Wednesday, July 11, 2012

#695. Airplane! (1980)

Directed By: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Starring: Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen

Tag line: "The craziest flight you'll ever take!"

Trivia: Universal threatened to sue when they found out that the directors were trying to get Helen Reddy to repeat her role as the singing nun from Airport 1975

In the summer of 1980, my father took my brother and I to see Airplane!. Five minutes in, we were laughing so hard that we were crying. The jokes never let up, and by the time it was over, all three of us were exhausted. Airplane! was so funny that it plum wore us out!

From the warped, creative minds of Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker, the comedic geniuses who penned The Kentucky Fried MovieTop Secret!, and The Naked Gun, Airplane! is an hilarious spoof of the disaster genre. We follow former Army flying ace Ted Striker (Robert Hays) as he boards a plane for the first time in years, all in an effort to patch up his relationship with stewardess girlfriend, Elanie (Julie Hagerty). 

Traumatized by the action he saw in the war, Ted is now deathly afraid of flying. But during the flight, when the cockpit crew passes out as a result of food poisoning, he must put his fears aside and take the controls once again. Will his crippling anxiety work against him, or will Ted Striker conquer his phobias to become the hero of the day?

A handful of well-known actors get their share of guffaws in Airplane!. This was the movie that launched Leslie Nielson's second career in comedy, leading to a string of film and television roles that would carry him through the better part of two decades. Other Hollywood legends also make an appearance, including Peter Graves as Captain Oveur, the plane's somewhat... confused pilot (when chatting with a young passenger, Captain Oveur asks the boy, among other inappropriate questions, if he watches movies about gladiators); Lloyd Bridges as a high-strung air traffic controller (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines”); and Robert Stack as the hot-shot pilot who tries to talk Striker through the landing  (“Flying a plane is just like riding a bicycle, only it’s a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”). 

But as far as I'm concerned, the true comedic genius of Airplane! is a supporting character by the name of Johnny (Stephen Stucker), a less-than-helpful airport employee who plays practical jokes at the most inopportune times and has a real penchant for paper art.

Packed to its breaking point with jokes (when approached by a Christian missionary in the airport looking for donations, two Hare Krishnas reply that they "gave at the office"), sight gags (a string of passengers grow so bored with Striker's tales of the past that they do themselves in), and hilarious flashbacks (including an unforgettable homage to Saturday Night Fever), Airplane! was a groundbreaking comedy, not to mention a box-office smash, and as such paved the way for a number of imitators over the years (including its own 1982 sequel, aptly titled Airplane II: The Sequel). 

For me, though, this movie will always represent a special moment from my youth, the wonderful memory of sitting in a theater with my family and watching a comedy so unique that it managed to keep us laughing.

…and laughing… 

and laughing.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

Absolutely one of the funniest movies ever!

DVD Infatuation said...

@Robert: I couldn't agree more!

MovieViewerMan said...

I agree that it's a very funny movie but first of its kind? What about The Big Bus?

DVD Infatuation said...

@MovieViewerFan: Good point! The Big Bus was 1st, and I thought that was also a very funny movie.

So, yes, saying AIRPLANE was the 1st of its kind is incorrect. Still, it was AIRPLANE! that launched the imitators. From what I can gather, THE BIG BUS was a bit of a flop, and it wasn't until AIRPLANE! became a huge hit that we got the POLICE SQUAD! series, TOP SECRET, etc., etc.

It's the same with slasher films. The original BLACK CHRISTMAS pre-dates John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN by several years, but it wasn't until HALLOWEEN lit up the box office that we started getting the imitators. BLACK CHRISTMAS, while a tremendous movie, didn't pull in a lot of money.

Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment!

ron said...

It should be noted that Airplane! wasn't the first movie from the ZAZ team, The Kentucky Fried Movie was. If you haven't seen it you should check it out, it's hilarious.

John said...

Airplane is a riot! So much so, that I'm surprised you haven't yet included Airport, the movie satirized to a large degree by Airplane, on your list of reviews.

irish said...

Hillarious comedy. From the brilliant opening parody of jaws to the end (wait until the credits are over) the laughs never let up. A must.

irish said...

The movie satirized in Airplane to a large degree is Zero Hour.