Film: Airport

Released in 1970, Airport is the first of a series of Disaster Movies produced in that decade and centering around aircraft in distress. Based on the novel of the same name by Arthur Hailey, it can be considered a very close and faithful adaptation; the sequels, however, have nothing to do with an original book.

The movie begins with the day-to-day concerns and life issues of various crew and patrons of Chicago's fictional Lincoln International Airport (actually, a redressed Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport). The central drama to this movie seems to be marital problems; first in the guise of difficulties between airport manager Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) and his wife. Mel has a rivalry with his brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) over who's right about airport operations. Demerest also happens to be doing the deed with one of his flight attendants, Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset). However, Mel is fortunately not alone; he does have help from his friend, Trans-Global Airlines Supervisor of Passenger Relations Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) and TWA Chief of Maintenance Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) in the numerous challenges... usual and unusual.

A wrinkle that will disrupt the whole flow of things is a despondent, suicidal passenger (Van Heflin) who plans to bring down an aircraft via a bomb. He's only partially successful, and now the stricken plane must be brought to safety — and another airliner is stuck in the snow on the only suitable runway. Can the ground crew get the stranded aircraft cleared from the runway in time?

Helen Hayes' performance as stowaway Ada Quonsett won her an Oscar, and the movie was enough of a hit to effectively serve as the Trope Codifier for the '70s disaster movie genre, paving the way for such films as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno.

Airport itself spawned three sequels: Airport 1975, Airport 1977, and Airport '79 (in a Concorde!). A TV-movie and miniseries was also created in the aftermath of Airport; San Francisco International Airport. (The miniseries simply dropped the word Airport). Today, it's probably best known for having inspired Airplane, The Parody of '70s disaster movies.

Tropes present in the original Airport include:

  • The Ace: Joe Patroni.
  • All Lower Case Letters: In the book, Tanya Livingston writes all notes and memos in lower case, because she bribed a company mechanic to file all the capitals off her typewriter.
  • Anyone Can Die: Subverted in that there's only a single death, that of Van Heflin's character, mad bomber D.O. Guerrero.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • A sign in French visible on the wall of the incoming internaional passenger area which would, if it were in English, read "Escallator to exit," has an error, which reads in French: "Escalier au sortie." It should read: "Escalier vers la sortie."
    • Jacqueline Bisset reads the emergency instructions to the passengers on Flight Two over the PA system in both English and Italian.
  • Breakout Character: Joe Patroni, who features in every subsequent Airport film.
  • The Chessmaster: Mrs. Quansett, professional airplane stowaway, having stolen hundreds of rides and has an arsenal of tricks. She uses her advanced age to get away with a number of schemes, including faking illness to get rid of the man who is supposed to babysit her (and keep her from stowing away on another plane) and defeating Mrs. Livingston's attempt to keep her from doing so. The book makes this explicit: both Mrs. Quansett and Mrs. Livingston independently realize the two of them are battling to see who can win. The result: age and craftiness defeat youth and inexperience. As noted above, Helen Hayes' portrayal of Mrs. Quansett won her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
  • Cool Old Lady: Ada Quonsett.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover adds a fire effect to the 707. At no time is fire seen in the movie.
    • The Blu-Ray release uses the same basic cover, but with the fire removed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Bakersfield, with Demarest.
    Bakersfeld: [Runway] 2-9er is closed. A pilot from your flight 45 made a shortcut across the field. And he didn't make it.
    Demerest: What are you doing about it?
    Bakersfeld: Well, when the snow melts in April, we'll get it out.
  • Developing Doomed Characters
  • Disaster Movie: The Trope Codifier.
  • Downer Ending: For some characters.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: A man is seated at dinner and is praying with his family when a plane flies overhead, shaking the whole house. "For this food, your many blessings, and your bounteous goodness, we give thanks to Thee in the name of.." plane overhead makes it impossible to hear, then the man finishes, "...Jesus Christ!"
  • He Didn't Make It: Used straight to indicate someone failed to do something, not as in the typical euphemism for "someone died."
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes
  • Idiot Ball: Assistant passenger agent Peter Coakley, told by Tanya Livingston never to leave Mrs. Quansett, professional stowaway (see The Chessmaster) alone, is tricked by her into going to get a doctor, and Mrs. Quansett calmly walks away after she duped Coakley into going on a fools' errand.
  • Jerkass: That one whiny, surly bald passenger (played by Steven Turgeon). Even a priest felt the need to hit him!
    • The smug pilot that strands the plane from earlier, providing half the plot.
  • Killed Offscreen: D.O. Guerrero, when he detonates his bomb in the lavatory, tearing a hole in the wall and sucking him into oblivion.
  • MAD: Airplot
  • Secret Relationship: Demerest and Gwen, resulting in a pregnancy.
  • Split Screen: Used several times. Very de rigueur for a 1970 film.
  • Temporary Blindness: Gwen.

Tropes present in Airport '75 include:

  • Billing Displacement: Charlton Heston is billed first, but Karen Black's character gets the most focus, as well as screentime.
  • Crash Course Landing: This almost happens, when the chief stewardess ends up flying a 747 after a mid-air collision. Almost, because George Kennedy and the U.S. Air Force managed to drop Charlton Heston into the airliner's cockpit so he could land it instead.
  • Disposable Pilot: The pilot of a private plane suffers a fatal heart attack. This causes him to crash into the cockpit of the airliner, killing the first officer and flight engineer and blinding the captain who then falls unconscious.
  • MAD: Airplot '75

Tropes present in Airport '77 include:

Tropes present in The Concorde: Airport '79 include:

  • Ascended Extra: Patroni at least becomes this from his previous appearance.
  • Big Bad: Harrison.
  • The Cameo:
    • Charo. Sadly, she was not nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars that year.
    • Bibi Andersson as the prostitute that Patroni hooks up with in Paris.
    • Ed Begley, Jr., as one of the members of the Concorde rescue team.
    • In the TV version, Jose Ferrer and JD Cannon appeared as investigators looking into Harrison's background.
    • Although not cameos, half the cast are billed as "guest stars", with some getting very little to do.
  • MAD: The Corncord: Airplot '79.