Airport (movie)

From Academic Kids

Airport is a 1970 film which tells the story of an airport manager trying to keep his fictional Chicago airport open during a snowstorm, whilst a bomber plots to blow up an airplane (a Boeing 707 in this movie).

Although it had a complex plot, Airport paved the way for the disaster movie genre and established many of the conventions for that genre.

It stars Burt Lancaster as Mel Bakersfeld, Dean Martin as Vernon Demarest, Jean Seberg as Tanya Livingston, Jacqueline Bisset as Gwen Meighen, George Kennedy as Joe Patroni, Helen Hayes as Mrs. Quonsett, Van Heflin as D. O. Guerrero, Maureen Stapleton as Mrs. Inez Guerrero, Barry Nelson as pilot Anson Harris, Dana Wynter as Cindy Bakersfeld, Lloyd Nolan as Standish, the head of Customs, Barbara Hale as Sarah Demarest and Gary Collins as the third officer of Flight 2, Cy Jordan.

The movie was adapted by George Seaton from the novel of the same name by Arthur Hailey. It was directed by Seaton and Henry Hathaway. It would be the last film scored by Alfred Newman before his death.

It won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hayes), and was nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maureen Stapleton), Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (Edith Head), Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, Best Picture, Best Sound and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

The majority of the filming was done at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, which stood in for the fictional Lincoln International Airport which was supposedly in Chicago. Only one Boeing 707 was used in the filming, N324F a 707-349C was leased from Flying Tigers by Universal Studios and had an El Al cheatline over a bare metal finish with the fictional Trans Global Airlines titles and tail.

Trans Global Airlines has been seen in many other Universal Studios productions, such as Emergency!, when a fictional airline is needed.


Airport 1975

Several sequels were made, the first of which, Airport 1975 (1974), was a big-budget blockbuster featuring an all-star cast, including Charlton Heston, Karen Black, Gloria Swanson (who played herself in her last big-screen appearance), Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Helen Reddy, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.. This film featured the passengers and crew of a Boeing 747, and the events following a mid-air collision with a light aircraft. The pilots are killed or incapacitated and the stewardess (Black) has to fly the aircraft until a pilot (Heston) is put aboard in flight using a mid-air transfer from a fast helicopter. This movie, directed by Jack Smight, fell firmly into the blockbuster disaster movie category at the height of the genre's heyday, and established many of the "standard" plot devices and motifs that were later widely mocked in the Airplane! series. The movie has dated badly, and in particular its blatant sexism stands out as notably cringe-worthy from a modern perspective.

Airport '77

A further follow up, Airport '77 (1977), pushed the suspension of disbelief to ever more bizarre levels, in this case a private 747 which crashes in the Atlantic and sinks, trapping everyone on board under water. Again, a notable cast - Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Brenda Vaccaro, Olivia de Havilland, James Stewart, Christopher Lee, Kathleen Quinlan and of course George Kennedy - the only actor to appear in all four movies of the series. This sequel is generally considered the best of the sequels, even if it is the least technically accurate from an aviation perspective.

The Concorde: Airport '79

The final episode of the series was The Concorde: Airport '79 (1979), which was the last and widely considered poorest effort of the series. The cast was not as stellar as the previous movies - Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, Alain Delon, Sylvia Kristel, and Charo starred, as well as George Kennedy. The film did less well than the others, and the disaster movie era was winding to a close by this time. In a chilling coincidence, many of the flying sequences in this movie use the Air France Concorde F-BTSC which crashed in Paris in July 2000 killing all on board.

The final death-knell of the entire genre was the release of the first of the spoof series Airplane! the following year.

During the 1980s occasional reports surfaced that another Airport film was in the planning stages, but nothing materialized.

Further Comment and Plot Outline (Spoilers), Airport (1970)

The one actor common to all four movies is George Kennedy in the role of airline mechanic Joe Patroni, although the subsequent movies seem to have confused his wife's name and how many children he had. (Marie is the wife in the first movie, an absolutely solid marriage indicated, but Helen is his wife in the second movie. Joseph Patroni Jr. is in the second movie. Whoever his wife is, by 1979, she's deceased.)

Like its novel namesake, the movie gives some insight to the operations of a modern airport of its day, although the book is, of course, far more detailed with narrative about functions that may persist to this day, others that may have been computerized. Some details were inexplicably changed between novel and book: runway identification, for example. We learn about conga lines, noise abatement, stowaways, pilots going onto oxygen masks when one leaves the cockpit, and so forth. In the book, we learn about the delicate details of how an aircraft's freight is to be loaded. We learn that places like airports have ways of alerting their police without the public knowing: "Attention, Mr. Lester Mainwaring".

The movie, of course, looks quite dated, with no security check-in, passengers freely walking on without any inspection of carry-on baggage. It evokes a nostalgia for a simpler, more trusting time in our society, when we did not need to fear the terrorist. Of course, had even 1980s security been in place, much less post 9-11, the chief antagonist of the story would have been stopped on the ground.

SPOILER - Plot outline

Several personal dramas find their way woven together on board Trans-Global Airlines (Trans-America in the novel) Flight Two, the Golden Argosy, from Chicago to Rome, the airline's prestige flight. The flight is leaving on an evening when the American Midwest has been struck with the worst winter storm in several years, and the airport, Lincoln International Airport (a fictional airport that clearly takes the place of Chicago's O'Hare), is struggling to stay open, even after a jetliner gets stuck in such a way that one of its wings is blocking the main runway, 29 (30 in the novel).

Pilot Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) is one of the two pilots on the trip, officially flying as check pilot on Anson Harris (Barry Nelson) for his periodic check flight to make sure he "hasn't picked up any bad habits". (In the novel, Harris has decided to become an international captain, and requires one more check flight before he's certified to be captain of international flights.)

Demerest starts out critical of the airport's snow management, naming the airport general manager, Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) as the one responsible for the shortcomings. Demerest is married to Bakersfeld's sister Sarah (Barbara Hale), but he's also unfaithful, having taken up with the chief "stewardess", Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset), who's pregnant.

Bakersfeld, a wartime pilot, has his own problems. He's in an unhappy marriage, and his wife Cindy (Dana Wynter) is intent on climbing the social ladder, and Mel is a problem for her because his frequent absence from social affairs hurts her attempts to gain social favour. He also doesn't want to get involved in her father's business, even though they keep trying to twist his arm. He was due at a charity event that evening, but decided he couldn't attend because of the problems that mounted up when the runway became blocked. Bakersfeld has not been unfaithful, but Tanya Livingstone (Jean Seberg) is a good friend of his who he enjoys talking with and having lunch with. Tanya works for Trans-Global (Trans-America in the novel), the airline involved with the flight to Rome (and in the movie only, the airline involved with the stuck plane).

In the novel, Bakersfeld has an additional concern, although he is unaware of just how urgent it is to take action. His younger brother Keith is wracked with guilt over an event about three years earlier, feeling that he lingered too long on a break before returning to duty at a regional air traffic control center. He notices unmarked traffic which is about to collide with a small plane bearing a family. Keith blames himself for not getting back in time, but the investigation decided he was not to blame. Keith has since been transferred to Chicago, but he is still feeling guilt, and the strain of the job has left him looking older than Mel. Keith ends up having to handle Flight Two when it returns to Chicago.

Mrs. Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes) is a widow who lives in San Diego, but whose married daughter lives in New York. She cannot afford plane tickets, but when she's lonely, she goes to LA Airport and gets aboard a plane for New York, flying as a stowaway, and quite skilled at it. She was caught this time, and Tanya Livingstone finds her rather formidable by her quaintly disarming attitude, and even Bakersfeld is impressed by Mrs. Quonsett. She's to be sent back to LA.

D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin), who served in World War II as a demolitions expert, ran his own contracting business for many years, but has fallen on hard times. His wife Inez (Maureen Stapleton) barely keeps them afloat by working as a waitress in a shabby diner, and living in a terrible South Side apartment; they had to send their children to live with Inez' sister. Guerrero is desperate, seeing no other way out, since he can't seem to keep his temper when a boss tells him things Guerrero doesn't agree with. Guerrero has purchased a ticket on the Golden Argosy, although he could only make a partial down-payment on the ticket. He was fired from his last job because some dynamite was missing, and now he's made a bomb.

Guerrero is among the passengers taking a bus from downtown to the airport, and boarding the bus is a passenger, Marcus Rathbone (Peter Turgeon), we will come to know as the complainer. The bus is caught in traffic, and at that time, Inez gets home, finds a letter referring to her husband's ticket purchase, calls the airline, and heads for the airport with what little money she had to appease the landlord.

Guerrero arrives at the airport and purchases a life insurance policy which is to be paid, on his death, to Inez. With minutes to spare, he boards the plane, and Mrs. Quonsett watches, waiting for Tanya to leave the gate. As Tanya leaves, US Customs Officer Standish (Lloyd Nolan), who is going to have dinner with her and Bakersfeld, says that Guerrero was acting nervous, holding the attache case under his arm. Mrs. Quonsett uses one of her regular tricks to get onto that plane. Inez Guerrero arrives only to see the plane departing from the gate.

The plane, already an hour late to allow passengers to reach the airport, takes off and makes course for Rome.

Meanwhile, Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), a mechanic for TWA, finally arrives at the airport (in the novel, he helped clear a jackknifed truck from the road so he could continue to the airport) and begins to personally direct efforts to clear the stuck jetliner (arriving TGA flight in the movie, departing Aereo-Mexico flight in the novel), but is frustrated because the pilot doesn't give the engines enough power, and the plane gets stuck even deeper.

The loss of the main runway has forced Lincoln to route departures on a shorter runway (22 in the movie, 25 in the novel) which passes over Meadowood, a residential neighbourhood on land that dishonest realtors sold years earlier, not revealing the jetliner noise that was coming with the jet age. The residents have been complaining for years, are furious with the night's racket, and had just hired a lawyer in the last few days. (In the novel, the Meadowood situation is extensively played, with Bakersfeld finally gaining the residents' understanding and trust.)

Tanya Livingstone figures out that Mrs. Quonsett is on board Flight Two to Rome, and the pilots are notified. Demarest has Gwen go aft to spot Mrs. Quonsett, but not disturb her.

Cindy Bakersfeld came to the airport to speak to Mel, not to argue with him. Their oldest daughter left home because of their marital fighting, and he finally agrees that the only sensible answer is a divorce, to stabilize the home. Although Cindy is still appalled by Mel's seeming obsession with the airport, they're no longer fighting, and she leaves the office after their discussion is done.

Inez was wandering around, and a policeman (Albert Reed) takes her to Tanya, pointing out that she had Trans-Global correspondence in her purse. Tanya's been worried about Guerrero, persisting in investigating the man. She has some concern, and when Bakersfeld questions Inez, they learn her husband is desperate, possibly mentally unbalanced, and has an explosive. The pilots of Flight Two are warned.

Harris turns the plane around to return to Chicago, but a gentle turn that nobody should notice (but a smart kid (Lou Wagner) does notice and Demarest gives him double-talk). Demarest decides the way to get the bomb - Guerrero is in a window seat, past two people, one of whom is Mrs. Quonsett - is to use Mrs. Quonsett. He sends Gwen Meighen to fetch Mrs. Quonsett on the pretext that she's in trouble for stowing away. Once Gwen and Mrs. Quonsett are in the cockpit with Harris and the second officer, he tells her to forget all that. Gwen and Mrs. Quonsett return, both now acting as Demarest instructed, both keeping up the fiction that the plane is still headed for Rome, Mrs. Quonsett fearing being turned over in a foreign country.

With the distraction of being held by Mrs. Quonsett, Guerrero's hands are off the attache case and Gwen sweeps it away, but before Demarest can take it, "complainer" Rathbone intervenes and gives it back to Guerrero, who is cornered in the back of the plane. Demarest seems able to talk Guerrero into handing over the case, when someone comes out of the toilet and Rathbone spoils things again. Guerrero enters the toilet, Gwen's yanking on the door, and Guerrero sets off the bomb.

The plane decompresses, but nobody is sucked out, Gwen held on to something. The plane dives from the rarefied atmosphere and killing cold to an altitude with breathable air, though risking damage that may prevent them from pulling out of the dive.

The commissioners want Bakersfeld to shut down Runway 22 (meaning the whole airport) until morning. Bakersfeld is given this instruction, but he's armed with information about Flight Two.

The only airports they could reach are closed due to the storm - Toronto, Detroit - although Detroit could clear a runway that is covered in ice. They have to return to Lincoln, and Bakersfeld tells Commissioner Ackerman (Larry Gates) that they have to remain open.

Demarest gets ornery (with his worry about Gwen's injuries not helping), telling controllers in Cleveland that they must land on 29, and that if they have to land on 22, there'll be a broken airplane and dead people. Bakersfeld must act to clear the stuck jet... one way or another. Patroni insists he'll drive the plane out, while Bakersfeld is ready to have snowplows clear the plane away.

Patroni pushes the jet engines to the limit, but he succeeds, although Bakersfeld had been telling him he was out of time. The tower (Keith Bakersfeld in the novel) tells Flight Two that Runway 29 is open. The jet makes a PAR approach through the clouds and finally view the runway, which they must land on with several difficult factors.

They are heavy with fuel for the flight to Rome, and they didn't risk dumping fuel because of the possibility of electric sparking due to the damage. The "power-steering" equivalent for their rudder is inoperative. The tail section might fall off when they touch down, or even sooner in the buffeting of the blizzard. And even though the runway is Lincoln's longest, they might still run out before being able to brake.

Rathbone by now is scared, and pipes up with rantings of their doom. The Roman Catholic priest across the aisle from him lifts his head from the crash position to pray for forgiveness for what he's about to do, crosses himself, but in finishing the cross, slaps Rathbone across the face to get him to get a hold of himself.

Flight Two lands safely, and stops right at the end of the runway, then taxis to the gate. (In the novel, at this point, Keith quits his job, leaves the airport, and is about to carry out his planned suicide, when he decides to let the past be the past, accept what's happened, and go home to the wife who he's kept in the dark all these years but who's stood by him.)

Inez breaks through the security barriers and wanders in tears among the passengers, apologizing for her husband. Demarest goes with Gwen to the hospital, and it becomes evident to his wife that he's the one responsible for the stewardess' pregnancy, a detail she heard from the physician attending Gwen on the plane.

Demarest does keep his promise to Mrs. Quonsett: a first class ticket to New York. She laments it was much more fun to stow away.

The storm is lifting by morning. His divorce with Cindy now agreed by both, Mel suggests Tanya cook breakfast for them at her place, Patroni leaves with the box of cigars Mel promised him, and Harris wants to send a thank-you to Boeing for the aircraft that held up to Guerrero's bomb.


Airport 1975, actually release in 1974, starring Karen Black, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., concerns a jetliner that is stricken in flight by a small plane, killing the co-pilot and gravely wounding the pilot. The stewardess must fly the plane to avoid a mountain, and help with the helicopter-drop of a replacement pilot (Charlton Heston).

Airport 1977, the sequel with the most repeat showings, concerns a privately-owned 747 that is being used to bring invited guests to an estate owned by a wealthy philanthropist (Jimmy Stewart). Art is also on board, and motivates thieves to hijack the plane, land it on an island in the Bahamas and make off with the art. However, the plane crashes on the water and sinks. Because the thieves flew it off course below radar, the navy is searching the wrong area. The pilot (Jack Lemmon) and a diver (Christopher Lee) attempt to get a raft out of the plane, up to the surface, and set off a transmitter. The navy finds the plane and must now raise it.

Airport 1979 concerns the first Concorde supersonic jetliner owned by an American airline. Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) is now a pilot, and is piloting the plane on its inaugural run from Dulles Airport to Europe. Unfortunately, anti-Concorde protests are nothing compared to the threats to this plane: a reporter (Susan Blakely) is on board, and she has hold of documents that indict her boyfriend (Robert Wagner), an arms manufacturer, for illegal weapons sales. He's determined to destroy the Concorde if that's what it'll take to silence the woman.

Other airplane "disaster" movies

SST Death Flight, reissued as SST Disaster in the Sky - starring Robert Reed, Burgess Meredith, Peter Graves, concerns a supersonic plane (not a Concorde) bound for Paris from the US, but which has problems of its own when Senegalese flu samples get loose aboard. Paris won't let them land (producing the "runway lights going off" scene used in "Airplane!", which also starred Peter Graves), and they head for Dakar, Senegal with fuel running extremely low.

Terror in the Sky, 1971, based on Arthur Hailey's earlier book, "Runway Zero-Eight" - starring Roddy McDowell, Lois Nettleton, Doug McClure. Passengers on a plane headed from the Midwest (Winnipeg in the book) to Seattle (Vancouver in the book) get sick after eating the fish entree. Both pilots also ate fish. A man who hasn't flown since the war (helicopters in the movie, single-engine planes in the book) is reluctantly pressed into flying the plane, where he makes a rotten, but survivable landing. The theme was used in Airplane!.

Flight Into Danger, also based on "Runway Zero-Eight", made in 1956 for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and starring James Doohan. Not as big on exterior visuals.

Skyjacked, 1972, starring Charlton Heston, James Brolin. A disillusioned soldier hijacks a plane, first taking it to Anchorage, then over to Moscow where he intends to defect.

Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land - starring Lee Majors. The first hypersonic plane is leaving for its inaugural flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, Australia, a two-hour flight through the stratosphere. Unfortunately, one of the passengers orders his Aussie buddies to launch a communications satellite without NASA clearance because they'll lose contracts if they don't launch. When the rocket goes awry, it has to be destroyed, but that sends debris coming at Starflight. Starflight must climb to get past the debris, but one chunk hits the plane, damages control circuits, and they can't shut off the scramjet engines. The fuel runs out just as they clear the atmosphere and reach orbital velocity, and now Starflight is stuck in orbit. The movie made use of stock footage of launches by the space shuttle Columbia as Columbia made three launches in attempts to help Starflight.

External links

es:Aeropuerto (película)


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