The skin-tight flight suit is a bridge too far.
Someone younger with a fuller build might have pulled it off. William Holden or Kirk Douglas, maybe. But at 49, Humphrey Bogart looks ridiculous.
The story opens during World War II with Bogart as an enlisted pilot leading bombing runs and romancing a Red Cross worker played by Eleanor Parker. When he's ordered home, Bogart and Parker try to marry but a series of contrivances thwarts their efforts and Bogart leaves.
Cut to present day where more contrivances see a washed-up Bogart land a test pilot job for an aviation mogul played by Raymond Massey. Of course, Parker shows up as Massey’s secretary. She’s dating Massey’s chief engineer, played by Richard Whorf.
Conflict arises when Bogart suggests piloting Massey’s experimental fighter jet from Alaska to Washington, D.C. It’s a stunt to convince the Washington brass the plane is ready for production. Whorf opposes the stunt, convinced the jet needs the new safety features he's developing.
Massey wants to produce the fighter now. Bogart wants the money the stunt will net him so he can propose to Parker. Whorf wants time to finish his safety innovations.
As Bogart races to Washington clad in the aforementioned flight suit, Whorf races to implement his new designs, using himself as a test pilot.
There’s a passable story buried in Chain Lightning, but Bogart’s wrong for the role. The laughable sight of him squeezed into the flight suit distracts from the script’s foresight. Though common enough today, escape pods, pressurized flight suits, and braking parachutes were science fiction to 1950s audiences.
Compounding matters, the film pushes the melodrama, despite the three leads having no chemistry. Will Bogart and Parker get back together? Will there be obstacles to their romance? I think you know the answer.
The resulting film feels like one of Bogart’s pre-Casablanca (1942) pictures that saw him cast in whatever assembly line production Warners was cranking out that week. Bogart deserved better.
And really, what were they thinking with that flight suit?