Don Ingalls (Novel: Arthur Hailey)
Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Susan Clark, Helen Reddy, Linda Blair, Dana Andrews, Roy Thinnes, Sid Caesar, Myrna Loy, Ed Nelson, Nancy Olson, Larry Storch, Martha Scott, Jerry Stiller, Norman Fell, Conrad Janis, Beverly Garland, Augusta Summerland, Guy Stockwell, Erik Estrada, Kip Niven
Buy on DVD
A 747 traveling across country comes face-to-face with a private aircraft whose pilot has a heart attack, crashes into the cone of the plane and leaves the craft flyable, but without professional help. Enter Karen Black, first stewardess on the ship and paramour of a flight control manager played by Charlton Heston, who must combat her fears and get on-the-radio training in not only how to fly the plane but keep it from crashing into the Rocky Mountains.
If the premise seems a bit cheesy, it is. After the huge success of Airport in 1970, it was no surprise there would be a sequel, though a five year absence from the screen seems a bit strange in today’s culture of next-year follow-ups. Still, when you’ve already played the tense drama of high flying danger, it’s hard to make the concept soar a second time and much of what passes for originality here still feels stale in comparison to the original. It’s hard to imagine a lead less charismatic than Heston who seems to be sleep walking through the picture. His performance lacks spark or imagination and you just don’t care if he lives or dies. Black is significantly better, but much of her performance is straight-ahead terror with a few emotional outbursts at intermittent intervals.
The rest of the cast, including first-film carryover George Kennedy, fails to compare favorably to the talent onscreen in Airport. Efrem Zimbalist Jr (the pilot captain) and Dana Andrews (the private craft pilot) are barely in the film; Myrna Loy is charming, but plays a superfluous character; Sid Caesar is patently annoying, Linda Blair feels like she stuck in her own private hell; and how Helen Reddy got top billing over the likes of Loy is astoundingly idiotic. Susan Clark is an engaging presence on screen as Kennedy’s wife, but the dramatic point of her character being on the plane is a bit flimsy. Then there’s Gloria Swanson who plays herself. A sad state of affairs for such a legend, the film is almost like a death knell for her career, a last ditch effort to remain relevant in an increasingly indifferent world where old screen legends began to fade out more quickly than ever before.
It’s little wonder that the Airplane films had such an easy time poking fun at the Airport franchise. The dialogue in this film is fairly flaccid, the plotting facile and several scenes set themselves up perfectly for spoof (like the nearly-verbatim carryover scene where Helen Reddy sings a simple melody to a sick kidney patient and we get a cut-away shot of people peeking over seats and around corners to gaze on with doe-eyes at the happy music). Had this film been made today it would have quickly been labeled a flop and the franchise probably would have ended abruptly. Unfortunately, there are still two more films to go, though I doubt I’ll pick up either any time soon.
October 18, 2010