Sunday, May 6, 2018
DISASTER MOVIES MONTH: Airport 1975 (1974)
Airport 1975,” confusingly released in 1974, would be the first of three separate sequels to the prototypical seventies disaster movie. In many ways, it's the most iconic of the series and would largely define the franchise in the public's mind.
It all begins as a normal flight. A Boeing 747 leaves Dulles International Airport for L.A. There's plenty of drama aboard the plane. Chief-stewardess Nancy is considering ending her relationship with Captain Alan Murdoch, who is only interested in sex. A young girl, awaiting a life-saving kidney transplant, is aboard the plane. So is movie star Gloria Swanson, currently dictating her autobiography. Nobody is aware that a small personal aircraft is flying the same way. After foggy conditions roll in, an emergency landing is ordered. That's when the pilot of the smaller aircraft suffers a heart attack. The plane collides with the passenger jet, killing two of the three pilots. It's up to Captain Murdoch and Joe Patroni to make sure the plane can safely make it to its destination before it's too late.
The lead characters are a little more likable too. There's still a romance between a captain and a stewardess that is hitting a bumpy stretch. At least nobody is cheating on their wife this time. Helping factors are the actor's cast. Charlton Heston was the matinee king of the late 60s/70s for a reason. The leathery god has charisma to spare. Heston's ability to make the most mundane activities captivating is helpful, since Murdoch spends most of the movie talking into a radio. Karen Black plays Nancy. While the slightly sexist script leaves Nancy dependent on the men around her, Black brings a grounded, likable vulnerability to the part. Letting George Kennedy graduate from supporting role to secondary protagonist was wise. Kennedy's gruffness is endearing in a crotchety old man sort of way.
Mr. Roper appear as a trio of old friends. (Stiller gets one of the film's best gags.) Larry Storch is amusing as Loy's chatty seat neighbor. Erik Estrada and Sharon Gless have bit parts. The most ridiculous, and therefore most entertaining, subplot involves Helen Reddy's singing nun and Linda Blair's sickly young girl. And in a probably unintentional in-joke, “Zero Hour!'s” Dana Andrews appears as the elderly pilot who dies behind the controls, kicking off this whole mess.
While the first “Airport” was a pretty dull affair all the way through, the 1975 edition actually manages to generate some actual tension in its last act. A daring rescue by a parachutist on a zip-line is attempted, which ends up going wrong in a nicely unexpected way. That's probably the movie's biggest stunt and, save for some shifty special effects, it's convincing. Even after the passenger jet reaches the L.A. Airport, the crisis isn't quite over. The climax involves the jet's inability to come to a sturdy landing. It's a nice note to take us out on and makes the film's happy ending feel earned.
two separate books about the worst movies ever made. (To the authors of those book, I suggest you see more movies.) It would also provide plenty of grist for “Airplane!” However, audiences still enjoyed it and made it the seventh highest grossing film of the year. Not quite ridiculous enough to be an object of camp devotion, “Airport 1975” is still a reliably entertaining popcorn muncher with a fun cast and one or two suspenseful moments. [7/10]
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 6 outta 10]
[X] Awards Bait Ballad
 Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
 Destruction of Famous Landmarks
 Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
[X] Heroic Sacrifices
 Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
[X] Star-Studded Cast