a clear indication to be given by the Australian Government that all steps possible are being taken to inhibit the actions of those tempted to imperil the lives of air passengers."

Mr Chipp's action was taken under Section 40 of the Customs (Cinematograph Films) Regulations. The chairman of the Australian National Air-lines Commission, Sir Frederick Scherger, said in Melbourne the safety of passengers was the first consideration TAA had in asking for the ban.

"There are many instances, the Qantas bomb hoax being one, where a film drama has provided ideas which led to a terrifying real-life drama," Sir Frederick said.

"We are very relieved the film will not be shown in Australia, and the Government is to be congratulated for its actions."

An Ansett spokesman said, "The whole industry believes that because of the patterns these films can set, the film should be banned."

The executive vice-president of the Federation of Air Pilots, Mr Bruce Crofts, said the federation was "very grateful for Mr Chipp's wise decision."

"This type of film would have an influence on a deranged mind," he said.

 

Distributor hits at 'skyjack' film ban
smh.com.au, August 10, 1972

 Australia was out of tune with the rest of the world in prohibiting exhibition of the film "Skyjacked," the managing director of MGM in Australia, Mr F. G. Riley, said yesterday.

He said he was astounded at the decision, which could have been made because of red faces over the recent Qantas hoax.

He would ask the Minister for Customs and Excise, Mr Chipp, to reconsider.

"It is ironical that MGM has been refused permission to exhibit 'Skyjacked' in a country which has never experienced a hijacking," he said.

"America, which has had several cases of air piracy, is using the film to illustrate the stupidity and futility of attempting a hi-jack."

The film was made in the United States with the support of the Federal Aviation Authority and the US Defence Department.

Efforts were made to ensure that the film could not be regarded as a blue-print for "some feeble-minded" person to follow.

Members of the US branch of the Airline Pilots' Association had expressed overwhelming support for the film after attending a special screening in May.

The pilots had said it was a salutary lesson to anyone considering hijacking a plane, he said.

Mr Riley said "Skyjacked" was based on a novel already on sale, which had been serialised by a national women's magazine.

"The book has certainly failed to put any foolish ideas into anyone's head," he said.

"It would appear certain faces are still red over the recent Qantas ransom hoax and perhaps because of that Australia is being denied the opportunity of seeing a highly entertaining suspense drama now being shown in hundreds of theatres overseas.

"Once again Australia seems to be the odd country out."

The countries where it is being screened include Britain, South Africa and Canada.

 

 

August 1972: Federal politicians watch SKYJACKED

Special audience sees banned film 'Skyjacked'
canberratimes.com.au, August 23, 1972

An audience of about 50 Parliamentarians and journalists attended a special screening of the banned film 'Skyjacked' at the National Library last night.

In a brief address before the film was shown, the Minister for Customs and Excise, Mr Chipp said, "There are enough crack pots and lunatics in the community who would be drawn to this film like a bee is drawn to honey".

The showing was not to justify his decision to ban the film, but was "part of the established policy I've tried to follow since becoming Minister of holding out to public scrutiny the decisions I have made about censorship".

The decision had been made after consultation with air security experts and "neither the American Federation of Aviation Authorities nor the American Airline Pilots Association have endorsed the film".

A press statement distributed by MGM said, however, that, the "US Federal Aviation Authority vetted the script to ensure that the film could not be regarded as a blueprint for a feeble minded person to follow".

In addition the US Air Force had supplied aircraft for the film and the US Federal Aeronautics Association had approved the handling of situations shown in the film.

After the showing last night, the managing director of MGM in Australia, Mr F. G. Riley, said, "I am very disappointed that this is the one area which has banned the film".

After 12 weeks in the US, the film had been grossing $1 million a week, and could have been expected to gross $250,000 a week in Australia.
It was not a great film, and contained a "lot of corn, but that sells", Mr Riley said.

 

This Week
canberratimes.com.au, August 26, 1972

By David Solomon and Peter Sekuless
HARRY M. Miller need not worry about being up staged by the Minister for Customs and Excise, Mr Chipp, whose latest entrepreneurial exploit, the screening on Tuesday night of the banned film 'Skyjacked', drew a crowd of only about 50 Parliamentarians, officials, and journalists.

The presentation last week bore no comparison to Mr Chipp's highly successful' "blue movie" night more than two years ago which was so popular it had to be repeated.

'Skyjacked' was banned because it supposedly demonstrated a foolproof method of high-jacking an aircraft.

Having seen the film, that likelihood hardly seems justified.

However, one can sympathise with Mr Chipp. He is far from popular in some sections of his own party and he would have faced severe criticism if there had been a repeat of Mr Brown's Qantas bomb extortion based on the method in 'Skyjacked'.

 

 

March 1973: Film Board of Review and Attorney-General Lionel Murphy lift ban

In December 1972, the Whitlam Labour Government came to power. By March 1973, the new Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, overturned Don Chipp’s ban, and SKYJACKED was released theatrically with an M-rating.

 

Hijacking film to be released
canberratimes.com.au, March 19, 1973

The film 'Skyjacked', which shows the hijacking of an aircraft and was banned by the former Minister for Customs, Mr Chipp, is to be released in Australia.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, said in Canberra yesterday that the film had been viewed by the National Film Board of Review and the ban had been lifted.

However the reasons for the lifting of the ban were not given by the spokesman and Senator Murphy was not available for comment last night.

When Mr Chipp banned the film on August 9 last year, he said, "The experience of airlines and civil aviation authorities has shown that immediately following the release of films involving hijacking, sabotage and other interferences with aircraft, the techniques employed in the plot are reproduced in real life".

 

Pilots object to film
smh.com.au, March 20, 1972

The Australian Federation of Air Pilots and Ansett Airlines agreed today that the film "Skyjacked" should not be shown.

The federation said today that it opposed the decision by the Federal Attorney-General, Senator Murphy, to lift the ban.

The federation's research officer, Mr L. Coysh, said: "It is too early to say what action the federation will take."

A spokesman for Ansett Airlines of Australia said: "We agree with the pilots' feelings. We deplore the lifting of the ban."

"Skyjacked" has been released with an M classification — suitable for mature audiences only.

It was banned by the former Customs Minister, Mr Chipp, last August.

 

Warning on film
canberratimes.com.au, March 21, 1973

SYDNEY, Tuesday. - The general manager of Qantas, Captain R. J. Ritchie, warned today that airlines could expect more trouble from extortionists and hijackers if the film 'Skyjacked' was shown.

The film was banned in Australia by the former Minister for Customs, Mr Chipp. But the Attorney General, Senator Murphy, has approved its release.

Ansett Airlines, the only Australian company to experience an air hijacking, is "gravely concerned" about the release of 'Skyjacked', a spokesman said today.

 

 

March 1973: Liberals attack Lionel Murphy for allowing SKYJACKED

Liberal Senators Reginald Withers (WA) and Robert Cotton (NSW) questioned the Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, as to why he had allowed the film to be shown.

Release of Film SKYJACKED
Question
Senate Official Hansard
No. 13, 1973
Wednesday, 28 March 1973

Senator WITHERS
I address my question to the Attorney-General. In view of the Attorney-General's concern - a concern share's by the Opposition - that the Australian community should not be subjected to terrorism or even the threat of it, will he advise why he has released the film 'Skyjacked* which deals with the hijacking of aircraft and which could place the lives of Australian citizens in jeopardy, if the showing of the film Flight to Doomsday' is any guide? In view of this situation and the protests from all sections of the Australian air transport industry, will the Attorney-General now take steps to reimpose the ban?

Senator MURPHY
Mr President, the decision in respect to the film 'Skyjacked' was made by the Film Censorship Board several weeks ago. I understand that the film has been shown almost all over the world. So far as I can recall, only in Hong Kong has the film not been available for showing. I recall that President Nixon said it was the best film he had seen in all that year. I have no doubt that the views of particular groups were taken into account by members of the Film Censorship Board when they made their decision. I have no doubt that they would weigh very carefully the representations that had been made. There is one problem in regard to films when representations in respect of crimes are received from all sorts of bodies. In regard to the film 'Skyjacked', I understand that the book on which it is based has been freely available in Australia. In any event, people in the air transport industry have asked to make representations to me and I am seeing them, I think next week, to consider whether there should be intervention to overturn the decision made by the Film Censorship Board.

 

Senator COTTON
I address a question to the Leader of the Government in the Senate in his capacity as Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise. I refer to his answer today to the question addressed to him by the Leader of the Opposition concerning the proposed exhibiting of the film 'Skyjacked'. Is it not a fact that his colleague, the Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation, and the General Manager of Qantas Airways Ltd have also objected to the showing of the film in the interest of public safety?

Senator MURPHY
The Minister for Transport has put certain views to me. I do not know whether they amount to as much as objecting to the film being shown. I am trying to answer the honourable senator's question precisely. I think it is probably fair enough to say that the Minister would prefer that it be not shown. I think that is a fair assessment of his views. The Director-General of Civil Aviation has spoken to me. But the situation really amounts to this: I will be seeing a number of representatives of the aviation industry who will be putting representations to me, and I assume that they will be making a request that the film be not shown. I know that some of them will make that request because I have read certain things in the newspapers. I am not quite sure whether they are all of the same view. That is the best answer I can give to the honourable senator's question. I do not know that the Minister for Transport has made a formal objection to the film being shown.

 

Minister sees hijack film
canberratimes.com.au, April 6, 1973

The Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise, Senator Murphy, saw the controversial film 'Skyjacked' in Canberra yesterday.

He attended a special screening at the National Library with representatives of the Federation of Airline Pilots, the Department of Civil Aviation and other groups.

Some airline organisations fears the film might cause hijacking.

 

 

March 1974: SKYJACKED and the Queensland Films Board of Review

In 1974, the subject of SKYJACKED was mentioned in the Queensland Parliament during a debate on the establishment of a State Films Board of Review.

 

Queensland Parliamentary Debates [Hansard]
Legislative Assembly
Thursday , 21 March 1974

Henry McKechnie - Country/National
Bill Hewitt - Liberal
Brian Davis - Labor
Gilbert Alison - Liberal

Films Review Bill
Initiation In Committee
(The Chairman of Committees, Mr. Lickiss, Mt. Coot-tha, in the chair)

Hon. H. A. McKechnie (Carnarvon- Minister for Local Government and Electricity) (12.4 p.m.):
I move-
"That a Bill be introduced to provide for the review of films with a view to prohibiting the distribution in the State of objectionable films and for matters incidental thereto."

[snip]

Mr. W. D. Hewitt:
What ultimately persuaded the Minister to bring the measure before the Parliament was the admission into the State of a film called the "Language of Love". It is conceded that the Federal Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Murphy) overruled the advice of his department in releasing that film. His Liberal predecessor overruled the department twice. It was on the advice of Mr. Chipp that "Skyjacked", which illustrated to people in clear detail how to hijack a plane, was released, in the face of opposition from the pilots who fly the "big kites" and who have to face these situations. So Senator Murphy has done once what his predecessor did twice.

[snip]

Mr. Davis:
There has been much criticism of Senator Murphy and his decisions. The Minister for Health spoke about "Clockwork Orange". That film was first shown about two years ago, when Don Chipp was the Minister in charge of Customs and Excise. He allowed that to be exhibited. The honourable member for Ashgrove also mentioned "Skyjacked". There was nothing at all wrong with "Skyjacked" as a film. It was justified by its conclusion, when good triumphed over evil. It is nonsense to say that it was a bad show. It contained a meaningful message.

Mr. Alison:
The pilots of Qantas did not want it, though.

Mr. Davis:
I don't care whether Qantas wanted it or not. The fact is that it was a good show. It proved that a person who hijacks
aeroplanes does not escape punishment. As a matter of fact, for the benefit of those who have not seen the film, the aircraft landed in Soviet Russia at the Moscow airport. The hijacker was not able to get off the plane. In five minutes he was gone. So good really did triumph over evil, as those who advocate capital punishment would agree.

 

 

April 1974: The Chief Censor on SKYJACKED

An Interview with the Chief Censor, Mr Prowse: The Censor Speaks
Cinema Papers issue 2, April 1974

CP: What about criteria like explicit detailing of crime? Wasn’t SKYJACKED originally banned then released?

PROWSE: Well we released Skyjacked but a ministerial direction told us to hold it, because of pressures from interested groups, the Air Pilots Federation, Air Navigator Guild of Australia, Qantas, TAA, ANA. They all lobbied for the film not to be shown in Australia and the then Minister took some account of those representations.

Daybill image courtesy of moviemem.com

 

 Skyjacked (1972) - MGM BEF Film Distributors [au] Admat - Canberra - April 1974     Skyjacked (1972) - MGM BEF Film Distributors [au] Daybill

 

 

October 1985: Qantas and the Government attempt to stop film based on the bomb threat

In 1985, Scott Hicks Directed CALL ME MR. BROWN (1985), a film based on the May 1971 incident. Qantas were not happy that this now long forgotten story was going to be made into a film.

In 1985, Qantas wrote to Terry Jennings, the film's Producer.

The 'Mr Brown' episode becomes a movie mystery
The Bulletin, September 1, 1987

"The company remains of the view that it is very much against the interests of aviation safety for the film to proceed"

"Therefore we must continue to urge, through any available avenue, that the production of the film be reconsidered'

The argument centred on a fear of copy-cat crimes Qantas blamed Macari's extortion on an earlier film, THE DOOMSDAY FLIGHT – a notion rejected when he appeared in court.

Jennings responded that the film did not touch on security matters and that it was too late to stop it.

Acting Aviation Minister Kim Beazley wrote to Jennings on October 3, 1985, seeking reconsideration of the project. The film was then in full swing.

 

Network 10 never screened it, despite having paid $250,000 for TV rights for seven years. It remained unseen until Kino Film Co sold the rights to Home Cinema Group, who gave it a belated video release in 1990.


 

 

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