Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tonight's Movie: Airport (1970)

AIRPORT (1970), the original film in the 1970s series of airline disaster movies, is entertaining, though it lacks the giddy verve of later films like AIRPORT 1975 (1974) or what might be considered a companion film to the AIRPORT series, SKYJACKED (1972).

AIRPORT is a more staid "night in the life of an airport" story. That said, it does maintain interest throughout its lengthy run time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, building to a pretty good disaster film climax.

Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster, with a poor haircut) is the manager of an airport which is close to being closed by a snowstorm. One dark and stormy night Mel must contend with a plane trapped in snow which is blocking a runway -- a runway which must be opened for a crippled airplane to make an emergency landing. Can Mel move the plane in time? Genius mechanic Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) will try.

Meanwhile, that same evening, Mel is threatened with divorce by his wife (Dana Wynter). He's not particularly sorry, as he's attracted to a widowed colleague (Jean Seberg).

Mel's brother-in-law Vern (Dean Martin), an airline captain, is juggling an age-appropriate wife (Barbara Hale) and a dalliance with an airline stewardess (Jacqueline Bisset) 27 years his junior...who announces early on in the film that she's pregnant. What to do?

A 707 crew comprised of Vern, Anson Harris (Barry Nelson), and Cy Jordan (Gary Collins) take off for Rome with passengers who include a stowaway (Helen Hayes) and a loser (Van Heflin) who plans to blow up the plane so his wife can collect his life insurance. I have previously said that Van Heflin could read the phone book and make it interesting, but I'm afraid that's not the case here; his jittery, vacant would-be bomber is depressing and nothing more. I also have to admit it was sad seeing an actor I admire looking so poorly in this film. He passed on the following year.

The cast also includes Lloyd Nolan as the head of customs, Virginia Grey as a passenger, Lisa Gerritsen (MY WORLD AND WELCOME TO IT) as Lancaster's daughter, Paul Picerni as a doctor, Jessie Royce Landis as a smuggler, and Mary Jackson (Miss Emily on THE WALTONS) as a nun. How is it nuns are always on these troubled airline flights?!

The film for the most part plays it straight, though some of the dialogue is a bit creaky. The film is not without its unintentionally laughable moments -- seen from the perspective of 40 years later, two mid-flight slaps can't fail to make viewers think of AIRPLANE! (1980).

Martin and Bisset offer two of the film's most interesting performances. I particularly liked Barry Nelson as one of the pilots. He gives a sympathetic peformance, although he appears to have been stuck with a bad toupee. Lloyd Nolan also generates interest in his few scenes as the customs official. I couldn't help but think of his Agent Briggs posing as a customs agent during a scene in THE HOUSE ON 92ND STREET (1945) a quarter century before.

It's curious to note that Joe Patroni's wife Marie is played by Jodean Russo. The Patronis are said to have half a dozen children. In AIRPORT 1975 Patroni is married to Helen (Susan Clark) and appears to have one son. It's nice that Kennedy and Nelson play solid family men and fathers, given that the film's two leading men, played by Lancaster and Martin, are in crumbling marriages.

Although we found the movie quite enjoyable, it was surprising to realize that this film, which is somewhere just above the level of a well-made TV-movie, was nominated for a whopping 10 Oscars, including Best Picture; the Best Film award that year went to PATTON. Helen Hayes actually took home a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I have to say that I was not impressed with Maureen Stapleton's performance, also nominated for Best Supporting Actress; her character staggering around the airport vacant-eyed struck me as contrived and failed to move me.

AIRPORT was written and directed by George Seaton (MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET). IMDb says an uncredited Henry Hathaway filmed the winter exterior scenes.

This was the last film score composed by the legendary Alfred Newman, who passed away early in 1970.

AIRPORT is available on single-release DVD or as part of the Airport Terminal Pack. It's also had a release on VHS.

AIRPORT has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies.

February 2014 Update: An Evening of Airport Movies at the Egyptian Theatre.


Blogger la peregrina said...

One of my favorite sudsy movie. Of course the book is better.

5:29 PM  

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