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When the pilot of a small aircraft has a heart attack and crashes his plane into the cockpit of a Boeing 747, several members of the flight crew are killed and the pilot is blinded. Miraculously, the 747 stays in the air on auto-pilot with flight attendant Nancy Prior at the controls. Ground controllers, including her boyfriend Alan Murdock, try to teach her the basics but they soon realize they will have to get a trained pilot into the cockpit. Their first attempt fails and Murdock realizes he will have to do it. Meanwhile, various passengers have their own problems including a young girl who is destined to a life saving operation. Written by
Oh, my. Where to start ... this little baby is a gem for a sarcastic reviewer
Air travel in the 1970s (which was before fare laws made it more affordable) still retained a certain amount of chic. It was expensive enough that a lot of people had still never flown. In a family with five kids, our mode of transportation was a Volkswagen Bus. The Brady Bunch was the only big family I knew who went on vacations involving air travel. (And for the record, my first flight was in 1987, when I was 22).
This movie has so many hilarious moments in it, it's hard to catch all of them. First, Karen Black, that witchy-looking broad who wore the Zulu teeth in "Trilogy of Terror" has a few intimate moments with Charlton Heston, AKA Cockpit Moses, AKA NRA is My Copilot. I'm sorry, but the idea of him and her together ... ewwww. But I digress.
Next, we have the legendary Gloria Swanson, assaying the role of ... Gloria Swanson. What this consists of is: droning on endlessly into a tape recorder (or to her luckless secretary, who probably would have considered a plane crash a welcome diversion) about her fascinating life, how she was "a rebel" in her career, etc. -- the only thing she leaves out is what it was like to be bundling with JFK's daddy -- and wearing this bizarre sort of burnoose that ends up looking like a man-eating nun's habit. Which sets us up nicely for the introduction of two nunly stereotypes.
Sister Martha Scott displays a traditional habit, including a wimple, and a traditional outlook. Sister Helen Reddy (I swear I'm not making this up) is wearing a post-Vatican II modified habit and looks a lot like Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music." Which is ironic given later events.
Getting thoroughly plowed in the airport bar are Mindy's dad, the guy who never wanted to have sex with Audra Lindley, and Carmine Vespucci. They run into Myrna Loy, who you'd think was an ordinary old-lady type, only to reveal that she swills boilermakers at every possible opportunity. If you're wondering why this was even a plot point, join the club.
And now, on to the plane. What a marvel of design that baby was! Those seats were the size of Lazy Boy recliners, even in coach class. To think that if only I'd been born to a millionaire, I could have experienced flight in the days before you get shoehorned into a seat the size of a toy poodle carrier with your knees in your face ... and not only that, THIS plane has a groovy spiral staircase leading up the flight deck, so that the passengers can ogle the stews' legs as they rush back and forth with coffee, tea or me.
Just when we think the ham can't get sliced any thicker, they wheel Linda Blair onto the plane in the role of a young girl (Sister Martha unnecessarily informs Sister Helen, "It's a young girl!" as if Sister Helen couldn't see that). And not just any young girl. A young girl who is DESPERATELY in need of a kidney transplant. Played by an actress who doesn't seem to catch on to the fact that someone in desperate need of a kidney transplant isn't going to be beaming and bubbling over about how "exciting" it is to look at all the people. However, since Linda was simply assaying yet another of the roles in her 1970s Put Upon Damsel collection, I can't fault her too much.
Meanwhile, at another airport, a former Air Force Glory Boy from "The Best Years of Our Lives" is preparing to journey home to Boise, Idaho. He calls home, and the phone is answered by none other than the blonde broad who took Uncle Charlie's apron and put the wrecking ball to "My Three Sons." She's his wife (how is it that all the lovely young actresses in this film are head over heels in love with these geriatric actors? Point to ponder). So, ignoring the forecasts of bad weather and the ominously prescient comment of a friend who says he's looking pale, our lone pilot leaps into his Patsy Cline Special and heads out in the middle of a driving rain.
Now, this sets up the pivotal scene. We have a large 747 loaded with 150 people (those seats were ROOMY, man) and an itty bitty plane with a guy who's starting to not feel so good, and they're both circling Salt Lake City, waiting for permission to land. Until Air Force Glory Boy has a heart attack and his plane collides with the jet in midair. Ouch.
Particularly since September 11, it's blackly amusing to see all the passengers sitting so calmly and obediently in their seats after the collision. Even if we were to suspend rational thought long enough to accept the idea that a collision that sucks out the first officer wouldn't be accompanied by enough pressure to suck out the entire flight crew and maybe the back wall of the flight deck, the fact that everyone just sat there, bundled up in their coats and cheesy purple airline blankets, while "THE STEWARDESS IS FLYING THE PLANE?" (thank you, Sid Caesar) is still hilarious to comprehend.
Now, lest I give away the Cheez Whiz ending too much, let me just say that I don't understand why, if everyone else got shoved out the inflatable ramps, Karen Black and Charlton Heston were allowed to promenade dramatically down the regular steps to the tarmac (ah, those days before jetways).
Anyhoo, this one is better experienced than described. If nothing else, it's fun to spot all the "Airplane" parody fodder.
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