Dir: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, 1980
With the moderate success that came from Kentucky Fried Movie, the brothers and their friend set about making their next feature, only, this time, they were to be in the directing chair.
A Boeing 707 is traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago, when the crew and some of its passengers are struck down by food poisoning.
War veteran, Ted Stryker (Robert Hays), boarded the plane in an attempt to win back the love of his life, air stewardess Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty).
It’s up to Ted, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, to land the plane and the passengers In safety.
A misconception that is often held, is that Airplane ! is a spoof of the Airport movies of the seventies.
Although it’s clear that some inspiration came from those films, the actual origins lay in something more interesting.
The trio was trying to write a sequel to their earlier hit and, to gain material, would leave a video recording through the night, as that was where the more obscure stuff appeared.
In one particular taping, they happened to catch an old 1957 disaster movie called Zero Hour!, written by Arthur Hailey and starring Sterling Hayden.
The plot of Airplane! is taken directly from the 1957 film, and parts of the dialogue verbatim. Zero Hour! is one of those films that is funny because it’s so serious.
For Kentucky Fried Movie 2, the parody was going to be the A Fistful of Ten sequence, but the boys decided to expand it to feature length.
The ZAZ team do not miss any chance to make a joke. Literally, the first few seconds are a joke, with the tail of the plane swimming through the clouds, in a take on Jaws.
There are so many gags, that the film requires several viewings to try and get them all.
They are everywhere. In the foreground, the background, the dialogue and, often, all at the same time! Having so many jokes in the film, guarantees that it will be rewatched.
Unlike a lot of spoofs, this one hasn’t dated too bad. The references are still relevant today and the humour is timeless. Although the film parodies the culture of the time, that culture is so ingrained into history that the jokes still work.
Whether it’s Saturday Night Fever or From Here To Eternity, these movies made such an impact that we can still laugh, in this day and age, at comical allusions to them.
Unsurprisingly, for a ZAZ film, the comedy is quite near the knuckle with a couple of scenes pushing the boundaries of its ‘PG’ certificate, in both the UK and the US.
Breasts bouncing across the screen, mild bad language and a woman snorting cocaine are just some of the questionable suitability of its rating.
That’s not to say that they aren’t damn funny, just a mite top strong for the ‘PG’.
It has to be said, some of the humour can be described as nothing less than genius. The two black men speaking Jive and having it translated into subtitles for us to understand, is a blast.
This film kickstarted the comedy careers of several high profile “serious” actors by tapping into their, hitherto, unrealised comedy potential.
Lloyd Bridges as McCroskey is a riot as the supervisor who has chosen the wrong week to stop drinking, smoking and sniffing glue!
Peter Graves is unreal and shocking as Captain Oveur, a pervert pilot who asks a little boy if he’s “ever seen a grown man naked” and “whether he likes movies about gladiators”. Just to reiterate, this was rated ‘PG’.
The former Eliot Ness, Robert Stack, carved out a new career in comedies, courtesy of this.
And, then, we have the ultimate star of career changes and king of spoofs, Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack.
Despite being passed uncut for UK cinemas, the distributors voluntarily released a heavily edited version for sale on the CIC Video label. The scene with the young girl and the singing stewardess was removed, as were little snippets here and there. It wasn’t until several years later that the full uncut version was finally released.
The hit to miss ratio is incredibly high on the hit side, with only one or two duffers.
Inherently American, Airplane ! has a number of jokes that take aim at American television and the US way of life that may (and sometimes will) go over the heads of international viewers.
But that’s not a criticism, just an observation. It won’t ruin the good time to be had from watching the film.
Strangely, despite being passed uncut at the cinema and released in the same version on pre-cert VHS, distributors Paramount/CIC Video released a heavily edited version for the BBFC approved ‘PG’ release. This wasn’t down to interference from the British censors, it was purely on behalf of the distributors. No explanation has ever been given, but, eventually, the full uncut version was released, also with a ‘PG’certificate. The same fate befelled the Eddie Murphy vehicle, 48 Hrs.
A several-laughs-a-minute movie that has, deservedly, entered the annals of cinema history, Airplane! is a fantastic and joyous film that will keep you laughing for years to come.