A group of old friend who call themselves the Uptowners’ Club (yes, really) want to go on a picnic on top of a remote mountain. The only problem is that they have to ride a cable car up to the mountain and there are reports of potentially bad weather. It’s not safe to ride in a cable car during a thunderstorm. Drunken ne’er-do-well Alan (Bert Convy) doesn’t care and, since his family owns both the mountain and the tramway, his demands that he and his friends be allowed to ride the cable car are met. One lightning strike later and the members of the Uptowners’ Club are stranded in a cable car that is perilously suspended, by only a frayed wire, over treacherous mountain valley.
With no place to go, there’s not much left for the members of the Uptowners’ Club to do but bicker amongst themselves and have lengthy flashbacks that reveal every detail of their own sordid history. Paul (Sam Groom) is angry with Alan because Alan is now engaged to his ex-wife (Donna Mills). Sue Grainger (Patty Duke) is angry with everyone else because they don’t want to admit how their old friend Bobby Graham (Doug Llewellyn) actually died. The other members of the Uptowners’ Club are angry because there’s not much for them to do other than watch Duke and Convy chew on the scenery. Because of the supposedly fierce winds, someone is going to have to climb out on top of the cable car and repair it themselves. Will it be Paul or will it be cowardly drunk Alan? On top of everything else, Paul is set to enter the witness protection program and has got hitmen who want to kill him.
This made-for-TV disaster movie was produced by Irwin Allen. Are you surprised? It’s also three hours long and amazingly, Leslie Nielsen is not in it. It’s hard to understand how anyone could have produced a cable car disaster film and not given a role to Leslie Nielsen. Cameron Mitchell’s in the film but he’s not actually in the cable car so it’s a missed opportunity. Any film that features Patty Duke detailing how her friends got so drunk that they ended up killing the future host of The People’s Court is going to at least have some curiosity value but, for the most part, Hanging By A Thread gets bogged down by its own excessive runtime and lack of convincing effects. Hanging By A Thread came out at the tail end of the 70s disaster boom and it shows why the boom didn’t continue into the 80s.