AIRPORT

Directed by George Seaton. USA. 1970.


Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk
 
 


 
 

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Airport started the whole cycle of disaster films that dominated the 1970s. I remember seeing Airport on our brand new colour TV in the early 1970s and we were transfixed. Looking at it today I am surprised to see how long it takes the movie to get into the air. Most of the first hour centres on Lincoln International Airport's manager Mel Bakersfeld  (Burt Lancaster) struggling to deal with all the problems caused by a snow storm. On top of this he is having even more trouble with his marriage because he spends so much time at the airport instead of at his wife's charity events. 

There is a build-up to the take-off of an aircraft captained by Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin), who plays a high-flying Casanova (no surprise there then). The passengers include a stowaway Granny and a nervous chap with a bomb in his briefcase. When disaster strikes everyone has to work and pray together to get the plane safely back to Earth.

There are several intersecting stories inside and outside the airport terminal and the film is full of details about airport and air traffic control procedures. To illustrate the network of people on the ground who keep the flights going the film often uses quirky split-screen techniques, and it starts with a black screen with just a soundtrack running.

There are several good parts of the film, such as when Captain Vernon tells the passengers there is a bomb onboard and they leap back with actorly surprise, the moment before when the stewardess slaps the old lady in the face to distract the bomber and the cigar-chomping Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) when explaining what a bomb will do to a Boeing 707.

Based on Arthur Hailey's bestselling novel, this soap-like epic certainly took off at the box-office where it grossed $100 million. Most of this success can be attributed to the way you are drawn into the personal lives of the main characters and on the anxiety we all have of flying. Although it plays with these anxieties it also stresses how safe the 707 is and how much goes on behind the scenes to keep the planes safely flying in all conditions.

The DVD Airport - Terminal Pack released by Universal Pictures in the UK April 2006, contains this film along with its three sequels that follow a similar formula. These are:

Airport '75 (Jack Smight, 1974) - Charlton Heston is lowered from a helicopter to rescue a jumbo jet that has been hit by a small plane

Airport '77 (Jerry Jameson, 1977) - Terrorists cause a jumbo decked out with Hollywood stars (including Christopher Lee) and art treasures to crash near an oil rig. 

The Concorde - Airport '79 (David Rich, 1979) - Another crash, this time on an ice field as the Concorde is on its way to Moscow. More doom than sonic boom.

As the sequels got even sillier you can wallow in their cliched characters and situations. Of course you can't take any of them seriously if you've ever seen Airplane! (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980) which is a comic romp through the disaster movie rule book. In turn, Airplane! has spawned an whole circus of similar send-ups with equally dimishing returns.

Nigel Watson
 
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Material Copyright © 2006 Nigel Watson