So as I continue watching the Airport series in reverse order, we come to Airport 1975, the one in which the crew gets sucked out and the stewardess has to fly the plane, and the one that provided the greatest amount of inspiration for the parody Airplane. But first: our all-star cast!
Charleton Heston! Karen Black! Efrem Zimbalist, Jr! Helen Reddy! Linda Blair! Roy Thinnes! Sid Ceasar! Myrna Loy! Jerry Stiller! Norman Fell! Erik Estrada! And Gloria Swanson as… GLORIA SWANSON!
So we join Heston as Al getting of this plane where he serves as pilot, meeting Karen Black as Nancy. She says she really wants to talk to him. He says he's booked on this other flight. She says she REALLY wants to talk to him. He says he could "do wonders in a half an hour." She says she really, REALLY wants to talk to him, causing him to respond "You're not still on this kick about US?" which does not exactly sit well with her, because, yes, that is exactly the kick she's on. They split, then Nancy meets another stewardess who asks her "Do we have a sexy crew tonight?" Because, you see, it's the 70s, and everything—especially everything concerning air travel—is HOT. Turns out they do have a sexy crew, one of whom is Erik Estrada, and he and the co-pilot are all about flirting with the stewardesses. They all flirt on the escalator, and then on many trips to the cockpit.
So we start to meet our passengers. There is Mrs. Patroni and her kid. You may recall that George Kennedy as Joe Patroni is the only actor with the misfortune to be in all four Airport movies. Who is this guy and why must we endure him? Before the Airport series, he was in basically every Western TV show ever filmed. He's still acting today. Also on board in Gloria Swanson as Gloria Swanson, and apparently Gloria Swanson is a self-perpetuating windbag [and guess what? Apparently she wrote all her own dialogue in order to be more authenically herself]. No comment goes by without her rejoining with something like "When I was working with Mr. DeMille…" or something. Honey, shut up. We see some Hare Krishnas board [God bless the 70s], but never see them again. An old woman sneaks a dog aboard. Unfortunately, this goes nowhere—I was rather hoping we'd see it get sucked out the window or something, or have a fight with the stewardess over it. Helen Reddy comes on as one of two nuns, and soon after Linda Blair as Janis arrives via ambulance. God it would have been SO amazing if they'd combined this film with the Exorcist, so she was possessed AS they're having midair trauma. Anyway, she's going to LA to have a kidney transplant, and they can't have too many delays, because she can't be too long off the dialysis machine. Nancy Olson plays her mother, and once I got the idea in my head that she was actually a man in drag I could NOT get it out. Also present are Jerry Stiller [Ben's dad] and Norman Fell [Mr. Roper from Three's Company] as two of three drunks.
The plane is supposed to some super-awesome 747 that has a full bar up the spiral staircase, and features a lounge with large, swiveling seats. Were there really planes like this? Anyway, soon they're in the air, and we notice that the captain is going to smoke a cigar in the cockpit. Ugh! I'm not against a nice cigar, but how about some ventilation? The poor co-pilot, stuck in there with that. Anyway, Helen Reddy makes the assumption that little Janis would be cheered up by her powers of song, so she goes back and sings a little ditty about being a best friend to herself. Yes, it's about masturbation. Okay fine, it's not, it's about Jesus. But the whole back cabin is transfixed [and I just sent a note to myself to download her entire greatest hits, which used to be a staple in the household of my youth]. Meanwhile this guy is sitting next to Myrna Loy, and keeps making moronic comments to her and demanding attention, to the point where I was shouting at the screen "WHY DON'T YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE?" Turns out this guy is Sid Ceasar, which explains everything. Anyway, for some reason that is obscure to me now, they get redirected to Salt Lake City.
Meanwhile, some other guy in a small plane has to get to LA as well, and is also redirected to Salt Lake City. We have a lot of drama with him, but the point is this: He has a heart attack at the wheel, the plane goes out of control, and ends up hitting the 747 right in the front window. The crash itself looks absolutely dreadful—we just see the small plane coming head-on in some rear-projection footage, and it becomes quite clear that this method is simply unable to convey any depth of image. It just looks like there's a movie of a plane right outside their window. Anyway, we can put together in our imaginations that the plane supposedly hit the 747, and the crew get sucked out and the pilot blinded! Well, THAT'S a two-ton bummer.
SPOILERS > > >
So Nancy comes up front and sees what the situation is. She has a good little speech on the radio to the control tower in which she describes the situation, going from calm to totally freaking and shrieking by the end. Of course who would be on the radio but Charleton Heston, and he tells her to "sit in the pilot seat and do exactly what I tell you." I wrote that line down carefully, because I thought this whole situation was going to transform their relationship by the end, but surprisingly, it really doesn't. It does, however, lead to the line that seared itself into my memory since I was a child, which was Sid Ceasar saying "The stewardess is flying the plane? THE STEWARDESS IS FLYING THE PLANE!" Luckily, having a huge open gash in the front of a 747 doesn't create any serious, hair-ruining wind throughout the cockpit.
So Nancy lowers the plane to where the passengers can breathe easily, and turns it so they don't crash into a mountain. They are now flying low through the snow-covered mountains outside Salt Lake City. The folks in the tower realize that they can't talk Nancy through a landing, and they must transfer another pilot into the plane—in midair! This leads to a long scene that must have been exciting in 1975, but is a little on the lengthy side now. He makes it all the way [watch as Nancy flails around, pretending that she can't just grab the guy], but the release to the cable holding him on get stuck on a bent piece of metal, and he gets sucked off into the ether! Too bad special effects were so primitive then, or we could have SEEN that. Anyway, then Heston goes through the exact same thing, without much of an edit, considering we've just essentially sat through this same scene, but he—no surprise—makes it in.
From then on, most of the excitement is over. There's one amusing moment, when Nancy gets on the intercom and announces that they're going to shut one engine down, and we hear a passenger voice matter-of-factly say "We're gonna die." Then they land, and have minor trouble stopping the plane, and then, when they're completely safe, some sudden and senseless panic ensues where everybody HAS to get off the plane NOW, and they deploy the inflatable slides and everybody jumps down them—for what? The danger is over. They're fine. I don't get it. Heston and Nancy emerge at their leisure—no relationship closure, nothing—and that's it, the end. < < < SPOILERS END
Though maybe you can't tell from this review, it was actually quite good fun. You have a nice but fairly nondescript mix of characters in the cabin, and very few of them die or ever seem to be in any real peril. I guess you have the drunks and the movie star and the singing nun, and they were all fine, just a bit nondescript. This is all made up for by Karen Black, however, who screams and freaks out and makes crazy faces like—well, I don't know what. Just take a look at the pics on this page and marvel at the crazy facial expressions she makes—and these are edited down to the very best. She also freaks out remarkably well and, I don't know, there's just something inherently larger-than-life about her. Then you have Charleton Heston, who as usual comes off as a sexist, smug and inflexible asshole.
So, given that I haven't seen the original Airport yet, in my estimation it's a toss-up between this one and Airport '79 for pure cheesiness and bad movie thrills. 79 is a much worse movie and 13 times as ridiculous, if that's even possible, but this one has Karen Black and really sets the iconic template for all the entries [and parodies] to follow. Then Airport '77, the one where they sink into the ocean, actually starts to verge over into quality, and is still fun, but not as generally ridiculous as either 75 or 79—although a lot more people die. I don't know, they're all pretty essential.
Anyway, there you go. I can't really write about this movie anymore.
If you know what you're in for, you really can't go wrong.