Monday, December 31, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Airport '77 (1977)

Our family's New Year's Eve traditions the last few years generally involve Honeybaked ham and a disaster movie, followed by toasting with Martinelli's at midnight.

Over the last several years we've spent New Year's Eve watching EARTHQUAKE (1974), CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965), THE CROWDED SKY (1960), ZERO HOUR! (1957), SKYJACKED (1972), and TWISTER (1996).

Late tonight was spent watching AIRPORT '77, which we found to be a lot of fun, if slightly overlong at 114 minutes. They just had to draw out the suspense with one more "gotcha" near the end!

Jack Lemmon stars as Captain Don Gallagher, piloting a private luxury jet owned by corporate tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart). The plane is carrying a load of VIPs and some priceless artwork to Stevens' new museum. (I found a post listing the addresses of various locations from the film, including the museum.) Among those on board are Stevens' daughter Lisa (Pamela Bellwood, later of DYNASTY) and her little boy Benjy (Anthony Battaglia).

Also on board are art critic Emily Livingston (Olivia de Havilland), who is reunited with a flame from decades earlier, Nicholas St. Downs III (Joseph Cotten); the alcoholic wife (Lee Grant) of an executive (Christopher Lee); and Stan Buchek (Darren McGavin), who knows all about the plane and becomes the pilot's righthand man when the going gets tough.

There are a bunch of art thieves on board, including the copilot (Robert Foxworth of FALCON CREST), and they knock out the rest of the crew and temporarily gas the passengers into unconsciousness. While flying at low altitude in order to escape radar detection, the wing clips an oil rig and next thing you know, the plane, still intact, is sitting on the floor of shallow ocean waters -- and for good measure, they're in the Bermuda Triangle!

Fans of AIRPORT films won't be surprised that this is a case for Joe Patroni (George Kennedy)! Although as it turns out, he really doesn't play a significant role and has little more than a cameo. The rescue is led from inside by the captain, who manages to get off the plane with a raft with a beeping radio, then leads U.S. Navy dive teams in raising the plane to the surface. Captain Dan can do it all, by golly!

Lemmon is excellent in the lead role, totally committed to the part and selling a somewhat unbelievable story (but when it comes to AIRPORT films, aren't they all?!). I thought he did a terrific job.  And he looks so very '70s in his mustache!

Other than Lemmon, the greatest pleasure for me was watching Stewart, de Havilland, and Cotten, who have a reasonable amount of screen time; de Havilland, in particular, gets a chance to shine as a ladylike woman who also plays a mean game of poker. I also particularly enjoyed McGavin. Lee Grant, with apologies to the lady, is boring in what should be a flashy role as the unhappy wife.

This film follows in the tradition of having a musician on board, and instead of Helen Reddy as a singing nun (AIRPORT 1975), we have the blind singer-pianist Tom Sullivan, who briefly finds love with young Kathleen Quinlan.

Brenda Vaccaro plays Lemmon's live-in love whom he'd like to marry, prompting a family discussion that back in the '70s, living together sans marriage was shocking enough to make this movie seem "edgy" in its day; now, of course, it's completely commonplace so the movie loses a tiny bit in the translation without that context.

The other cast members include Maidie Norman, Gil Gerard, Elizabeth Cheshire, Monica Lewis, Arlene Golonka, and Monte Markham. Longtime Western stuntman Chuck Hayward is one of the passengers.

It's all a bit hokey and improbable, yet, as is the case with so many films of this genre, it's also quite entertaining. Even the sillier aspects help make it fun to watch, and it's also enjoyable recognizing the various faces from movies and TV. I commented to a family member that I wonder what it says about me that I enjoyed this film so much more than the "classic" STALAG 17 (1953), watched earlier in the day.  But there you have it!

We rented AIRPORT '77 for streaming from Amazon Instant Video via our Roku. It was a beautiful widescreen print, and we were very happy with the experience.

It's been released on DVD in various versions, including a four-film "Airport Terminal Pack," but be on the alert that my favorite AIRPORT film, AIRPORT 1975 (1974), is the wrong screen ratio in this set. (And they misspell Concorde on the box!) AIRPORT '77 has also had a release on VHS.

Recommended as a fun time for those who enjoy the AIRPORT movies.


Blogger KC said...

That is a great NYE tradition! Airport '77 is definitely one of the craziest disaster flicks, if not quite "Concorde" level insane.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

I've always enjoyed this one though the 70s setting is sometimes hard to take. Funny how the 70s and 80s look dated to me on film, but not the 40s and 50s!
So unusual for Jack Lemmon to tackle something like this - and do so well. Always liked Darren McGavin - my first memory of Darren is in a Jerry Lewis film, The Delicate Delinquent.

7:40 AM  

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