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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
More an epic soap opera than a disaster movie, but still a fun ride
Although The Poseidon Adventure gets all the credit, Airport is the film that really kicked off the 70s disaster craze. Unlike its three follow-ups, this adaptation of Arthur Hailey's doorstop novel really is as much about the snowbound airport as it is the imperilled plane, one of many plots the movie juggles. Hailey had built his novel around a 1956 Canadian TV movie he wrote called Flight Into Danger, but much of it plays like a Peyton Place-esquire soap opera: will embattled airport manager Burt Lancaster stay married to Dana Wynter or to his job or will he go off into the sunrise with that nice airline rep Jean Seberg? Will pilot Dean Martin leave his wife now he's got stewardess Jacqueline Bisset up the duff? Will Helen Hayes' scene-stealing geriatric stowaway get caught? Will George Kennedy clear the blocked runway in time to avoid tragedy? Will Van Heflin's mentally troubled demolitions expert set off the bomb in his briefcase? Would there be a movie if he didn't?
Shot like an epic to emphasise the size and scale of everything (it even opens with an overture of sound effects of a busy airport terminal before bursting into Alfred Newman's urgent rumba-led score) it's a big, glossy well crafted entertainment that still holds up surprisingly well, especially in widescreen where the occasional split-screen effects come into their own (not to mention a great gag with a priest and an annoying passenger during the crash landing that's usually lost in the TV panning-and-scanning). It's the least sensational of the series but still the most effective, and there's no shortage of familiar faces in the passenger seats, from Lloyd Nolan, Maureen Stapleton, Jesse Royce Landis, Whit Bissell and the original "Jimmy Bond 007" of the CIA, Barry Nelson. Sadly, setting something of an unfortunate pattern for the series, the 707 used in the film crashed in 1989, somewhat disproving the constant accolades the plane's abilities receive throughout the film ("The only thing a 707 can't do is read!").
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