Airport began the disaster movie cycle of the 1970s. Airport became the blueprint for all the disaster movies that followed. Airport was a massive hit, returning a $100 million profit on a budget of just over $10 million. That’s a profit of $646 million in today’s dollars. Airport was the Avengers: Infinity War of its day.
A few months back I read the Arthur Hailey book upon which the film is based. I was surprised that the film is so faithful to the book; perhaps the filmmakers decided to play it safe because the book was a mammoth bestseller and they did not want to disappoint readers. I also discovered which plot points did not make the filmmakers’ cut. The book features a substantial subplot concerning an alcoholic air traffic controller who is slowly losing his mind. Perhaps this section hit the curb because the studio felt they were pushing enough nervous flyers’ buttons (what with the stowaway subplot and the MAD BOMBER subplot) that adding the suggestion that one’s plane is being guided through the friendly skies by a suicidal alcoholic was just a bit too much.
TANGENT: Why was I reading a dusty, fifty-year-old mainstream bestseller? Because Book Bub offered it to me for two dollars. Whether I desire an iBook for my Apple devices or my Kindle, Book Bub email alerts serve up between five and eight e-books a day that are all available for two dollars or less. Though it’s taken me a while to get used to reading long pieces on my tablet, I love books and I love a good bargain. Just this morning, a collection of supernatural horror stories and a Wiccan cookbook were two of my Book Bub choices. Book Bub knows what I like.
Bakersfeld enlists the help of chief mechanic Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) to move the snowbound plane. Meanwhile, because this is a disaster film, many many other subplots are set in motion. Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes) is a delightfully peppy senior citizen who sneaks onto Trans-global flights so that she may visit her daughter in New York for free. Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) is a hotshot pilot who is having an affair with chief stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset). Down-on-his-luck munitions expert D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) plans to blow himself up on a plane, so his wife can collect the insurance money. How will all of these plots intersect? What if Guerrero forgets to blow up the plane he is on—couldn’t he blow up the plane that is stuck in the snow instead? That would really help out Bakersfeld, who is having a hard day. What if Helen Hayes won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress? Because she did.
I am unabashed in my love for supporting players, and like most disaster movies, Airport serves up a heaping helping of meaty roles for character actors. Except for nominal lead Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy emerges as the real protagonist in the story. His performance is completely convincing as a guy who really works at an airport. Kennedy’s Patroni is the only character to appear in every film in the Airport franchise (there were eventually three sequels.) I believe it was Kennedy’s performance and the success of this film that got him bumped up to second lead in Earthquake.
The Poseidon Adventure
The Towering Inferno
Earthquake and “The Nine Rules of Disaster Films”
OFFICIAL AIRPORT THRILL-O-METER READING: 92%
(Thrilling to see this many A-list performers in danger! Who will survive?)
(Suspense abounds. Will that plane be safely removed from that runway so that the damaged plane might land? Will Burt Lancaster be fired as operations manager? Will George Kennedy get his free box of cigars?)
(A+ for some big-ticket practical effects.)