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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
It wasn't until the 70s disaster movie craze was well under way that Universal got round to a sequel to its 1970 blockbuster Airport largely because the lucrative profits deals Lancaster and Martin secured on the first film made reassembling the original cast impractical (though George Kennedy did return to provide a vague fig leaf of continuity). It wasn't until producer Jennings Lang came across a script intended as a TV movie that some bright spark thought of slapping the Airport brand on it, adding 1975 to the title and abandoning the actual Airport aspect to concentrate on the planes in jeopardy instead.
The result, Airport 1975 (actually released in 1974) is the other movie that Airplane! lampooned mercilessly, what with sick transplant patients, Hare Krishnas and singing nuns among the passengers, not to mention Charlton Heston in safari suit and shades providing the blueprint for Robert Stack's Rex Kramer and Gloria Swanson in the kind of comeback role that could have been written by Joe Gillis for Norma Desmond (although it was supposedly intended for Garbo). In fact, Swanson wrote her own anecdote-filled dialogue, and boy does it show this isn't a part, it's a chat show appearance.
Swanson isn't the only star of yesteryear bulking up the cast, with Myrna Loy knocking back several boilermakers, Sid Caesar providing the odd wisecrack while Dana Andrews, every drink he ever took etched onto his face, gets his own back for Effrem Zimbalist crashing into his plane in The Crowded Sky by crashing into Zimbalist's 747 this time round, leaving stewardess Karen Black to fly the plane until Chucky baby comes to the rescue, taking off his shades for a midair transfer that's a mixture of daring stuntwork and pitiful backprojection. Yet it's surprisingly entertaining, superbly photographed by veteran Philip Lathrop, much better directed by Jack Smight than it has any right to be and, as the shortest entry in the series at 107 minutes, keeps things tight enough not to leave too much room to dwell on the absurdities. Well, almost: if ever there was a moment where Linda Blair projectile vomiting on a member of the cloth was not just absolutely justifiable but positively mandatory it's when Helen Reddy sings about her best friend being herself, but sadly Linda doesn't deliver the pea soup on this occasion. But while we may scoff today, Jennings Lang knew what he was doing no singing nun movie has ever lost money at the box-office, and the film was a big enough hit to guarantee two more sequels with considerably bigger budgets, though not before, in one of those nasty ironies the series is prone to, Dana Andrews' light aircraft in the film really was destroyed in a mid-air collision in 1975. Oh, and if the midair footage looks familiar, that's because Universal recycled it for years, most memorably in the 747 episode of The Incredible Hulk TV series.
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