AIRPLANE! (1980) DIRECTED BY JIM ABRAHAMS, DAVID ZUCKER AND JERRY ZUCKER. BASED ON ZERO HOUR! BY ARTHUR HAILEY, HALL BARTLETT AND JOHN CHAMPION.
STARRING ROBERT HAYS AND JULIE HAGERTY.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘This is Captain Oveur, over.’
‘And don’t call me Shirley…’
‘Excuse me, Miss, I speak jive.’
‘That’s strange. Jim never vomits at home.’
‘Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?’
‘Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?’
This is an excellent ‘spoof’ comedy film, which parodies some of the great disaster epics of the ‘Seventies and lets the air out of ‘em a little bit. Some of the jokes, punchlines and visual gags will be as familiar to you as your own name by now.
Certainly, when I re-watched it last night after a gap of about ten years, I was able to recite a lot of the lines without much difficulty. While it may never again be as funny to you on subsequent watches as it would have been on your first, it’s still pretty damned funny and well worth a second or third or even fourth look.
The plot is two-fold. There’s an airline disaster, first and foremost. A plane takes off from Los Angeles to go to Chicago. During the flight, however, numerous passengers as well as the pilot and his co-pilots all become desperately ill with food poisoning after eating the fish course for dinner.
The ‘automatic pilot,’ a blow-up dummy called Otto, is deployed to fly the plane for the moment, but someone human is going to have to land that baby in Chicago or there’s gonna be a major accident in the air. Added to which, the sick passengers need urgent, on-the-ground medical attention or they could die.
Leslie Nielsen as the hilariously deadpan Dr. Rumack and Julie Hegarty playing the beautiful stewardess Elaine Dickinson scour the plane to see if they can find someone- anyone- qualified to bring this big bird down safely.
Dr. Rumack: ‘We need to get these people to a hospital or they could die.’
Elaine: ‘Oh my God, a hospital! What is it?’
Dr. Rumack: ‘It’s a big building with doctors and nurses in it, but that’s not important right now…’
Very funny. They do one or two other gags using this one as a template, and it makes me laugh every single time. Anyway, Elaine knows perfectly well, however, that there’s only one man on board who can do this job, and this is where the second plot, the romantic one, kicks in with a vengeance.
Elaine’s boyfriend Ted Striker, played by the handsome Robert Starman Hays, is a passenger on the doomed plane, but Elaine has just broken up with him because he just can’t get over the trauma he endured as a fighter pilot in the war- it doesn’t say which war- when he was the cause of several of his fellow officers meeting their fiery deaths in the air. Ted’s on the plane to try to convince a reluctant Elaine to take him back, despite his flaws, but he’s steered cleared of planes generally since the war.
Dr. Rumack and Elaine manage to convince the nervous Ted, now working as a taxi driver- a nice safe earthbound job- to fly/land the plane. He’ll have the telephone help and guidance of Lloyd Bridges’ character Steve McCroskey in the air control tower, and also Robert Stack’s Capt. Rex Kramer, an old nemesis of Ted’s. Can Ted step up to the plate and be the man that both Elaine and the passengers and crew need him to be? Well, we’ll see, won’t we? There’s a helluva lot riding on this one safe landing…
There are some terrific visual gags that you’d need to see to properly appreciate, such as the two stewardesses dragging the bodies of the sick pilot and his two sick co-pilots down the aisle of the plane while the passengers’ attention is momentarily diverted elsewhere; Elaine giving Otto a ‘blow-job’ in the cockpit after which they both need a cigarette, and the queue of heavily armed passengers lining up to each ‘help’ this one hysterical woman to calm down and get a hold of herself. It’s pretty funny stuff.
I like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a real-life basketball player, as co-pilot Roger Murdoch (‘Roger that, Roger!’), and also Lorna Private Benjamin Patterson as the singing air stewardess who doesn’t want to die an old maid. (‘Well, at least I have a husband,’ says Mrs. Hammen smugly. What a bitch!)
The flashbacks to Ted and Elaine getting together are really funny; Elaine aping the movements of the stabbed man on the dance floor, thinking he’s just grooving to the beat like her, and also Ted’s John Travolta bit to the disco music of the Bee Gees, are both brilliant. Ditto the way the whole bar gets up en masse and starts disco-dancing when the music changes. The film is a-gag-a-minute solid gold comedy classic. Don’t y’all miss out on seeing it…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: