Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A big, ungainly, self-important melodrama about an airport.
What did I get? Exactly that. If you want a sense of Airport, all you need to do is call to mind the 1980 ZAZ classic Airplane! and subtract every one of the laughs and puns and self-consciously absurd touches. Seriously, Airplane! is a lot like Airport, it’s remarkable how close the movies are visually and tonally, although played straight in one and played preposterous in the other. It’s impossible to watch Airport today without thinking of Airplane! There’s a moment about halfway through when Jean Seberg says to Burt Lancaster, “Mel, they’ve been pressuring me about that transfer to San Francisco….” — the absence of mockery from the filmmakers seems thoroughly incongruous.
It’s easy to make fun of Airport nowadays, it’s a movie stranded in its own context; its tropes just don’t work anymore. But at the time, it was a major, major hit, the biggest grosser of 1970 and (according to Wikipedia) the 42nd most financially successful movie of all time, adjusted for inflation. Those who ridicule the movie would do well to ponder this fact — it’s pretty damn impressive. Yes, the movie is joyless and ponderous and stiff as hell. But what did it offer audiences? Well, it was a “good old-fashioned” throwback at a moment when unruly youth-oriented fare like M*A*S*H was doing very well. Older audiences could luxuriate in trustworthy stalwarts like Dean Martin and Burt Lancaster operating in an utterly unironic and uncynical melodrama that seems redolent of 1953 — except for those big 707 Boeings….
Ah, yes, the airplanes. As Catch Me If You Can demonstrated, it wasn’t all that long ago that airline travel was a luxury commodity with whole lot of allure. Airport was a notably expensive movie to make, and the special effects involving the planes, which seem pedestrian today, were not pedestrian at all in 1970. They were really impressive, a spectacle that tapped into wonder and trepidation about a context — airports — that was just becoming accessible to the great middle class. Mass air transit was — hell, is — a remarkable, strange thing, all those planes crisscrossing the country, nay, the globe. It struck people odd, and Airport tapped into that awe.
Still, it’s pretty awful.
What here smacks of 1970? The lack of security measures: the Helen Hayes character, who won an Oscar, routinely wanders onto flights through the use of simple ruses.
IMDB score: 6.5
My score: 3
Director: George Seaton
Writer: George Seaton
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Maureen Stapleton
IMDB synopsis: Mel Bakersfeld is the hard-charging manager of Lincoln International Airport, trying to keep his airport open despite a raging Midwestern snowstorm and an angry wife. Meanwhile, his antagonistic brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest, may have his plans for a placid layover in Italy disturbed by unexpected news from Gwen Meighen, and by the plans of the D.O. Guerrero, the loose cannon on board.