The manager of snowbound Los Angeles airport has a crisis on his hands. In fact, he has several as he juggles the demands of his job (protestors picket about a proposed extension and snow has clogged up the runways) with a demanding wife. Just when things can’t get any worse, a mad bomber decides to try and blow up a plane!
WON OSCAR for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hayes )
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The disaster genre (if indeed, in 1970, it could actually be called a genre) produced a fitful amount of glossy, expensive, special-effects and star-leaden vehicles ever since the silent days of cinema with a few early reconstructions of the ‘Titanic’ disaster. But it was not until producer Hunter and director Seaton joined forces to make this Universal backed runaway hit that the disaster movie was really born.
With public approval established, it was up (or down) hill all the way with a slew of Poseidon Adventures, Earthquakes, Towering Infernos, plus the three increasingly silly sequels that followed this original.
If the blueprint for soapy, cataclysm cinema had already been drawn up donkey’s years before, it had never been fleshed out in such glorious, glamorous style, befitting the producer of such key melodramas as Magnificent Obsession and the director or Miracle of 34th Street.
Arthur Haley’s disposable bestseller is the perfect material to hang the obligatory star cameos on to and Hunter and Universal respond with a polished and perfectly mounted production for them to do very little.
Lancaster leads the way with a solid but mundane turn as the harassed manager, perhaps because he personally loathed the film so much (but it was the biggest grossing box office hit of the year).
If Martin and Bisset are splendidly bland as a randy pilot and his pregnant (and much younger) stewardess girlfriend, we get better value as we move further down the cast list. Saving the day are Kennedy as an engineer (he’d return in all 3 of the desperate sequels, in what became a series of diminishing returns for Universal), Heflin as the twitching, sweating, psychotic bomber, Oscar nominated Stapleton as his despairing wife and, best of all, twittering Oscar winner Hayes as a geriatric stowaway.
38 years after winning her first Academy Award (for The Sin Of Madeleine Claudet) she again proves why she was one of the best loved of all American actors with a performance so coy and amusing that it still seems delightful today.
Po-faced and ripe for send-up, which was done brilliantly with Airplane! a decade later, Airport’s main drawbacks, as ever with this genre, are the sanctimonious and soggy script and the unnecessarily mighty running time (it clocks up over 2 hours). Campy and emotionally overwrought, this can none the less still be enjoyed as a guilty, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” rainy weekend afternoon pleasure.
The Academy were as impressed as the public - there were further nominations for best film and best score for Newman’s brisk, cosmopolitan music.