Things Go Black For A While…
Another Airport film, Another year with Heston with the head billing of an all-star disaster.
Airport 1975 – Theatrical Trailer, ShortFormCinema and photos © Universal Pictures
Airport 75 (1974) was the third most highest-grossing disaster film of 1974 behind The Towering Inferno (1974) and Earthquake (1974). Interestingly, Charlton Heston, George Kennedy and a few others in this cast were also working on that other disaster movie, Earthquake as this film was also in production.
Some of this Airport film’s footage was also seen in an episode of The Incredible Hulk (1974-). There’s also plenty of ammunition in the script for the Airplane parodies, especially with those scenes with Linda Blair and a singing nun. It is reported that three of the cast members were offered roles in these tongue in cheek films. This film also led to a parody by The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) in Disaster ’75.
The film starts with Heston as Captain Murdock – wearing a natty checked suit – fighting with his girlfriend Nancy (Karen Black). She desperately wants to tell him something, but he’s not listening. So she’s understandably really hacked off. We discover Nancy works as a head air hostess and he’s a pilot (because this is the manly man 70s, and if you have Charlton Heston in the cast, he can only be cast as a pilot as he’s too headliner for a passenger role).
Murdock incidentally is sporting a polo neck in a kind of lemon colour which tbh isn’t his colour. This I assume was either for a bet or an order from Heston’s mother or wife. But then this is the 1970s, and this polo neck would have been orange had this film been one from Irwin Allen. Big relief. But I digress.
Meanwhile, we meet the other passengers. Passengers include Gloria Swanson playing – and I’d like to think – an OTT version of herself. Off-screen, Swanson gave her name to her character and she also wrote all her own dialogue. This surprisingly did not include her flying the plane to safety or in a romantic triangle with Heston. But it did involve her chewing the scenery in every scene she appears in.
She’s supported by Sid Caesar, playing as a nervous gent who chats up the ladies in flight to distract him from imminent doom. There is also a trio of lounge “comedians” headed by Jerry Stiller. and two kids on board. These are Joe Patrino Jnr – who Darlin’ Husband tried to convince me was Jason Bateman in a debut – and Linda Blair (yay) as a sick kid awaiting a kidney (with a similar character in these parodies from The Love Boat‘s Jill Whelan.
There’s a couple of nuns – who possibly raided The Sound of Music‘s wardrobe – and a few women with fierce drinking habits and smuggled dogs. There’s also a random character with huge 70s spectacles, who keeps appearing at inappropriate times and should have been played by Chevy Chase in a wee cameo. But sadly it wasn’t. Finally, there’s Eric Estrada as a 70s lecherous pilot, who would probably now be charged for sexual harassment. That is once air hostess, Sharon Gless grows up to be Cagney in Cagney & Lacey (1981-88) and kicks his ass.
So the plot in this one, a Columbian 747 night flight from Washington to Los Angeles has to land early due to fog. As it comes in for a landing it goes crash back wallop into a wee plane (after this second plane’s pilot had suffered a heart attack). With the wee plane, not a wee cameo from actor and occasional pilot, Harrison Ford, but it should be.
This leaves damage with a hole in the roof of the 747 and leaving all (the male) pilots dead or injured. Or turned into a waxwork dummy and winched out of the plane with some must see “special effects”. So Karen Black, as head air hostess Nancy must land the plane. Luckily, there are men, – emphasis on – manly men on hand. One of them will have to enter the plane to get it safely to the ground, as the men all believe Nancy – I assume as they realise she’s a woman – can’t possibly do this herself.
Nancy is gallantly assisted – ie mansplained into landing by Murdock – and patronised – by Joe Patroni(sing) snr – George Kennedy. In his defence Heston has a head start if you see this film as a sequel to his film Skyjacked (1972) where he was a pilot with a shed load of other problems. Black meanwhile wins the Best Scared Looking Actress Award (again) and only resorts to using the automatic pilot to catch her breath. In between, she comforts passengers and supports hysterical co-workers, including Sharon (Sharon Gless).
Meanwhile, Blair is looking quite perky for a sick kid. She is sung to – for what appears for most of the flight (and film) – by the Singing nun (Helen Reddy). Even when Blair feigns sleep, as you probably would in this situation… and if you could get away with it, the nun warbles on.
Jerry Stiller also sleeps for most of the flight – possibly to avoid said nun and the rest of the movie – and Myrna Loy’s Mrs Devany drinks a whisky (or three) with a beer chaser. As you do (when you are making the most of free booze in-flight). She justifies this as a “and why not” occasion. As you do, if there’s a free drink.
This all good fun, especially when it looks like the characters flying towards their inevitable doom. And the other cast members also including Martha Scott, who… with Darlin Husband getting more brownie points for choosing this film… appeared in Dallas (1978-91) as Sue Ellen’s mother.
Karen Black carries out the men’s simplified instructions, that even I could follow with no training. But as I can’t tell my left from right, it’s
probably definitely not a good idea. But Black’s anguished expressions worked to her benefit in her leading lady role film in Burnt Offerings (1976). Here she starred as Oliver Reed’s wife in this horror movie with a twist.
So of course, and to end with some not so surprising spoilers … a man helps land the plane (as that’s what 1970s
manly men do). This man is surprisingly not Patroni’s mini-me, for all his boasting of what he’s learnt from his daddy. Nor is it Guy Stockwell, yup Dean Stockwell’s brother has a wee role… sadly with no “Oh Boy!” references like his more famous brother. Finally, there is sadly – in a wasted opportunity – no projectile vomiting from Linda Blair, but let’s just say Erik Estrada really has his Chips.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Sunset Boulevard Blogathon 2021, No 1
This blogathon was added to Pure Entertainment Preservation’s Society Sunset Boulevard Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Charlton Heston in Dynasty, Skyjacked and The Colbys. Karen Black stars in Easy Rider, Burnt Offerings and Family Plot. George Kennedy in Airport 77, Airport, Dallas and in his tribute HERE. Linda Blair stars in this episode of Murder She Wrote. Roy Thinnes in The Horror at 37,000 Feet, The Love Boat and Hotel. Ed Nelson in The Screaming Woman and Martha Scott in Magnum, Charlotte’s Web and The Devil’s Daughter. Sid Caesar in Grease and Grease 2.