George Seaton (Novel: Arthur Hailey)
Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson, Dana Wynter, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Hale, Gary Collins
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The key film setting up the onslaught of disaster films in the 1970s, Airport is a glossy, high wattage flick that sets the tone for all of the films to follow. The movie follows a snow-bound airport struggling to get its planes in the air and avoid as many disasters as possible. Yet, nearly every single hazard they become involved in only gets worse as the film progresses.
For the first half hour of the film, the most exciting moments of the film surround the relationships between pilots, stewardess and co-workers and the witty, crafty little old lady who stows-away frequently on airplanes across country and is finally caught. Then we’re introduced to the unemployed civil engineer, nearly destitute who decides the best way to provide for his loving wife is to blow himself and a plane to Rome up over the Atlantic and give her the insurance money resultant from his death without a trace. From that point forward, the tension begins to build as delayed departure times, snow-slowed traffic and an old lady giving a young man the slip provide some interesting and entertaining distractions.
There isn’t a lot going on here and although I love disaster films, this isn’t one of the best. However, the actors in the film treat the material as such and give some terrific performances. Burt Lancaster as the airport manager, Dean Martin as the co-pilot, George Kennedy as the crew chief, Helen Hayes as the grifter, Van Heflin as the destitute engineer and Maureen Stapleton as his wife are all acting as if they were contending for Oscars. And the amazing thing is that both Stapleton and Hayes received nominations and Hayes even won. I don’t think she’s quite Oscar caliber and Stapleton is a more sympathetic character, but its nice to see both of them honored. The film was nominated for Best Picture along with the previous two nominations and seven others, it resulted in Hayes as the only winner.
Yet, the fact that the film was taken so seriously by the Academy led to several sequels and other highly successful disaster flicks including The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno, all Oscar nominees with only Inferno picking up a Best Picture nomination. While there were many more than just these, few of them really lived up to those pieces of ensemble cinema. What makes these films so fun is that the actors really do seem to be enjoying themselves. Thrown into hysterics at the right moments, given juicy soap-quality plots and fit into effects-laden films that manage to create a palpable tension. And Airport does all of these things extremely well. I prefer both Poseidon and Inferno to this one, but they owe a great deal of their success to this film’s influence.
October 18, 2010