Classic Movie Review: Airplane! (1980)

Posted: August 28, 2013 in Comedy


Ted Striker (Robert Hays) tries to reconcile one last time with his ex-girlfriend, stewardess Elaine Dickenson (Julie Haggerty) Ted follows Elaine onto her flight to Chicago.  Elaine can’t forgive Ted for not getting his life back together after leaving the Air-Force.  Ted is still haunted by crashing his plane and leading his men on a mission where seven soldiers died.  The crew must get to Chicago so that a young heart patient (Jill Whelan) can get a transplant.  In midflight, the Captain, Clarence Oveur  (Peter Graves) the co-pilot, Roger Murdock, (Kareem Abdul Jabbar) and the navigator all come down with food poisoning as diagnosed by Dr. Rumack. (Leslie Nielson) Ted is the only person left with any aviation experience at all.  Can he guide the plane safely to Chicago with the help of air traffic controller Steve McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges) and pilot and Ted’s former Air-Force commander Rex Kramer? (Robert Stack)

I love this movie.  It satirizes everything from war movies like From Here to Eternity, to Saturday Night Fever, to Jaws.  But what it satirizes most are the aviation disaster movies of the early 70’s, like Airport, and Airport ’75.  Those movies were absolute turkeys and needed satirizing in the worst way.  What makes Airplane a classic are the classic lines, like “Don’t Call Me Shirley” “I guess I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.” And  “Do you like movies with gladiators?”  If these lines mean nothing to you, I truly feel sorry for you.  There are so many memorable secondary characters like the men who speak Jive, the old lady who  understands jive, the various religious people hanging around the airport,(Hare Krishnas, Scientologists, Jews for Jesus) who all get their just desserts, and Johnny (Stephen Stucker) who stole the movie from everyone else .

It’s also nice to see veteran  tv actors who had serious roles from the 50’s and 60’s get a chance at playing comedy, Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Leslie Nielsen.   Nielson made a career out of playing a straight man in the Police Squad tv show and Naked Gun movies, but the key was all the actors played it straight, like it was a serious movie, and that’s what makes it so gut-bustingly funny.  The Saturday Night Fever scene is worth the price of a rental, so rent it already, and watch it, or watch it again, I never get tired of this film.  Silly harmless humor, and puns galore, which I love. There is brief nudity, and some suggestive humor, so you might want to watch it with your kids, and cover their eyes when the naughty bits come on.  There were many imitators after this movie, but this was the original and best.

Airplane! Wing it!


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