ZERO HOUR! (1957), THE CROWDED SKY (1960), and SKYJACKED (1972). In the words of an Amazon reviewer, it's "so bad it's brilliant."
The filmmakers apparently had a sense of humor from the outset, as they decide to re-enact the collision between pilots Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Dana Andrews from THE CROWDED SKY 14 years previously, only this time around they switch places: Zimbalist is piloting the airliner and Andrews is in the small plane which veers off course. Alas, Dana's character has a massive heart attack -- he does get a nice phone scene first with wife Beverly Garland -- and his plane collides with the cockpit of Columbia Airlines Flight 409, a 747 descending to land in Salt Lake City.
Head stewardess Nancy (Karen Black) enters the cockpit to discover that the 747's copilot (Roy Thinnes) and flight engineer (Erik Estrada, a couple years before hitting it big on CHiPs) have been killed and pilot Zimbalist is semi-conscious and can't see. What's a good stewardess going to do now?
She's going to fly the plane, that's what! Nancy's boyfriend Al (Charlton Heston) and airline exec Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) give her voice instructions on changing course so she won't hit the Rockies, while trying to make sure she doesn't stall out when gaining altitude. Of course, Joe Patroni's wife (Susan Clark) and young son (Brian Morrison) are on board too, so both Al and Joe have a particular interest in Flight 409 landing safely.
Nancy keeps the plane from crashing, but there's no way she can land it, especially with some of the equipment damaged and the radio connection fading out. So Al and Joe come up with a plan: they're going to use a military jet helicopter to lower a pilot through the gaping hole in the 747's windshield. It's a beautiful thing.
From the vantage point of 36 years later, there's a lot of enjoyment from the sheer cheesiness of it all, including sideburns, bad clothes, syrupy music, and very unpolitically correct dialogue.
The movie star watching is great: you've got Ben-Hur's mother (Martha Scott) on board as a nun, not to mention two cast members from SUNSET BOULEVARD, Nancy Olson (as the mother of a critically ill kidney patient) and Gloria Swanson (playing herself, in an amusing, glamorous turn). Myrna Loy seems to be channeling Nora Charles's drinking habits as she downs one boilermaker after another. Linda Blair plays the kidney patient (the previous year she infamously starred in THE EXORCIST). Sid Caesar, Conrad Janis, Norman Fell, and Jerry Stiller are a bunch of obnoxious passengers. And Helen Reddy's along as a singing nun. Really.
If you look closely, Sharon Gless (BURN NOTICE) is one of the stewardesses, as is Laurette Spang (from the original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA). Guy Stockwell (younger brother of Dean) is the first pilot to attempt boarding the plane while in flight. Other actors who wander in and out of the film include Ed Nelson, Terry Lester (THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS), Larry Storch, Judy Lewis (daughter of Loretta Young), and Kip Niven (Rev. Marshall from THE WALTONS).
Despite the harrowing ordeal, the body count is fairly low (4) and the entertainment quotient is very high, if the viewer isn't expecting classic cinema. Heston and Kennedy play it straight -- our man Chuck was a terrific disaster movie hero, and it's enjoyable knowing everything's going to be OK with him handling things -- but one can't help laughing at times at the dialogue and the ever-escalating situation. This is a fun movie to watch with a group to provide running commentary.
AIRPORT 1975 is 107 minutes long. It was directed by Jack Smight, who also directed Heston in MIDWAY (1976).
AIRPORT 1975 is available on DVD. Consumer reviews indicate that the version in the Airport Terminal Pack suffers from a distorted screen ratio. The DVD released by Good Times, which is the version we watched, is supposed to be the correct ratio. The cover is pictured to the right. (Funny thing, the location of the collision is incorrectly depicted in the DVD artwork. It's correct on the poster at the top of this post.)
This movie has also had a release on VHS.
The trailer is at IMDb.
February 2014 Update: An Evening of Airport Movies at the Egyptian Theatre.