Thursday, May 3, 2018
DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: Airport (1970)
Airport” would become a best-seller in 1968. When Hailey's novel was adapted to film in 1970, it was with a star-studded cast and a big budget. The cinematic “Airport” would become a massive hit, surpassing “Spartacus'” record as Universal's highest grossing film. It was the second highest grossing film of the year. It would even win an Academy Award. As a result, “Airport” would throw open the floodgates, leading to a wave of disaster movies with big cast and even big spectacle. Whether or not “Airport” actually holds up as a decent movie is another matter all together.
It's another hectic day at Lincoln International Airport. A severe snowstorm has blown in, causing grounded flights and hazardous flying conditions. Workaholic airport manager, Mel Bakersfield, has to deal with a dissolving marriage in addition to everything else. Checkpoint captain Vernon Demerest's marriage is also in trouble, as he's recently discovered that his stewardess girlfriend is pregnant. Into this situation enters D.O. Guerrero, a down-on-his-luck demolitions expert. Having taken a large life insurance policy out on himself, he sneaks a bomb onto the the Golden Argosy, the plane Demerest happens to be flying. Forces both in the plane and on the ground work together to prevent a horrific crash.
The film's unerring slowness is surprising not just because of the dramatic plot. George Seaton – whose career stretches back to “A Day at the Races” and “Miracle on 34th Street” – contributes some flashy direction. “Airport” frequently utilizes split screens, to illustrate phone calls and radio communication. Sometimes, there's even three or four boxes on screen, showing multiple events. Seaton also employs point-of-view shots, when the stewardesses are looking through the plane, and some quick cutting, when the bomb bursts the plane's fuselage. It's a good looking film, just a languidly paced one.
The supporting cast proves more colorful. George Kennedy, who would become the main face of the “Airport” franchise as it went forward, is likable as the bombastic chief mechanic. Kennedy gets to bark orders at people and swear colorfully, which is something he's really good at. Helen Hayes would win her second Oscar for the crafty old lady who has made a habit of sneaking onto airplanes. If Hayes deserved to win the award that year, I don't know, but she is a lot of fun in the part. Maureen Stapleton would also be nominated for her role as the mad bomber's wife. Van Heflin, as said bomber, projects a nice nervous energy.
Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert gave it negative reviews, with Kael being especially scornful. Despite my misgivings about the film itself, the golden age of disaster movies wouldn't have happened without. This stodgy, dull, and sluggish thriller was responsibly for birthing most of the movies I'll be talking about this month. So I guess I should thank it for that much. [5/10]
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 6 outta 10]
 Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
 Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
 Heroic Sacrifices
 Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast