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40 Years of “Airport”: “Airport” (1970)

40 Years of “Airport”: “Airport” (1970) (photo)

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In 1970, one movie invented the modern disaster film. After grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office (adjusted for inflation, it made more than any of the “Lord of the Rings”), it spawned three sequels that stretched through the entire decade. But this landmark series is now almost totally forgotten, long eclipsed by the film that so brilliantly spoofed the genre tropes it helped define. In honor of its fortieth anniversary, we’re looking back at the “Airport” franchise this week, one film at a time. Today, the movie that started it all, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey.

Airport (1970)
Directed by George Seaton

Nature of Air Emergency: A distraught man detonates a crude suicide bomb on a commercial jet in the hopes that his wife will collect his life insurance. Captain Vern Demerest (Dean Martin) has to land the damaged plan in the middle of a brutal Chicago snowstorm at an airport where the main runway is closed.

George Kennedy Plays: Joe Patroni, Chief Mechanic of Trans Global Airlines.

11082010_airport2.jpgMost Surprising Subplot: Flight attendant Gwen’s (Jacqueline Bisset) unwanted and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, which prompts a weirdly frank discussion about abortion between Bisset and Martin. “I stopped taking the pills because they were making me gain weight,” she tells him. “So instead of being plump I’m pregnant.” His response: “I’ll make sure you don’t go to some butcher two flights up over a drug store. I hear Sweden’s the best place. Good doctors, good hospitals. Medically safe.” Call me naive, but I wasn’t prepared for the silly disaster picture about the plane that gets blown up and still lands safely to set aside a few minutes for a sincerely moving conversation about family planning. Go ahead. Call me naive.

If “Airport” Were Made Today: it would be hard to play Helen Hayes’ stowaway character as the comic relief. Mrs. Ada Quonsett is a widow who hitches rides on airplanes whenever she feels like it. Everything she does is illegal and immoral, but she’s a little old lady and she’s having a lot of fun being bad; even after she’s caught, she still tries to talk her way into the admiral’s club with a “borrowed” membership card. In 1970, people sneaking onto airplanes with forged documents could be kind of charming (talk about being naive). In 2010, people sneaking on airplanes with forged documents, even little old lady types, not so charming.

11082010_airport3.jpgCharacter You Kind of Want To Die: This one random passenger who keeps screwing things up for everyone else. When the flight crew get wind of the bomber’s plan, they hatch an elaborate scheme to grab his explosives, hidden in a briefcase, away from him. The plan works, until this one random guy sees what’s happening and sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong; he stops the flight attendant with the case, and the bomber is able to grab it back. Then a few minutes later, just as Dean Martin is about to convince him not to blow himself up, a man comes out of the bathroom and bumps into the bomber, and the same random douchebag screams out “He’s got a bomb!” That starts a scuffle that results in the bomb going off. That one idiot is indirectly responsible for everything that goes wrong on that airplane! Is it weird that I kind of enjoyed watching him struggle for air when the cabin depressurized? Also: how intense does a trip to the bathroom have to be to not hear a guy threatening to blow up an airplane right outside the door?

Line That Makes You Wonder Whether The Whole Film Was An Informercial For The Air Travel Industry: “Remind me to send a thank you note to Mr. Boeing.” — Capt. Harris (Barry Nelson), inspecting the damaged plane after its safe landing.

Parodied in “Airplane!”: The opening credits of “Airplane!” are an obvious parody of “Jaws”: a model 747 tail fin snakes through lines of clouds while ominous John Williams-esque music plays. You assume the model looks so cheap because the Zuckers couldn’t afford anything fancier until you watch some of the flying sequences in “Airport,” which actually tries to pass off an incredibly phony toy plane skimming through cotton balls as a real plane in flight.

11082010_airport4.jpgHow Does It Hold Up? Better than I expected. “Airport” may have helped invent the modern disaster movie, but it’s a lot less over-the-top than many of the films that would follow (I’m looking at you, movie about Michael Caine fighting millions of angry bees). Most of the movie isn’t even about the airplane disaster; it really does focus on this airport and the tough decisions that have to be made by its manager, Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster). Even amidst all the movie stars and the big action set pieces, the movie has a nice working-class vibe. While Martin’s romancing Bisset, Lancaster and Kennedy are doing the unglamorous stuff: dealing with corporate bureaucracy, fielding complaints from angry customers, and digging planes out of snow banks, all on their nights off. For the people in the sky, air travel is exotic and exciting. Even though their flight gets attacked, it’s all this grand adventure that works out in the end. For the people on the ground, it’s just a job, and a pretty crappy one at that; it destroys at least one marriage before the picture’s over. I guess the powers that be at Universal felt that the movie stars and big action set pieces were what put asses in the seats, not the promise of tough management decisions. That would have a major impact on the tone and plot of the sequels.

Strange But True: According to Wikipedia, the plane that Universal leased to double for the damaged Trans Global jet was later sold to a Brazilian airline. On March 21, 1989, it was involved a real-life air disaster resulting in over twenty-five fatalities. Creepy.

Tomorrow: “Airport 1975”
Wednesday: “Airport ’77”
Thursday: “The Concorde… Airport ’79”
Friday: “Airplane!”

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Culture Vulture

IFC Teams Up With Vulture.com to Develop New Pop Culture Series

The Vulture Show will tackle pop culture with a "slightly off" twist.

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Photo Credit: New York Magazine

The pop culture aficionados at Vulture.com are teaming up with IFC to develop a brand new unscripted series. The Vulture Show will deliver smart, irreverent and “slightly off” entertainment news covering TV, movies, music, art, books, theater and celebrities with the outlet’s signature sharp perspective.

The weekly dual-hosted talk show will feature some of Vulture’s most influential contributing voices and will be comprised of in studio features, field pieces and celebrity guest interviews.

“IFC has found the perfect pop culture accomplice with New York Magazine’s Vulture,” said Christine Lubrano, SVP, Original Programming, IFC. “We look forward to developing a show that provides our viewers with a sophisticated and humorous first-look at all things entertainment before it’s the news everyone is buzzing about.”

“It’s fitting that we bring Vulture to TV with IFC, whose offbeat sensibility matches our own,” said Adam Moss, Editor-in-Chief, New York Magazine. “We’ve had a tremendous response to our Vulture Festival events, and are excited for this next incarnation of Vulture.”

Be sure to check back for future details about The Vulture Show.

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Marc Maron – Maron – Season 4, Episode 5

Life Goals

10 Maron Quotes to Get You Through the Week

Get over the Wednesday hump with a brand new Maron tonight at 9P.

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Wednesdays are tough. You’re halfway through the week, but there’s still half of the week left. Luckily Wednesdays mean brand new Maron, with yet another chance to gain some much needed wisdom from Marc Maron. This week Marc continues to dig himself out of his own personal hell, making us all wiser in the process. Before you catch tonight’s Maron, check out some Marc quotes to get you over “Hump Day.”

1. Set realistic diet goals.

Whipped Cream Maron

Instead of looking up how many calories you have left for today’s nutritional intake, admit that you just want something of the whipped and creamy variety.


2. Assert yourself into the conversation.

Maron Shut Up

Instead of letting people walk all over you, be like Marc and demand to be heard…even if it’s just to tell someone to shut up.


3. Trust no one. Except Marc.

"Maron

Instead of trying to figure out which friend could keep a secret, admit that you yourself couldn’t keep a secret to save your life.


4. Minimize your shortcomings.

Maron Notes

Instead of blaming the world for your failures, admit when it’s your own damned fault…to a point.


5. Celebrate accomplishments. Even minor ones.

Maron Ahole

Instead of wishing for greater success, take pride in the ways that you have excelled without judgment.


6. Remember that every day is filled with potential.

Maron Possibilities

Just make sure you have enough coffee.


7. Demand proof from others.

Maron Believe

Instead of potentially being in someone’s shadow, throw doubt on anything they haven’t properly documented.


8. Take a moment to reflect.

Maron Right Thing

There’s a first time for everything.


9. Be honest about where you’re at right now.

Maron Smart

Instead of avoiding embarrassment, embrace it.


10. And finally, remember the important things in life.

Maron Love

Instead of bemoaning the inadequacies of your relationships, perhaps due in part to items 1 through 9, just focus on the physical.

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Marc Maron – Maron – Season 4, Episode 4

Behind the Anger

Marc Maron Gets Deep in an Interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

Follow Marc's journey to recovery tonight at 9P on IFC.

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It ain’t no stage persona: Marc Maron is an anxious, angry, complicated fellow. In a recent interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the Maron star described how he’s beset by constant anxiety, self-hatred, and general unease, which he considers his “uncomfortable” comfort zone. “Being sort of anxious and uncomfortable has really been my home base, innately,” he said. “And I don’t know how to change that, and that’s really the challenge for me now.”

A former addict himself, Marc also discussed the difficulty of portraying his TV character’s drug relapse, downfall, and rehabilitation — a fear he’s glad “happened in fiction and not in real life.”

Click here to listen to Marc Maron’s deep and revealing interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

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