Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Airplane! (1980)

July 30, 2012

Airplane (1980) movie posterby Peter Nielsen

Ok, so how would you describe Airplane! (1980) to someone who hasn’t seen it?

“Silly” might be the right word, wouldn’t you agree? This zany comedy is among the first successful spoof movies made and it is certainly one of the best, if not THE best, ever made. This is, of course, only my opinion, but I’m sure there are a couple of readers out there who’d agree with me.

I missed this one in the theaters, and first watched it at my good friend Michael’s house and I remember being literally on the floor, crying with laughter. Same thing happened the second time around! Minus the floor, though! Airplane! is the kind of movie you need to watch several times to be able to take it all in, because there’s SO much going on, both visually and with what’s being said on-screen. There’s stuff happening in the background too that you’ll miss on the first viewing because you’re laughing so hard. Same thing happened when I watched Hot Shots! in 1991.

Well, I wasn’t on the floor because I was in a movie theater in Hollywood Beach, Florida at the time, so I think people might have thought me weird if I HAD been. But when I later caught that one at the theaters back in Sweden I noticed things in the background I hadn’t even seen the first time, and it actually made the movie funnier. Same thing with Airplane!.

Too cool for just ONE pair...

Too cool for just ONE pair…

Let’s get the plot out of the way here, ok? It won’t take long because it’s very simple and not really that important. In this type of movie it shouldn’t be overly complicated either. It starts with the stewardess Elaine getting ready to board her flight. She’s left her boyfriend because she feels she doesn’t respect him anymore and when she gets home she’s going to start a new life. Elaine is played by Julie Hagerty in her first starring role. She would later go on to star in Bloodhounds of Broadway, What About Bob? and also the sequel to Airplane!.

Robert Hays, who plays Ted Striker, Elaine’s ex-boyfriend. Hays also starred in the Airplane! sequel, as well as Take This Job And Shove It among others. Ted has read the goodbye-note Elaine left for him and follows her to the airport. He pleads her not to go but alas… And he sees no other way out but to buy a ticket to the same flight, just to be with her.

Guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue..

Guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue..

Once in the air and after the in-flight meal has been served and eaten, some of the passengers start to get sick from food poisoning. And when both pilots and the navigator also get sick, the plane is left with no-one to fly or land it! Oh, wait… did I say no-one? Well, no-one except for Ted Striker that is! And he’s afraid of flying, let alone piloting an airplane!

Yeah, I know it sounds serious enough, but let me tell you… NOTHING about this movie is serious! Not even the end-credits! So don’t turn it off or leave just because the movie ends.

At the time when Airplane! was released a lot of the actors in it hadn’t done comedy before, like Leslie Nielsen as the doctor, for instance. This was, believe it or not, his first comedic role. Before this he’d only appeared in a bunch of dramatic parts and also horror, like the first Creepshow, but a lot of you will mostly remember him as Frank Drebin in the Police Squad TV-series or the Naked Gun movies, right?

Elaine and Ted with the automatic pilot, Otto.

Elaine and Ted with the automatic pilot, Otto.

The other lead actors in it actually had doubts about taking their respective roles in Airplane! because as I said, they’d only done serious and dramatic movies before. No comedies and certainly nothing as goofy as this one. They were all concerned that it would hurt their careers somewhat or that it wouldn’t work and people wouldn’t find them funny.

Well, as it turned out, they didn’t need to worry, because their straight-faced deliverance of their lines is absolutely hilarious and actually in part why this movie works so brilliantly.The actors in question are very well-known and I’m sure you’ll nod your head in recognition when I mention them. Those of you who’ve seen the movie will already know who I’m talking about.

Dr. Rumack and Captain Oveur having a fun discussion.

Dr. Rumack and Captain Oveur having a fun discussion.

From the classic TV-show Mission Impossible or The Winds of War series is Peter Graves as Captain Clarence Oveur. Just mentioning his name makes me chuckle, because of the many quotable lines it brings to mind. And speaking of quotable lines… I’ve already mentioned Leslie Nielsen, but Lloyd Bridges (High Noon, Hot Shots!) is unbelievably funny as Steve McCroskey and is one of the reasons for my tear-filled laughter.

And last, but not least, is Robert Stack from the TV-show The Untouchables and Uncommon Valor as the no-nonsense character Rex Kramer. There are of course a lot of other memorable actors and actresses in smaller parts, as well as a lot of silly gags and funny lines and situations, but talking about it would take too long. It would also take the fun out of watching the movie, either again or for the first time. For those of you going back for seconds please enjoy it again and for the newcomers out there I’ll just like to say: “Oh, boy, are you in for a treat with this one.”

I’ll leave you with one quote from the movie though, and that is Elaine’s words to the passengers, just before panic erupts among them:

There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone onboard who knows how to fly a plane?

Until next time my friends… I’m eager to know your thoughts on this movie. The comment section below is, as usual, all yours!

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