The 1980 movie Airplane! is probably the best farce ever produced. There were films that followed that tried to emulate its success. There was Airplane II – The Sequel, the Naked Gun series, and Hot Shots, for example.
Well meaning but totally confused advocates of political correctness should avoid this film and any advocate of political correctness is totally confused.
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker admit that this is a low budget movie and every precaution was taken to avoid spending too much money. It is a lampoon of practically every disaster movie ever made but it mostly intended to be a parody of the movie Zero Hour. Many of the lines in the film are directly from Zero Hour.
The movie starts out at Los Angeles International Airport where there are many sight and voice gags. We meet one of the stars of the show, Robert Hays, who plays an ex-fighter pilot who lost most of his squadron during a raid. He’s now a cab driver who’s afraid of airplanes. We also me his girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) who is a stewardess (notice I didn’t say flight attendant) and has decided to move out of their apartment and leave Ted forever. Captain Oveur (Peter Graves) is also introduced. He is the pilot of the airplane and, as we discover later, has an unusual fondness for little boys.
The movie was written to take place on a propeller driven plane but the studio objected and wanted it up to date. The producers relented and used a jet plane but whenever you see it on the screen, you hear propeller engines. The flashbacks show stock footage of World War II combat planes in action.
As the plane begins to taxi, we see a young man standing in the door of the plane yelling good-bye to has girlfriend who is running alongside. This is a satire of a scene from the movie Since You Went Away where the girl is running alongside a train.
The airplane takes off along with Ted Striker who has purchased a ticket and taken the flight to Chicago to try to convince Elaine to come back to him. Along the way, he tells his seatmates boring stories about him and Elaine. The stories are so boring that the people listening to him eventually commit suicide in horrible ways such as hanging, hara-kiri, or dousing themselves with gasoline and lighting a match.
After the meal is served, many of the passengers become ill. The stewardesses (doesn’t that rankle you politically correct people?) search for a doctor and eventually find one in Dr. Rumack who is played by Leslie Nielsen. He diagnosis food poisoning and concludes that anyone who had the fish for dinner will eventually become violently ill. The food poisoning incapacitates the pilot, co-pilot and navigator and the only one left to fly the plane is our reluctant here, Ted Striker.
The head of Chicago Flight Control, Steve McCroskey (played by Lloyd Bridges) calls in a veteran pilot, Rex Kramer (played by Robert Stack) to talk Ted Striker through flying the plane. It turns out that Rex Kramer was Ted Striker’s commanding officer during the war and there is no love lost between the two.
Needless to say, Ted Striker does eventually land the plane, as is the case in most old airplane movies.
There are almost too many sight gags to look for in this movie. You can watch it quite a few times before you are confident you’ve seen them all.
Robert Hays-Ted Striker
Julie Hagerty-Elaine Dickinson
Lloyd Bridges-Steve McCroskey
Leslie Nielsen-Doctor Rumack
Peter Graves-Captain Clarence Oveur
Robert Stack-Rex Kramer
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar-Roger Murdoch
Stephen Stucker-Johnny Hinshaw
Jim Abrahams-Religious Zealot #6
Frank Ashmore-Victor Basta
Craig Berenson-Paul Carey
Barbara Billingsley-Jive Lady
Lee Bryant-Mrs. Hammen