Airport 1975 full movie review - Cheesy, silly, unnecessary sequel
SPOILER!!! "Help us! Oh, my God, help us!" Stewardess Nancy Pryor screams into the radio at one point in "Airport 1975.
" She may as well have been speaking for the audience that was suckered into seeing this cheesy, silly and unnecessary sequel to the excellent 1970 suspense classic "Airport," one of those rare sequels that is so bad it actually dimishes the original in stature.
The film opens with Nancy (Karen Black) meeting her pilot boyfriend Al Murdock (Charlton Heston) at Washington D.C.'s Dulles International Airport. Both are headed back to L.A., Al on an earlier flight, but Nancy has something "important" to talk to him about and wants him to wait and fly back with her. He has an important meeting and can't. She gets p*ssed (PMS maybe?) and blows him off. They part, and you know nothing good will come of it. It's not long before Nancy is working her flight, "the red-eye special," a non-stop cross country overnighter. The flight crew is composed of Capt. Stacy (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), the co-pilot (Roy Thinnes) and Flight Engineer (Erik Estrada). Since this is typical Hollywood filmmaking, the stereotypes run rampant: the captain is a good, stable family man, the other two lecherous, rude, chauvanistic dopes, while the stewardesses are beautiful, young midwestern refugees like cute young Bette (Christopher Norris). And then there are the passengers: a bunch of drunken Conventioneers (Jerry Stiller, Norman Fell, et al), a couple of professional football players, two nuns (Martha Scott, Helen Reddy--Helen Reddy???!!!), the wife of the "vice president of operations" Mrs. Patroni (Susan Clark), an old drunken matron (Myrna Loy), a pathetic wannabe actor (Sid Caesar) and a famous movie star (Gloria Swanson) and her assistant (Augusta Summerland). And then there's the last to board--a dying kidney patient being flown to California for a kidney transplant (Linda Blair) and her mother (Nancy Olson). More about THAT later.
About the same time the plane takes off, small pilot Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) is about to leave Boise, Idaho, evidently to fly south for the winter. (Actually, I'm being a smart*ss. He's going home from a business meeting.) He decides to make the trip even though the weather is terrible, which has no bearing whatsoever on what happens next. Anyway, after wasting a half-hour or so of screen time on silly banter between the passengers and crew and a famously parodied scene (see "Airplane") involving Reddy's "singing" nun and Blair, the pilots inform the passengers they have to land in Salt Lake City since "the entire West Coast" is socked in with fog (more about this later also). Ditto Scott Freeman. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Freeman has a heart attack and plows into the 747, blowing a hole in the cockpit, killing Thinnes and Estrada, blinding Zimbalist and leaving Nancy to fly the plane, which brings us back to where we began, with the classic: "Help us! Oh, my God, help us!" I won't give away any more of the plot, although it's predictable what's going to happen, since there are no pilots on the plane and the film's hero (Heston) is on the ground. Oh, and did I mention George Kennedy returns as the original picture's most popular character Joe Patroni? He's been promoted from airline troubleshooter to the aforementioned "vice president of operations" and his wife and son are also on board, so he becomes Heston's sidekick in the rescue attempt.
So what's wrong with this film? Oh, let me count the ways. The script, for one, is horrible. Don Ingalls, a former airline pilot is responsible for this lumbering and boring pile of cliched characters and hackneyed dialog. The direction by '70's hack Jack Smight is singularly uninspired and wooden, failing to coax a single winning performance out of what is a pretty impressive cast. The attempts at humor are preposterous: are we to believe an out-of-work actor could afford to fly cross-country simply because of his pathetic bit part in the on-flight movie? And that it's funny to watch Myrna Loy order a boilermaker? The only thing funny here is some of the dialog, and that's unintentional: Bette to Nancy: "This sure beats Ogallala, Kansas!" (Well, Bette, I hate to tell you this but Ogallala is in NEBRASKA, dimwit!) And then there's the whole subplot involving the kidney patient, which is absolutely ridiculous. No doctor would ever okay a girl in that poor of health to fly cross country to get a kidney transplant. They'd fly the kidney to her on a special flight! It would be quicker in the long run! I'm sorry I'm shouting, but I hate when my intelligence is insulted in a movie. And speaking of insulting, being from California, I have to say never, in my 40 years of life, never have I seen the entire West Coast socked in by fog. It is impossible. They could have flown into Ontario or any of a number of inland airports in the region.
Anyway, suspense is minimal since you know how this one will end, although in real life not three years later a similar mid-air collision resulted in nearly 150 deaths and the obliteration of a North Park neighborhood in San Diego, which amplifies how preposterous the entire enterprise is. As for the acting, it is lazy and uninspired with one exception: Karen Black actually tries to give a semblance of a performance and is plucky and believable throughout. Kennedy also at least tries to liven up some deadly dialog, but Heston (the once great actor reduced lately to national joke as the one-note arch-Conservative NRA President), is stiff and actually looks at times like he'd like to put a bag over his head so noone will recognize it is him in this giant pile of silliness. Noone else registers much more than a blip on the interest scale, although you'll never forget Reddy in a
full habit kissing her rosary, counting her beads and belting out inspirational folk tunes while strumming a guitar in one of the all-time great camp performances. And as for Gloria Swanson, she evidently smelled the stench that was the script early on and wrote all her own dialog, which is why she spends the entire film talking about the benefits of health food and not eating "poison" foods--her favorite talk-show subject at the time. Worst of all, though, is watching the great comedian Sid Caesar and the great actress Myrna Loy reduced to picking up paychecks as pathetic, sleazy caricatures who matter not one iota to the film or the plot. They could have blown out of the cockpit hole along with Thinnes and Estrada and no one would have noticed. Is that any way to treat two legends?
Finally, a couple of interesting notes: look closely behind Karen Black when she addresses the passengers near the end of the film and you'll see a
very young (and slim) Sharon Gless, looking beautiful and grinning from ear-to-ear. But look quick, because that's her entire role, even though she's listed in the beginning credits. Also, the beautiful young woman who plays Swanson's assitant is credited as "Augusta Summerland," aka "Linda Harrison," aka "Nova" in the original "Planet of the Apes." Just in case you're interested. *1/2 (out of *****)