Airport 1975 (1974)

*. In my notes on Airport I mentioned how it was the originator of the spate of all-star disaster epics that dominated the box office in the 1970s (and which saw Earthquake, also starring Charlton Heston and George Kennedy, released the same year as this picture), but that the disaster in that movie was incidental to the sort of show it was. In fact, Van Heflin looking to blow up the plane to collect an insurance policy wasn’t even a bad guy. At the time terrorists weren’t as readily available as all-purpose plot devices for screenwriters.
*. Well, Airport 1975 puts the disaster back in disaster movie. Despite all the trappings of a prestige picture, resulting in its ten Oscar nominations, I don’t think anyone thought Airport was a great movie. But with Airport 1975 we have a bona fide mega-turkey. From epic to epically bad can be one small step. And with just the slightest of tweaks the next small step would result in Airplane!
*. “Inspired by the Film ‘Airport’ Based on the Novel by Arthur Hailey.” What an odd credit. At least it seems odd to me. Is it to be read sequentially, so that the film Airport was based on the novel by Arthur Hailey, and then this film based on that film? I think so, as this movie has nothing to do with the novel. Nor would either of the next two movies, which would have the same credit. But what do any of these sequels have to do with Hailey’s novel, aside from being about planes in danger? You might as well say Passenger 57, Die Hard 2, Executive Decision, and Snakes on a Plane were based on or inspired by Airport. I guess the (only recurring) character of Patroni is Hailey’s, but they didn’t need to keep him for any of the sequels.
*. So Airport 1975 is bad. Pauline Kael went to town on it, calling it, among other things, “cut-rate swill” and “processed schlock”: “produced on a TV-movie budget by mercenary businessmen” (is there any other kind?). Actually it was originally conceived of as a TV-movie, and had a correspondingly low budget, though I don’t hold that against it. I actually thought the air-to-air transfer scene was pretty good for what you might expect in the mid-70s. But if you do come to it with an eye for small-screen talent to fill in the gaps between the stars you’ll see plenty of familiar faces: Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar, Norman Fell, Erik Estrada. This does add to the TV-movie flavour.
*. As for Chuck Heston, I already mentioned how low he seemed to have fallen in The Omega Man (1971). This is no worse. And he was only 17 years older than Karen Black, which was less of an age gap than for the couples in Airport. Aristotle, who thought the ideal marriageable age was 37 for men and 18 for women, would have split the difference.
*. As I said in my notes on Children of the Corn: The Gathering: “Oh, Karen Black. To have gone from Five Easy Pieces and Nashville to this (and House of 1000 Corpses still to come).” What an odd career. I mean, this turkey actually came out a year before Nashville. Still, when you look at her filmography she’s always kept working. I salute her again.
*. Critics took a lot of shots at Black’s character. I don’t think she’s totally helpless, and probably handles herself as well as, or better than, I would have in such a situation. I only laughed when she tells the control tower “A piece of wreckage fell onto the radio panel,” temporarily disabling it. It didn’t just fall. She dropped it. And I don’t know why she was messing around with it in the first place.
*. But so bad it’s good? Kael again: “One can have a fairly good time laughing at it, but it doesn’t sit too well as a joke, because the people on the screen are being humiliated.” I think she might have been feeling some sympathy for Gloria Swanson, whose last film this was to be. I don’t know. Swanson looks like she was enjoying herself, and apparently wrote her own lines. There are worse ways to go (if not worse movies to go in). I felt sorrier for Jimmy Stewart in Airport ’77, and he wasn’t even in the plane that ends up underwater.
*. So to ask again: so bad it’s good? It’s listed not just among The Fifty Worst Films of All Time but also in The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made by Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson. I can go along with this. I mean, I haven’t even mentioned Helen Reddy singing to Linda Blair. Truly, there is still much to be savored here for the connoisseur of awfulness, even a half-century later. And for that I believe some credit is due.

7 thoughts on “Airport 1975 (1974)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    This was pretty exciting as a BBC Christmas movie back in the day, and although the effects aren’t up to much, I’m still fond of 75. Black could be great, but she’s not the right gal for this job, and her performance has provoked some mirth. But as a snap-shot of what studio execs thought would sell, it’s an amazing combo of guest-stars, TV movie values and cringe-worthy dialogue!

    Reply
      1. Alex Good Post author

        She’s probably not worried about that now. At least not after joining the Rob Zombie gang. Or is Zombie an indie auteur? She’s kept working anyway! No small achievement in Hollywood.

      2. Alex Good Post author

        As much as I may mock bad movies, and I really don’t think I’ve liked anything Zombie’s done, I always credit people who manage to keep going.

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