I was born at the wrong time. I'm just too young to appreciate the great disaster movies of the 1970's. However, thanks to cable television, I am currently able to enjoy them again.
Among those classics, there is an Airport series. These movies, starring legendary cheesy actors, build trumped-up drama and end with frightening emergency landings. When the plane is safely down, we find everybody is ok, and the pilots are heroes. Woo-hoo.
What you may or may not know, is that these airline disaster movies originated from a single book titled AIRPORT by Arthur Hailey.
What I found so completely entertaining about AIRPORT is how similar it is to the 20 year-old classic movie AIRPLANE! Yes, AIRPORT is twelve years older, but instead of being funny, it attempts to be seriousand that in itself is hilarious.
The entire story takes place in a seven-hour time span one January evening, so you already know this not going to be any ordinary night. There is a massive storm blanketing Chicago's "Lincoln International Airport" with snow. Arriving and departing air traffic is jammed, and to top it all off, some doofus got a 707 stuck in the mud and runway three zero is blocked when it is needed most.
Enter Mel Bakersfeld, general manager and all-around nice guy. (Though I never saw the movie, I keep picturing William Devane in this role.) Mel has to deal with unhappy passengers, basic nuts and wackos and all the political junk that goes with running a major airport. On top of the usual business, Mel must oversee all the departments that are trying to keep the airport open on this stormy night.
A light in the storm is passenger agent Tanya Livingston. She's a combination of brains and beauty. Naturally, she has eyes for Mel and the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, Mel is trapped is a loveless marriage to his social ladder climbing wife, Cindy. He is at a crossroads and must decide what to do. What's a decent disaster movie without a love story, right?
Don't get too cozy with Mel and Tanya. Here comes Captain Vernon Demarest. The book jacket describes him (better than I can) as "the arrogant veteran pilot who (is) a superb performer in the cockpit or the bedroom." I don't write 'em, folks, I just review 'em. Captain Demarest is quite full of himself. He's married with a stewardess honey on the side. For some reason, I see William Devane in this role, too. (Do you see a pattern here? I seem to associate poor Mr. Devane with super-cheesy cinema.)
Captain Demarest is piloting tonight's flight to Rome. It just so happens that a very distraught suicidal man is planning to blow the plane up as it crosses over the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. D.O. Guerrero has purchased a $300,000 life insurance policy against his life. He thinks that the plane will be blown to bits over the ocean without a trace of evidence and his unsuspecting wife will be able to collect the money. What Mr. Guerrero doesn't know is that Mel is on to him.
Anybody remember the Sonny Bono character in the movie, Airplane!? Ba-ha-ha! I had no idea he was modeled after this guy. Anyway, back to the review.
With quick communication, Captain Demarest is informed that there is a bomb on the plane. He comes up with this completely insane plan to get the bomb away from Mr. Guerrero. Without giving anything away, lets just say everything backfires (no pun intended), the plane is damaged, and Flight Two to Rome has to make an emergency landing.
In true disaster movie form, the only airport open during the storm is good old Lincoln International back in Chicago. And wouldn't you know it, the only runway that can handle the landing is the very one that is blocked.
Can Vernon Demarest get his crippled plane safely on the ground in a giant snowstorm? Can Mel get the crews to work together to clear the runway before it is too late? Will anybody make it out of this alive? You'll have to read AIRPORT to find out these answers and more.
This book was laugh-out-loud funny without trying to be. There are all kinds of sub-plots that I failed to mention in my plot review. Mel has these military flashbacks similar to those of the Ted Striker character in AIRPLANE!
Mel's air-traffic controlling brother, Keith, is despondent over a airplane collision a while back. He blames himself for the crash and is secretly planning to off himself at the end of his shift.
You get the idea, right? In classic disaster form, there are all these small side stories to make the characters more human. The only things missing from the book are Barbara Billingsley as the "Jive" translator and the singing nun that knocks out the iv of the heart transplant girl a.k.a. Vicki from The Love Boat.
AIRPORT shows its age in many ways. The friendly airport police sergeant is described as "Negro". The relationship between the captain and stewardess on the Rome flight is so sexist I want to puke. Coffee, tea, or me? is certainly the motto here. Mr. Hailey also offers a little discussion about these magic pods that would be "planes of the future". That obviously didn't happen.
Ok, I've been hard enough. I should probably explain my four-star rating after I spent all this time ripping the book. Technically, it should probably only get two stars. However, I have a "thing" for 1970's cheese. The cheesier the better. I had so much fun with this two-star book that it deserves an extra two stars, thus the four-star rating.
I really recommend you check out AIRPORT. It's so old it's in style again. It's a blast from the past that's so corny you can't help but enjoy it.