Although we didn’t ask for it, TiVo decided to record Airport, the 1970 airport disaster movie that started a whole genre of movies about burning buildings and sinking ships, and goodness knows what. I’d never seen it before, although I’ve seen seen Airplane several times. As you know, Airplane, which was released in 1980, spoofs the disaster genre, especially Airport. I think Airplane is one of the funniest movies ever made, and I was able to reach that conclusion without ever having seen its inspiration. Having seen Airport, I’m even more impressed by Airplane’s spot-on spoof of all the cliches in that movie.
But having seen Airport, I’m also unsurprised by what a huge hit it was. Cliches and almost criminal overacting aside, it’s got a rollicking story line that keeps you going from beginning to end. It also has some very clever split screen techniques that get the story moving well past a few plot points that would otherwise be painfully boring. It’s got a lot of dramatic tension. I liked it. I also laughed like crazy, mostly at the wrong times, because it is a ridiculously silly movie. I recommend it highly for people who like period pieces and/or pretty darn good shlock adventure films.
By the way, as a period piece, the movie has some interesting moments. [Spoilers ahead, if you’re planning on seeing it.] Consistent with a movie for the 1970s, and a melodrama at that, marriages don’t fare well. Two of the protaganists end the movie with someone other than their original wife. Other subjects, though, get a treatment you wouldn’t find in a modern movie. For the one thing, the movie is pro-Life. One of the main characters, a pilot who is in a manifestly loveless — and childless — marriage is having an affair with a stewardess (as they were called in those days). She tells him she’s pregnant. He first suggests an abortion but, when she says she believes that would be wrong, and would rather give the baby up for adoption, he instantly converts to her point of view. By movie’s end, it’s clear that they’ll get married and keep the baby.
The other thing is that the movie is not anti-Catholic. The plane in crisis, since it’s going to Rome, has on it a priest and two nuns. When disaster strikes, they’re out there helping and calming people. The priest is both a man of faith and action, who eventually takes it upon himself to deal with the most obstreperous passenger. The nuns are not child beaters; the priest is not a child molester. How unusual nowadays. (By the way, my mother remembers with great fondness and respect the nuns who were interned in the same camps she was during the war. She says they were consistently cheerful and gave of themselves to all, including the two Jewish teenagers caught in a Japanese concentration camp. My paternal grandmother survived the war hidden in a Belgium convent.)
So, if you’re ever feeling like a long night of movies (Airport runs 2.5 hours), go to Blockbuster or surf to Netflix, and get yourself Airport and Airplane. They’re a great matched set.