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Airport 1975: credits read like a Love Boat passenger manifest

Never judge a movie by the number of star photos

Airport 1975: Now might not be a good time to ask the stewardess for an extra pillow.
Airport 1975: Now might not be a good time to ask the stewardess for an extra pillow.

If this dive into Airport 1975 were any deeper, it would have crashed!

Airport 1975 (1974)

It was the first of three officially sanctioned sequels to Airport, the obscenely successful air-disaster soap opera based on the Arthur Hailey best-seller released five years earlier. The credits read like a Love Boat passenger manifest, therefore it should come as no surprise that the script — small screen scenarist Don Ingalls’ one and only theatrical release — was originally intended for a television movie. Producer Jennings Lang liked it so much, he reckoned it worthy of a theatrical release. Good call on his part! The film recouped most of its $3 million budget opening weekend. The disaster series, which cycled through the early ‘70s, is part of what made Love Boat possible. The formula was simple: cram as many stars as possible into one fixed location, and instead of uniting them through romance, dangle the fear of imminent death over their heads. The one thing this period in motion picture history taught us: never judge a movie by the number of star photos stretching (a dozen wide) across the bottom of the poster.

The 120 passengers aboard the Washington to Los Angeles flight constitute a melting pot of cliches, all races, creeds, and stratas of life, abridgements of humanity designed with but a single distinguishing feature in mind so as not to tax the viewer. Airborne bus driver Chuck Heston, fresh off a flight from Europe, wants to spend his layover getting laid, while flying waitress Karen Black, his girlfriend of six years, decides a bustling airport terminal is the best place to once again attempt to press him into marriage. Rather than adorn his work area with photos of loved ones or cheesecake calendars, Chuck has a larger-than-life framed foldout of a cockpit hanging on his office wall.

Part of the package included first class accommodations for yesterday’s superstars: plum roles in exchange for very little work, handsomely rewarded. (Helen Hayes functioned as the adorable oldster in Airport.) In the “Not in Your Wildest Dreams Department,” Lang actually approached notorious recluse Greta Garbo to play the part of a faded glamour queen. “I want to be a loon,” would have been Garbo’s reply had she accepted. The role instead proved to be Gloria Swanson’s swan song. It was her first role in 22 years. Wanting to make a film she could take her grandchildren to see, Swanson insisted upon writing her own dialogue, including one curse word! At the time of its release, Gloria Swanson was the history of cinema personified. Tales of her first flight — piloted by Cecil B. DeMille, and memories of friends Carole Lombard and Grace Moore, the two actresses who never took any guff from studio heads — add a touch of verisimilitude to a world that is bounded by anything but. By the way, the two actresses Swanson refers to both died in mid-flight crashes.

Other uni-functional celebrities receiving boarding passes included Myrna Loy, flying solo since Nick Charles went to his reward, but still partial to sucking back boilermakers. (What’s funny about an old drunk?) A guitar-playing nun (Helen Reddy) serenades sick teenager Linda Blair, a transplant recipient in transit to a new kidney. (This subplot made fine fodder for parody in Airplane!) Dog lover Alice Nunn (“Large Marge” in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) hides her pup from the flight crew. Conrad Janis, Norman Fell, and Jerry Stiller are boozing conventioneers, the latter scoring the biggest intentional laugh by sleeping through the disaster. Christopher Norris is another of Columbia Airlines’ flying harlots, an all-American blonde-haired, blue-eyed shiksa hoping for a “sexy flight” and a rich bachelor to marry for six hours. Did I say shiksa? Who’d have guessed the in-flight kewpie doll is actually a Jewess from Ogallala?! And if chatterbox Sid Caesar was supposed to provide comic relief, he didn’t.

George Kennedy had the distinction of being the only actor to appear in all four terminal disasters, and does he ever merit the royal treatment! We meet Joe Patroni, the uncompromising greasemonkey who worked his way up to vice president of operations. strolling through a hangar, the camera following him from behind, crewmen greeting him with, “Hello, Mr. Patroni.” And here, for the first time, we’re introduced to Joe’s little woman and the couple’s son. Who’d have thought the Patronis would be the type to take in a show at Lincoln Center? Forgive me, but the first image to come to mind at the mention of Mrs. Patroni is Doris Ziffle parked in front of the tube, washing down a quart of Blue Bunny Salted Caramel Craze with a can of Carling Black Label. What a family! Not only is Mrs. Patroni (Susan Clark) hot enough to be a stewardess — I mean that in the best possible way — it’s Joe Jr., a chip off old dad’s blockhead, who reminds the audience in their time of crisis that the 747 is the best dang aircraft ever made!

With their seat backs up and cigarettes extinguished, it’s time to hit the tarmac. First rule of flight club: don’t drink and fly, you might spill some. If the thought of Dean Martin piloting the plane in Airport didn’t make you hiccup with laughter, wait until fellow imbiber Dana Andrews wraps his jittery fist around the joystick. If salesman Dana doesn’t make it to Boise by morning, he stands to lose half of next year’s commissions. He even does his own stunts, like getting into the four seater in mid-rainstorm. His buddies (Bob Hastings and Gene Dynarski) pass a flask, but we never see Dana take a sip. Mention is made of Dana’s peaked pallor, but he brushes it off. Nothing that a couple gallons of coffee won’t cure. At around the 40 minute mark, Dana is sweating 100 proof. His ticker goes out, causing the twin-engine puddle-jumper to collide with the jumbo jet. The film has but two measly fatalities, both occurring at the point of impact. Flight engineer Erik Estrada cashes in his chips, while co-pilot Roy Thinnes is airlifted through the sudden formation of the hole Dana’s plane left in the cockpit. Have the remote handy; you’re going to want to slo-mo his stunt dummy being drawn heavenward.

Heston and Patroni must both live across the street of Dulles International, for how else can one explain the sudden appearance of both men on a private jet heading to Salt Lake City? The two exchange mid-air “Goddammits!” before deciding on a plan: a mid air transfer that calls for Heston to be air-lifted and dropped in the cockpit. Black is the only one onboard doing any real acting. She is the first to arrive in the cockpit to find pilot Efrem Zimbalist hanging on for dear life. Her greatest obstacle is not the hole in the cabin, but Heston’s deluge of condescending “honeys” and “babys” to remind her who is boss. (Doris Day handled a similar situation almost 20 years earlier in Julie, all be her lone self.) And what did the performance earn her? A zinger from critic Rex Reed (at his bitchiest) questioning a “cross-eyed stewardess’” ability to land an airplane.

Jack Smight would go on to direct the most overlooked action film of the ‘70’s: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. It’s doubtful that even Orson Welles could have done much to vitalize the in-cabin exchanges here, but to Smight’s credit, the film’s two big action scenes — Dana making a dent and Chuck being dropped in the driver’s seat — deliver the thrills. And prepare to be impressed: it was shot by Phil Lathrop! In addition to lensing Point Blank and a slew of Blake Edwards pictures, Lathrop was Russell Metty’s camera op on Touch of Evil.

The adventure continues next week with Airport ‘77. See you at the boarding gate!

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Airport 1975: Now might not be a good time to ask the stewardess for an extra pillow.
Airport 1975: Now might not be a good time to ask the stewardess for an extra pillow.

If this dive into Airport 1975 were any deeper, it would have crashed!

Airport 1975 (1974)

It was the first of three officially sanctioned sequels to Airport, the obscenely successful air-disaster soap opera based on the Arthur Hailey best-seller released five years earlier. The credits read like a Love Boat passenger manifest, therefore it should come as no surprise that the script — small screen scenarist Don Ingalls’ one and only theatrical release — was originally intended for a television movie. Producer Jennings Lang liked it so much, he reckoned it worthy of a theatrical release. Good call on his part! The film recouped most of its $3 million budget opening weekend. The disaster series, which cycled through the early ‘70s, is part of what made Love Boat possible. The formula was simple: cram as many stars as possible into one fixed location, and instead of uniting them through romance, dangle the fear of imminent death over their heads. The one thing this period in motion picture history taught us: never judge a movie by the number of star photos stretching (a dozen wide) across the bottom of the poster.

The 120 passengers aboard the Washington to Los Angeles flight constitute a melting pot of cliches, all races, creeds, and stratas of life, abridgements of humanity designed with but a single distinguishing feature in mind so as not to tax the viewer. Airborne bus driver Chuck Heston, fresh off a flight from Europe, wants to spend his layover getting laid, while flying waitress Karen Black, his girlfriend of six years, decides a bustling airport terminal is the best place to once again attempt to press him into marriage. Rather than adorn his work area with photos of loved ones or cheesecake calendars, Chuck has a larger-than-life framed foldout of a cockpit hanging on his office wall.

Part of the package included first class accommodations for yesterday’s superstars: plum roles in exchange for very little work, handsomely rewarded. (Helen Hayes functioned as the adorable oldster in Airport.) In the “Not in Your Wildest Dreams Department,” Lang actually approached notorious recluse Greta Garbo to play the part of a faded glamour queen. “I want to be a loon,” would have been Garbo’s reply had she accepted. The role instead proved to be Gloria Swanson’s swan song. It was her first role in 22 years. Wanting to make a film she could take her grandchildren to see, Swanson insisted upon writing her own dialogue, including one curse word! At the time of its release, Gloria Swanson was the history of cinema personified. Tales of her first flight — piloted by Cecil B. DeMille, and memories of friends Carole Lombard and Grace Moore, the two actresses who never took any guff from studio heads — add a touch of verisimilitude to a world that is bounded by anything but. By the way, the two actresses Swanson refers to both died in mid-flight crashes.

Other uni-functional celebrities receiving boarding passes included Myrna Loy, flying solo since Nick Charles went to his reward, but still partial to sucking back boilermakers. (What’s funny about an old drunk?) A guitar-playing nun (Helen Reddy) serenades sick teenager Linda Blair, a transplant recipient in transit to a new kidney. (This subplot made fine fodder for parody in Airplane!) Dog lover Alice Nunn (“Large Marge” in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure) hides her pup from the flight crew. Conrad Janis, Norman Fell, and Jerry Stiller are boozing conventioneers, the latter scoring the biggest intentional laugh by sleeping through the disaster. Christopher Norris is another of Columbia Airlines’ flying harlots, an all-American blonde-haired, blue-eyed shiksa hoping for a “sexy flight” and a rich bachelor to marry for six hours. Did I say shiksa? Who’d have guessed the in-flight kewpie doll is actually a Jewess from Ogallala?! And if chatterbox Sid Caesar was supposed to provide comic relief, he didn’t.

George Kennedy had the distinction of being the only actor to appear in all four terminal disasters, and does he ever merit the royal treatment! We meet Joe Patroni, the uncompromising greasemonkey who worked his way up to vice president of operations. strolling through a hangar, the camera following him from behind, crewmen greeting him with, “Hello, Mr. Patroni.” And here, for the first time, we’re introduced to Joe’s little woman and the couple’s son. Who’d have thought the Patronis would be the type to take in a show at Lincoln Center? Forgive me, but the first image to come to mind at the mention of Mrs. Patroni is Doris Ziffle parked in front of the tube, washing down a quart of Blue Bunny Salted Caramel Craze with a can of Carling Black Label. What a family! Not only is Mrs. Patroni (Susan Clark) hot enough to be a stewardess — I mean that in the best possible way — it’s Joe Jr., a chip off old dad’s blockhead, who reminds the audience in their time of crisis that the 747 is the best dang aircraft ever made!

With their seat backs up and cigarettes extinguished, it’s time to hit the tarmac. First rule of flight club: don’t drink and fly, you might spill some. If the thought of Dean Martin piloting the plane in Airport didn’t make you hiccup with laughter, wait until fellow imbiber Dana Andrews wraps his jittery fist around the joystick. If salesman Dana doesn’t make it to Boise by morning, he stands to lose half of next year’s commissions. He even does his own stunts, like getting into the four seater in mid-rainstorm. His buddies (Bob Hastings and Gene Dynarski) pass a flask, but we never see Dana take a sip. Mention is made of Dana’s peaked pallor, but he brushes it off. Nothing that a couple gallons of coffee won’t cure. At around the 40 minute mark, Dana is sweating 100 proof. His ticker goes out, causing the twin-engine puddle-jumper to collide with the jumbo jet. The film has but two measly fatalities, both occurring at the point of impact. Flight engineer Erik Estrada cashes in his chips, while co-pilot Roy Thinnes is airlifted through the sudden formation of the hole Dana’s plane left in the cockpit. Have the remote handy; you’re going to want to slo-mo his stunt dummy being drawn heavenward.

Heston and Patroni must both live across the street of Dulles International, for how else can one explain the sudden appearance of both men on a private jet heading to Salt Lake City? The two exchange mid-air “Goddammits!” before deciding on a plan: a mid air transfer that calls for Heston to be air-lifted and dropped in the cockpit. Black is the only one onboard doing any real acting. She is the first to arrive in the cockpit to find pilot Efrem Zimbalist hanging on for dear life. Her greatest obstacle is not the hole in the cabin, but Heston’s deluge of condescending “honeys” and “babys” to remind her who is boss. (Doris Day handled a similar situation almost 20 years earlier in Julie, all be her lone self.) And what did the performance earn her? A zinger from critic Rex Reed (at his bitchiest) questioning a “cross-eyed stewardess’” ability to land an airplane.

Jack Smight would go on to direct the most overlooked action film of the ‘70’s: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. It’s doubtful that even Orson Welles could have done much to vitalize the in-cabin exchanges here, but to Smight’s credit, the film’s two big action scenes — Dana making a dent and Chuck being dropped in the driver’s seat — deliver the thrills. And prepare to be impressed: it was shot by Phil Lathrop! In addition to lensing Point Blank and a slew of Blake Edwards pictures, Lathrop was Russell Metty’s camera op on Touch of Evil.

The adventure continues next week with Airport ‘77. See you at the boarding gate!

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Comments
6

If memory serves, we are introduced to George "Patroni" Kennedy in the original "Airport" movie sucking the tonsils of his wife only to be interrupted by a phone call from Burt Lancaster: "My four kids are away at my mother's, I'm home alone with Marie, and I'm not available.... SLURP SLURP". For this "Airport", we get the sanitized version of Joe's family. Booooo.

Charlton Heston relates that he had begun working on this movie only fifteen hours after he had finished the final shot on Earthquake (1974). Disaster movies were all the rage...

Aug. 28, 2021

There's very little I remember about "Airport" other than the priest finishing the sign of the cross with a right jab to the face passenger across the aisle and some rather janky split-screen work. When it comes to laughs, A75 is worth its weight in frequent flyer miles.

Aug. 29, 2021

"Jack Smight would go on to direct the most overlooked action film of the ‘70’s: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."

I definitely agree on that one. And here's a 1-2-3 that shows why: Walter Matthau Robert Shaw Martin Balsam BAFTA award: Best Supporting Actor: Martin Balsam I just voted it a 9 on IMDb.com, where it currently has a 7.7.

Sept. 9, 2021

The remake starred Denzel Washington, John Travolta, James Gandolfini, Luis Guzman, and John Turturro. According to your math, that should place it on par with the original, but instead, it sucks farts out of shirt tails. (I'm seated next to the phone awaiting a call from the Pulitzer people.) Actors don't make movies, directors do. To steal a bit from Andrew Sarris, I've seen more badly acted films salvaged by good direction rather than the other way around. For the better part of the last hour I've tried to come up with a few artistically triumphant films in which the actor is auteur. I recall numerous films in which the cinematographer called the shots — check out just about anything by David Walsh or William Fraker — but when it comes to an actor deserving sole authorship, all I can think of is James Whitmore in "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" Or was it Hal Holbrook?

Sept. 9, 2021

No Oscar for the great James Whitmore, but he was nominated. for Best Actor. And he won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Recording.

Sept. 11, 2021

Don't forget this glowing tribute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ibPgS6IGNk

Sept. 11, 2021

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