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Film / San Francisco International Airport

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San Francisco International (Airport) is a 1970 NBC drama series partially inspired by Airport. Similar to other airplane-based disaster movies, it concerns the interpersonal interactions among the major staff of the titular airport. Unusually for an airplane disaster movie/series, the airlines are real, lending a sort of authenticity to the proceedings.

The series began with a 90-minute Pilot Movie, San Francisco International Airport. Jim Conrad (Pernell Roberts) is the general manager of the titular airport. Much like in other disaster movie entries, he must fight with several challenges, including getting the airport runways expanded, dealing with VIPs, protecting a shipment of cash that figures into a kidnapping caper, and talking down a troubled young man. All of these plot threads intertwine throughout the movie, so much so that each of the main cast gets a chance to interact with one another. Filling out the helpful assistance role would be Bob Hatten (Clu Gulager), the airport's security chief.

Though critical response was lukewarm, the pilot was picked up for six episodes (as part of NBC's Wheel Program Four in One) in the fall of 1970, but was not renewed beyond the initial six. In the series version, the network stipulated that Lloyd Bridges replace Pernell Roberts; only Clu Gulager was retained for the series. Interestingly, it's apparently the same character of Jim Conrad that Lloyd Bridges parodies in Airplane!.

For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

Tropes present in San Francisco International Airport:

  • Batman Gambit: The plan for the robbers in the TV movie to make off with 3 million dollars requires one of them getting a job as a ground crew worker ahead of time, knowing exactly which pilot is going to fly the plane they need to load the money onto the day of the flight and also learning that his wife will always drop him off at the airport and in what car, planning ahead of time to make sure a manifest on a different flight will include the package they intend to switch out for the stolen money, the guy that works at the airport successfully dressing as a priest and knowing the person he plans to intimidate will do exactly what he needs without freaking out or alerting the airport security, that despite working at the airport he will not be recognized simply by changing his clothes... literally any element of this plan not executing flawlessly will upend everything, which is basically how they end up getting caught.
  • Car Chase: This movie probably has more chase scenes than any other Disaster Movie. One is even done with aid of a fire truck!
  • Cool Plane: And following the Law of Chromatic Superiority, Davey picks the red one.
  • Crash Course Landing: Played with in the Davey subplot, as Davey stole the plane in the first place. The movie explains that the plane is "easy to fly" (which is apparently true!) and earlier establishes Davey as an aviation nut to explain how he ever got it up in the air and why he hasn't crashed it within seconds.
  • Damsel in Distress: The pilot's wife spends the entire film held hostage. Later in the film, Conrad's secretary is also held hostage by the same group of people, but she is quickly released when she's no longer useful as a hostage.
  • Disaster Movie: Kind of. Ever wonder what a disaster movie without a disaster would be like? Look no further.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Davey takes the "meddling child" aspect of this trope to a new level.
  • Emergency Services: Multiple times we're shown scenes of the airport's emergency crews preparing for a potential disaster (which never happens.)
  • Idiot Ball: The security personnel who fall for Tab Hunter's reverse Paper-Thin Disguise. In their defense, they had no idea what the man looked like other than, "He's dressed like a priest" — but that just creates another Idiot Ball in that security should have tried to get a description from the woman who was his hostage, or even the tower operator who was watching the guy through binoculars. And then yet another one in that it never seems to occur to them that Tab might try to ditch the disguise whilst escaping. He's banking on the fact that his other disguise is his airport worker's uniform so he will look more trustworthy, but that alone should not cause the police to just let him walk away from the area the man with the gun escaped into.
    • Also the pilot who left his plane unattended with the keys in it despite having just seen an unsupervised minor on the tarmac. For that matter, allowing anyone other than airport personnel on the tarmac while there was an active hostage situation going on out there.
  • I Have Your Wife: Done twice in the scheme to smuggle the stolen cash to Mexico.
  • Karma Houdini: Davey commits a major federal offense by stealing an aircraft for a joy ride, but he gets off without even a slap on the wrist because he's "only" 14. However, since there was no damage and the kid actually unintentionally helped foil a heist — not to mention he was stressed over his parent's impending divorce — Hatten and Conrad probably decided to leave well enough alone (especially since his dad is an influential newspaper editor).
  • Neutral Female: Katie Barrett opens the film presented as some kind of tough as nails secretary who takes no crap from anyone. She then takes all the crap from the robber that kidnaps her and pretty much ignores any and all opportunities to get help (including letting him tell her to ignore the armed security guard).
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: William Sturtevant, the Made-For-TV Hippie. His dated "hippie" banter is also good for Narm Charm.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Clifford Evans, in theory anyway.
  • The Place: The events happen in the titular airport.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Bob Hatten (Clu Gulager) runs security at the airport. When an uptight businessman accuses a hippie of punching him, he clearly expects Bob to side with him. Instead, Bob calmly assesses the situation, recognizes the hippie couldn't have done it, shakes the hippie's hand and lets him go. The businessman is appalled that Bob could possibly believe the hippie over him.
  • Red Herring: An In-Universe one as Hatten originally planned to have Ross Edwards arrested as a potential accomplice for the thieves until learning Ross was being blackmailed due to his wife being a hostage.
  • Sequel Hook: Mr. Woodruff is an obvious intended recurring character.
  • Shown Their Work: The ERCO Ercoupe was an airplane designed after the end of World War II to be incredibly safe and easy to fly. It's nearly impossible to stall due to some very smart engineering. Nobody who designed it, however, probably envisaged its use as a setpiece in a dull 70s TV movie.
  • Swiss-Cheese Security: Even granting it was 1970 and decades before the 9/11 attacks that changed the security level of American airports, pretty much anyone can just stroll into the deepest levels of one of the world's most prominent airports without any setbacks. Nobody stops the big-eared guy from scaling a fence, a disguised pastor just waltzes into the airport offices with a gun without even a security check, nobody ever has to take their loaded guns through a metal detector, and a gunman on the runway somehow doesn't trigger every federal agent in the county to immediately zero in on the place. On top of that, they don't even take the obvious tactic of shutting the entire place down while said gunman is known to be on the loose. Given that airport hijackings had seen a record high in 1969, surely nobody would be stupid enough to let a single plane in the air that day until they'd actually arrested him?
  • Straw Man Has A Point: Conrad comments during Evans' What the Hell, Hero? speech that the latter is unlikely to risk anything to help the former. When Evans confirms this, Conrad says that "I wasn't counting on you to" in a very condescending manner. But the fact of the matter is, Evans has every right to be ticked and Conrad has no reason to expect any help. The stunt he pulled angered several senators and Conrad did not clear said stunt with Evans before he did it. Evans had no reason or obligation to protect Conrad from the consequences of his own actions, especially when he didn't let Evans in on his plans.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Mr. Woodruff (the over-officious businessman) has this reaction when Hatten sides with the hippie regarding the assault allegation. The fact that Hatten proves it would have been impossible for the hippie to be guilty (through a purchase receipt clear on the other side of the airport at nearly the same time the assault was reported) is meaningless to Woodruff- he simply can't accept that an authority figure would side with a hippie over a "respectable businessperson".
  • Token Minority: Chuck Daniel as Frank Davis the air traffic controller and sole black actor in the cast.
  • What Happened to the Mouse??: The Made for TV hippie vs. bald guy conflict never gets resolved.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Conrad's stunts really, really cheese off Evans.
  • What's a Henway?: This exchange.
    Hatten: What brought you here?
    William: The bus, my friend.
  • Workaholic: Mr. Scott at the expense of his family, which is what drives the conflict in the Davey subplot. It's summed up with this exchange:
    Mr. Scott: You don't get to the top of this business by worrying about being home every night at 5:30.
    Mrs. Scott: You're already at the top!note