Having finally showed my 12 year old daughter one of the greatest comedies of all time, the disaster film spoof, “Airplane!”, lo and behold, what do I see? I uncover gags that I had never noticed in the zillions of times I had seen the movie before. Did any of you notice the ice cream cone amid all of the reporters microphones, or that Captain Ouever (a very straight-maybe not so straight-Peter Graves) flipping through a men’s magazine called “Men’s Sperm Monthly” from the “Whacker Material” section of an airport magazine rack?
That’s the beauty of this film. You see something new every single time. I swear Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker are secretly editing my DVD copy and inserting new gags into the film. Nothing comes close to matching the magic of “Airplane!” Many classic and, at the time of around year 1980, newer films are skewered to ridiculous levels of far reaching hilarity from films like “Airport,” (of course) to “From Here To Eternity” and “Saturday Night Fever.” Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is the film’s first casualty.
The picture is sewn together with former fighter pilot Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) pining to rekindle his romance with airline stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty). Ted buys a literal “smoking” ticket on Elaine’s next flight to mend things with her (my god, I’m hearing the deliberately sappy string music in my head as I write this), but unfortunately many of the passengers and the pilots ate fish for dinner and now the plane is destined for doom. (Cue the “doom music.”)
The beauty of the film is that no one aims to announce the joke. Every cast member, including Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, plus Otto The Automatic Pilot plays it straight, never announcing the joke and sending the punchline into the rafters. If you’re serious while looking ridiculous to everyone else…well then that’s funny. Surely, a film like “Airplane!” can’t be serious, only don’t call me Shirley.
“Airplane!” still holds up after forty years. It had such a way about it that had never been done before. Disaster films were in abundance by the end of the ‘70s. Disco music was becoming cheesy to the greater populace. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker had to respond to these trappings. “Airplane!” upended everything done before.
Heck you could be bed ridden in a big building with patients and die laughing at “Airplane!” but that’s not important right now.
NOTE: Ever notice the propeller sound of the multi engine plane or have you truly figured out where some of the film’s all time classic lines come from? If not, then find the disaster flick “Zero Hour!” You’ll be amazed at the inspiration that film gifted to “Airplane!”
“Zero Hour!” is sometimes shown on Turner Classics. Be sure to check it out.