Posted by keithosaunders on May 4, 2011
No, this is not another rant about airport security! I was scanning through the cable channels after watching a Dodgers/Cubs game, when I came across the film, Airport. I remember seeing this with my parents when it came out — I must have been 10 years old at the time. Since then I’ve seen it on TV a handful of times, but not in many years.
For those not old enough to remember, Airport is a film about a bomb that goes off on a transatlantic flight, and the crew’s attempts to land the plane. You may remember the Jim Abrahams /David Zucker send-up called Airplane, starring Leslie Nielson and Lloyd Bridges, which was released in 1980. (It’s actually a better film!)
Airport, released in 1970, was the first disaster movie. It presaged Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno by a few years. It was what passed for a blockbuster in the age before Jaws and Star Wars. It had a high-wattage cast of thousands, which included a middle-aged, but still handsome, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Maureen Stapleton, Van Heflin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes — who won an oscar for best supporting actress — and George Kennedy.
I came in just as it was getting good, as the passengers were boarding the plane. I was struck by how different plane travel was in those days, particularly the airport security, or lack thereof. Hayes plays a women who is known for stowing away on plane flights. She is able to board the plane simply by telling a random airport worker that her son has left his wallet, and ‘could she please return it to him.’ “Hurry,” the worker tells her, “run and give it to him before the flight leaves!” Just like that she is able to get on the plane. Come to think of it, I have memories of those days — I once was allowed to board a plane to say goodbye to my aunt.
Heflin, plays a down on his luck ex-GI who plans on blowing up the plane so that his wife can collect the insurance. His bomb is in an attaché case which he clings to suspiciously as he wlks onto the plane. One of the workers notices this, and when he mentions it to his superior he is told, “I would worry if he was arriving from overseas and going through customs. Let the authorities in Rome handle it.”
That was all it took for the movie to rope me in. To tell you the truth, it was surprisingly watchable, even though the special effects are laughably primitive. The long shots of the airplane in flight look particularly fake and the night shots contain some of the fakest looking stars I have ever seen. The film does manage to build suspense, however, and there is quaintness to the matter of fact way that it goes about telling its tale.
Somehow they are able to land the plane without any casualities, except for Heflin who dies when the bomb explodes. The film ends with Lancaster driving off into the sunrise to have breakfast, and sleep with Jean Seberg. Of course she’s at least 25 years his junior, but hey, he’s Burt Lancaster.