I cannot recall the first time I watched Airport. But I know that it was a very, very long time ago, and that I absolutely loved every moment of it, from the incongruously brilliant casting of Dean Martin as an airline pilot, the heavy banged beauty of Jaqueline Bisset, to the stowaway with a heart of gold, Helen Hayes.
I think it’s difficult for us to realise how important Airport was not only in igniting the massive popularity of disaster films in the 70s, but also how it defined many of the parameters of successive disaster films, like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. What Airport made abundantly clear was that audiences wanted human stories, conflicts between characters that they could relate to, and imagine themselves in, whilst the disaster unfolded.
It also set the premise that the actual disaster did not have to take place until the film was well underway, and the characters were very much established so the audience could feel their losses more deeply.
Airport follows events which surround the workings of a fictional Chicago based airport. Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) struggles to fund the expansion of the airport, whilst dealing with a deeply troubled marriage, and his love for his coworker, Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg). Other stories lead up to DO Guerrero (Van Heflin), a man who has failed in almost every endeavour in he has pursued, and has now decided to blow up an airplane so that he can claim airplane death insurance. Will those involved, both on the ground, and in the air, be able to save the airline passengers and Guerrero?
Airport has been maligned and parodied many times since its release over five decades ago. Not surprising, as the film was a cultural phenomenon, grossing 128 million dollars at the box office, and being nominated for nine Oscars, winning one for Best Supporting Actress for Helen Hayes (yas Queen).
Although Burt Lancaster himself called it “a piece of junk”, and Pauline Kael in her usual cutting fashion characterised it as “…bland entertainment of the old school…”, Variety found its best qualities to be redeeming enough to describe it as, “…a handsome, often dramatically involving $10 million epitaph to a bygone brand of filmmaking.” And I think that’s the charm of this film, it bridged the gap between classic Hollywood with its many cast members who had become stars a decade or two before; and a new breed of film that as Christopher Null wrote, “…is still going strong…”.
This is my first contribution to my and Dubsism’s the Second Disaster Blogathon.