AIRPORT 1975, 1975
Cast: Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Susan Clark, Helen Reddy, Gloria Swanson, Linda Blair, Dana Andrews, Sid Caeser, Myrna Loy, Nancy Olson, Roy Thinnes, Martha Scott.
Andrews, flying his private jet, suffers a heart-attack and crashes into a Jumbo Jet killing most of the crew, save for pilot Zimbalist Jr. It's up to plucky stewardess Black to try and land the plan, coached by Heston from the ground whilst trying to keep the panicking passengers calm.
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The first of three sequels to Ross Hunter's lavish 1970 hit Airport that effectively started the beginning of the end for the series - a clear example of the law of diminishing returns, though it still earnt a tidy profit for disaster eager audiences.
It is perhaps more famous for being the entry in this series of films that was most famously lampooned by Airplane: the ridiculous and overly drawn out premise, the stewardess ending up in control of the plane, the sick girl (Blair) sung into a sweetly cherubic coma by annoying nun with a strum - guitar playing Reddy. But where this film leaves off with a dull and unsatisfying thud, Airplane struck a seam of comic gold. There is a redoubtable guest cast in support including silent movie legend Swanson (in her swansong), Ceaser and former 'Queen of Hollywood' Loy who are all rightly concerned that their new pilot is cross-eyed.
Alas, they have little to do except chatter briefly amongst themselves, though Swanson is a joy to listen to as she reminisces about her life to a ghost-writer (she wrote her own lines in a cameo originally offered to none other than Greta Garbo).
Heston's mighty, booming alpha-male heroics and Black's swooning hysterics seriously unbalance the ebb and flow of a silly film (no one told them to relax and not take this stuff too seriously), but reliable, patient Kennedy (who would go on to star in all four of the film's) again proves why he was one of the grittiest, blue-collar support actors of his era.
What a solid, journeyman director such as Smight was expected to make out of this turbulence-stricken, cliched-to-the-max gloop is anyone’s guess, but amongst the hilarious dialogue, crappy special effects and ghastly 70’s designs (though the costumes are by legend Edith Head, no less), he manages to wring a certain amount of suspense as Black is carefully negotiated down.
Where Hunter and George Seaton went for unashamed tear-jerking melodrama, we are here left high and dry with a high concept movie that lacks believeable dramatics and feels ill-conceived.
The origins of all those extended, money-spinning movie series can be traced here.