Airport, directed by George Seaton and released in 1970, was the first in a series of Disaster Movies produced in that decade and centering around aircraft in distress. Adapted from 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 elderly stowaway Ada Quonsett won her an Academy Award, 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; and probably also for the trope Explosive Decompression, at least as it's used in films.
Airport itself spawned three sequels: Airport 1975, Airport 1977, and The Concorde... 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. For a while this franchise was something of an employment agency for older actors and actresses from the studio era. Stars from The Golden Age of Hollywood who appeared in one or more Airport movies include Hayes, Gloria Swanson, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Joseph Cotten, Olivia de Havilland, and Jimmy Stewart.
Tropes present in the original Airport include:
- The Ace: Joe Patroni. This led to him becoming the Breakout Character and being featured in every subsequent Airport film.
- 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. Quonsett, 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. Quonsett 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. Quonsett 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: All of the characters get an exploration if their backstories.
- Disaster Movie: The Trope Codifier.
- Downer Ending: For some characters. Death, divorce, an unwanted pregnancy...
- Explosive Decompression: When the bomb is set off in the lavatory, the door blows off outwards and everything in the passenger compartment is in danger of being sucked out the hole. Possibly the Trope Codifier for the visual depiction of this trope.
- The Film of the Book: Airport, by Arthur Hailey
- 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. Quonsett, professional stowaway (see The Chessmaster) alone, is tricked by her into going to get a doctor, and Mrs. Quonsett 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.
- One-Word Title
- 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 1975 include:
- 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.
- Ill Girl: One young passenger was scheduled for a kidney transplant, and gets sicker from going too long without dialysis as the crisis stretches out.
- One-Word Title
Tropes present in Airport '77 include:
- The Bermuda Triangle: Where the plane crashes and sinks.
- Antagonistic Offspring: Philip Steven's daughter.
- Asshole Victim: Besides the hijacker's Karmic Death, Karen Wallace drowns during the rescue operation.
- The Cameo / Demoted to Extra: Patroni, although he has more screentime in the original version.
- Cool Old Guy: Philip Stevens.
- Cool Old Lady: Emily Livingstone, who can play poker with the best of them.
- Improbable Infant Survival: Benjy and Bonnie survive, although Bonnie is seriously injured.
- Hope Spot: A ship passes the submerged plane, but is unaware of the accident.
- Karmic Death: One of the hijackers drowns as the ship is being lifted out of the sea by the navy rescue team.
- The rest of the hijackers die during the crash, with at least one of them being crushed by the art they were planning to steal.
- Lady Drunk: Karen Wallace.
- Masochism Tango: Saintly marine biologist Martin Wallace and his abrasive, alcoholic wife Karen.
- One-Word Title
- Something Completely Different: While it stays with the plane theme, this film takes the action out of the airport (and skies, for the most part) and sets it in the underwater depths of The Bermuda Triangle.
- Spanner in the Works: A plan to hijack a plane, make it fly low to avoid radar and land it in an abandoned airbase on the Bermuda Triangle, and steal all of the priceless paintings that were on the cargo section goes flawlessly... except that the crook in charge of piloting the plane doesn't notices that there's an oil rig in the way up until it's too late to dodge it and the rig's mast destroys one of the plane's engines.
- Too Dumb to Live: Wallace, despite being an experienced scuba diver, gets near a hatch that's about to open inwards with the other end being deep sea water. His wife is even dumber.
Tropes present in The Concorde... Airport '79 include:
- Ace Pilot: Patroni flies the freaking Concorde like it was a fighter plane to avoid getting shot down and succeeds, as well as makes it do a crash landing in the end that doesn't kills everybody on board.
- Ascended Extra: Patroni at least becomes this from his previous appearance.
- Big Bad: Harrison.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Harrison is involved in black market arms deals and kills an employee who tries to blow the whistle. Later, he sends both an experimental drone missile and a fighter plane to try to shoot down the Concorde and arranges for an employee to sabotage the plane so it will tear itself apart in mid-air via Explosive Decompression, which will kill all of the passengers, including the journalist that has evidence of his wrong-doing provided by the whistleblower's wife.
- 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.
- Just Plane Wrong: Again, this movie places the Concorde (which was designed for one thing and one thing only: go forward, very fast) in two dogfights complete with High-Speed Missile Dodge.
- Sequel Goes Foreign: All of the film's second half occurs in Europe and the skies above it, culminating with Patroni having to do an emergency landing on the Alps.