As snow incapacitates Lincoln International Airport, manager Mel Bakersfield has to contend not only with frozen runways, but with a seething wife and a girlfriend who may move to San Francisco. But thats nothing to the problems facing his brother-in-law
The first and foremost of the Airport movies, based on Arthur Hailey’s distinctly on-the-nose attempts to write the perfect “airport novel”, here we have the trailblazer for that criminally stupid but splendidly watchable fusion of thriller dynamics with soapy melodrama, crammed with derelict stars. In suspect ways Airport is also one of the progenitors of the blockbuster concept – a film driven by its potential in the market rather than creativity, but being the cheesy antithesis of the frowning, arty groundswell of the seventies, gives it a certain magnificent cache.
Here, the acting is as preposterous as the set-up, although Helen Hayes was granted an Oscar for her sweetie pie, old dame routine as the repeat offender stowaway. The men, although slack around the middle, are square of jaw and face the increasingly fraught circumstances with stoic determination. The ladies, forgoing every tenet of the feminist movement, are either naggy harridans or beautiful young replacements that our chubby middle-aged heroes obviously deserve. After all they do go by such chunky and courageous WASPy monikers as Mel Bakersfield and Vern Demerest.
You have to give George Seaton his due, he and Henry Hathaway who was uncredited for directing the snowy exterior scenes where gung-ho mechanic George Kennedy shifts the stalled jet off the runway to give himself a role for life, really wrack up the tension. Cross-cutting between the earnest moral dilemmas and sweaty disaster elements, they defined a template that — despite Airplane!’s best attempts to sabotage it — are is evident in everything from Armageddon to Titanic. Although, the sad, individualistic motivation behind Van Helfin’s bombing attempt (and what was going on at airport security?) seems a tad tame by the shocking realities of subsequent history.
Still, there’s an unshakeable sense that the film feeds less on any latent paranoia of flying than a secret desire to see a lot of good-looking Hollywood folk go up in flames.
The original was followed by three sequels; Airport ’74 (1974), Airport ’77 (1977) and The Concorde: Airport ’79 (1979) — all followed the same formula but to ever diminishing returns.
Long, strong and full of aging stars.