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This precursor to later "epic" 70's disaster films illustrates 12 hours in the lives of the personnel and passengers at the "Lincoln Airport." Endless problems, professional and personal, are thrown at the various personnel responsible for the safe and proper administration of air traffic, airline management and aviation at a major US airport. Take one severe snowstorm, add multiple schedules gone awry, one elderly Trans Global Airlines stowaway, shortages, an aging, meretricious pilot, unreasonable, peevish spouses, manpower issues, fuel problems, frozen runways and equipment malfunctions and you get just a sample of the obstacles faced by weary, disgruntled personnel and passengers at the Lincoln Airport. Toss in one long-suffering pilot's wife, several stubborn men, office politics and romance and one passenger with a bomb and you have the film "Airport" from 1970. Written by
Unusually, the Universal Pictures logo animation is not shown at the beginning of this movie...it's instead shown at the end. The in-credit notice "UNIVERSAL presents" replaced the usual opening logo. See more »
In 1968, Arthur Hailey's best selling novel Airport was a fixture atop the best seller's lists. It was an intricate detailed telling of the inner workings of fictional Lincoln International Airport trying desperately to function during one of the worst snow storms in decades. Hailey had researched the book for five years, and as he weaved his soap opera storyline magic, we gained a fascinating behind the scenes look of airport operations, why airlines function the way they do, and a detailed look at the stressful lives of air-traffic controllers. It was these details that made the novel great. Hailey wrote his characters with substance, digging deep into their personalities, motivations and psyche, so that we always understood their actions and reactions. The basic plot lines may have been high class soap-opera but the book as a whole was one of great substance and readability.
In 1970, Hailey's book hit the big screen as an all star glitzy Hollywood production. Unable to put the complex details of Airport operations onto the big screen, director and writer George Seaton gave us all melodrama and not much technical details. As Hollywood spectacle it's fun to watch and taken on that level you won't mind giving it a look. If you've read Hailey's novel, you'll probably be disappointed.
Of course in a film such as this with enough plots to make six movies, you are bound by the unwritten law of Hollywood to have a recognizable all star cast. So get your pens and pencils out and get ready to draw a chart. Headlining Airport are Burt Lancaster as Mel Bakersfield the airport manager, and Dean Martin as his Mel's brother-in-law and a philandering pilot, Vern Demerest. Lancaster is easily the better of the two. He has this aura about him that makes us believe he could be running a Metropolitan Airport. Martin is not quite as successful as Lancaster. He is Dean Martin playing Dean Martin pretending to be the aforementioned playboy pilot. Heck, though, he makes the character a likable enough guy that you won't mind it a bit. Another disappointment is that Martin and Lancaster only have one brief scene together. It would have been nice if Seaton would have added a few more, just so we could watch two legends work together.
Jean Seberg plays Tonya Livingston, an airline representative who has designs on Mel despite the fact that Mel is still married. We believe her as the airline rep., but the chemistry between Seberg and Lancaster never really clicks. If the relationship were gone into in more detail then perhaps one would feel differently. Unfortunately that's one thing this film is in short supply of is important details.
Next up in our role call is Jacqueline Bisset, who plays stewardess and Mistress Gwen Meighen who also happens to be pregnant (Captain, we have an extra passenger on board). As Gwen, Bisset gives us one of the more believable characters in this film, making us understand her feelings for Vern enough that though she never says it we see her love for him. George Kennedy provides comedy relief as Joe Patroni, an ace airline mechanic brought in to remove an airliner mired in the snow and blocking a key runway. Helen Hayes is on hand as an airplane stowaway. Though she may look like a sweet little old lady, don't be fooled. Having won an Oscar in 1932 for The Sin of Madelon Claudet, she would pick up another on thirty eight years later as a supporting actress for her role as Ada Quonsett.
The very best in this film though are Van Heflin as D.O. Guerrero, a down on his luck, out of work construction worker, who hatches a chilling desperate plan to change the financial fortunes of his family. As his wife Inez, Maureen Stapleton may not have copped the Oscar, but should have. Her portrayal of Inez has some of the more touching moments in Airport.
One of the other great stars of Airport is the snow storm itself. In scenes filmed by Ernest Lazlo and directed by Henry Hathaway, the outdoor settings of snow blanketing the airport are so realistic; you'll be going to the closet to grab a coat. Alfred Newman's lush score blends right into the goings on, and his opening title overture will suck you right into the film.
Ross Hunter was the producer on airport. His involvement in glitzy Hollywood soap operas of the past such as Imitation of Life, Madame X, would help to explain much of the goings on in this film. On another note, I was unimpressed with Edith Head's costume design for the stewardesses. They are unattractively bland, and seem almost matronly.
Airport will never be confused with great film making. None the less, it is still highly watchable entertainment. It gives us a lot of plots, a lot of stars, a lot of snow and a some suspense. And for all that you get my grade which is: B
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