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Film / Airport

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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, pilot 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 Trans-Global Airlines Supervisor of Passenger Relations Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) and TWA Chief of Maintenance Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) in addressing 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.
  • Adaptational Expansion: The ending of the book is very rushed, whereas in the movie it is drawn out to about 15-20 minutes with an epilogue added to the end which shows Patroni inspecting the bomb-damaged airplane and Bakersfeld taking up his mistress' offer on a home-cooked breakfast.
  • Adapted Out: The novel features a relative to Mel Bakersfeld named Keith who shares the same last name and is struggling with suicidal tendancies due to a mid-air collision that resulted in the death of an entire family that he could have prevented. He is nowhere to be found in the film adaptation.
    • In the novel once Geuerrero's briefcase bomb is snatched from him by a stewardess, an unaware passenger snatches the briefcase and hands it back to him. In the movie, this was changed to Guerrero merely snatching the briefcase back.
  • 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.
  • Answer Cut: Used several times.
  • 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 international passenger area which would, if it were in English, read "Escalator 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.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The original novel was panned during its release for numerous pacing issues such as sluggish plot points and the rushed ending. The film either drops or reduces numerous plot points and extraneous characters the book had such as Keith Bakersfeld and his backstory being dropped entirely whereas the Meadowview dispute is essentially reduced to background noise, plus the film's climax is expanded on with an epilogue being added.
  • 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.
  • Demoted to Extra: In the novel, noise complaint disputes involving a nearby neighborhood named Meadowview has a very significant subplot in the novel which even interrupts the climax. In the film, it's been shoved into the background and is no longer integral to the plot, only being brought up four times.
  • Despair Event Horizon: D.O. Guerrero's plan flies off the rails once he gets his briefcase back and is informed that his life insurance from the airport is now invalid and that he'll only do his family more harm than good if he blows himself up. After ducking into an airplane lavatory, he knows that his plan has failed; his family won't collect a penny of the money and he'll certainly be thrown in jail once the plane touches down with zero chance of seeing his family again. With nothing left to lose, he detonates the bomb.
  • Disaster Movie: The Trope Codifier.
  • 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
  • He Didn't Make It: Used straight to indicate someone failed to do something, not as in the typical euphemism for "someone died."
  • Hope Spot: Once Guerrero's ruse is outed and he is holding the passengers and crew at bay before being informed that his insurance was cancelled due to the bomb being discovered and blowing himself up will only do more harm than good to his family. For a few seconds, it looks like he's going to hand the briefcase over to Captain Demerest... and then a passenger exits the bathroom behind him and he runs in before detonating the bomb.
  • 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-Book Author: This was the only film role for Patty Poulsen, who played Joan, one of the flight attendants. She was a stewardess for American Airlines and won a stewardess beauty contest in which one of the prizes was a role in this film. She was also used heavily in American Airlines' advertising of its new uniforms during the mid to late 1960s, photos that have, more recently, appeared in several different coffee table books celebrating the history of the airline hostess.
  • Public Secret Message: After realizing they need to find D. O. Guerero's wife, the chief of Airport Police asks Tanya Livingston to use the airport P.A. system to summon them. After getting the code for "policeman" - Lester Mainwaring - from Bakersfeld, Tanya announces to the entire airport, "Will Mt. Lester Mainwaring and all members of his party please come to the main entrance." By saying "Lester Mainwaring" it means "any available police officer" but by saying "all members of his party" it means "every officer on duty."
  • Product Placement: Despite being over twenty years since its first flight, Boeing couldn't have written a finer commercial for the 707.
    Patroni: Take the wings off this and you could use it as a TANK!
  • Ripped from the Headlines: D.O. Guerrero's plot to solve his family's financial issues by committing insurance fraud via suicide bombing the plane is taken from the May 1962 crash of Continental Airlines Flight 11 which was caused by a man doing the same thing, only with far more tragic results.
  • Secret Relationship: Demerest and Gwen, resulting in a pregnancy.
  • Split Screen: Used several times. Very de rigueur for a 1970 film.
  • Technobabble: Demerest to the young know-it-all making too much noise about the plane turning around:
    Well, I'll tell you son... Due to a Cetcil wind, Dystor's vectored us into a 360-tarson of slow air traffic. Now we'll maintain this Borden hold until we get the Forta Magnus clearance from Melnics.
  • Temporary Blindness: Gwen.
  • Troll: The navigator, explaining to the stewardess why the pilot has just put on his oxygen mask:
    Oh, he has fainting spells. So when he feels one coming on he takes a whiff of oxygen. Sometimes it helps.

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.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: 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:

  • Antagonistic Offspring: Philip Steven's daughter.
  • Artistic License – Physics: In real life, a 747 would be more likely to float on the water due to the cabin pressure rather than sink like the one in the film, assuming it isn't torn apart by the force of the impact.
  • Asshole Victim: Besides all of the hijackers' Karmic Deaths, Karen Wallace drowns during the rescue operation.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Played for tragedy. After a whole film of the Wallace couple sniping at each other, Karen is utterly wrecked when she sees her husband Martin has drowned.
  • The Bermuda Triangle: Where the plane crashes and sinks.
  • Bury Your Disabled: When the plane crashes, one of the first characters to die is the blind pianist (crushed by the plane's piano).
  • 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.
  • Formula-Breaking Episode: 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.
  • 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: Bob Chambers 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.
  • Novelization: By screenwriters Michael Scheff and David Spector.
  • One-Word Title
  • Sacrificial Lion: Christopher Lee's Martin Wallace is the first of the main credited cast members to bite the dust, well before the film ends.
  • 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.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Despite the set-up for his character's abilities, Martin Wallace doesn't even make it out of the flooded plane to help Don reach the surface, getting crushed instantly by the cargo door rocketing into him.

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.
  • Actionized Sequel: Not that the other films in the series lacked action, but again, this one has the Concorde involved in two dogfights by the time it reaches the halfway point.
  • Ascended Extra: Patroni at least becomes this from his previous appearance.
  • Big Bad: Harrison.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Possibly the most epic use of this trope ever, as all the stories in a TV newscast early in the film just happen to about be the main subplots of the film, and the news anchor and one of the reporters end up being part of the main story.
  • 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. Said reporter, for extra Kick the Dog points, is his girlfriend and still loves him even after he tries to kill her thrice (pretty sure said love did not survived a fourth attempt, though…)
  • 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, José Ferrer and J. D. 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Harrison blows his brains out after his attempts to silence his reporter ex-girlfriend are all unsuccessful and for the most part become a Revealing Cover Up.
  • 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.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Alicia, the Russian gymnast, is obviously supposed to be a cross between Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci.
  • Novelization: By Kerry Stewart.
  • 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.