*. A movie with a lot of baggage. Too much baggage. I say that because the basic story here is pretty good. A trio of thieves plan on using gas to knock out the passengers and crew on a luxury airliner, thus allowing them to fly to South America with a cargo of priceless paintings by old masters. They might have gotten away with it, but entering the Bermuda Triangle (remember when that was a thing? it was in the 1970s) they clip an oil platform, sending them into the ocean. With the fuselage intact everyone survives, but they’re running out of air and the plane is springing leaks.
*. Good fun! But then there’s the baggage I mentioned. What I was referring to is the baggage that comes with this being an Airport movie. So the cast is stuffed with stars who have little to do but show their faces so the audience can say “Isn’t that Joseph Cotten?” Or “How old do you think Olivia de Havilland is?” Then there are the little Airport in-flight amenities. There’s a song, sung by a blind guy who falls in love at first whatever with Kathleen Quinlan. There’s a cute kid, and another kid whose life is in danger. There’s a couple falling out (Christopher Lee and Lee Grant), and another couple in love (plane captain Jack Lemmon and Brenda Vaccaro). And yes, good ol’ Joe Patroni also puts in an appearance. I can’t see where he does anything at all, but, you know, they don’t call these things “Patronis” for nothing.
*. I don’t think Airport ’77 needed any of this. As I began by saying, it actually has a pretty good premise and probably would have worked better without all of these distractions. But Airport had become a franchise, which meant including all of the elements that, I guess, audiences had come to expect.
*. Our star among the stars this time out is Jack Lemmon. At first blush that might seem a falling off coming from rugged action heroes like Burt Lancaster and Charlton Heston, but Lemmon, who I’ve always thought underrated, is a better actor than either of those guys and he helps this movie out considerably. Just look at that glare he shoots at Lee Grant when she starts blaming him for everything that’s gone wrong. And if he needs any muscle to back him up, he’s got Vacarro to lay Grant out with a right hook.
*. How do we know it’s a luxury jet? Does the fact that it has an onboard library not impress you? Or the fact that the airline owner’s message is recorded on LaserDisc? Or the deep-pile rug even on the stairways? Well how about this then: the main lounge has table-top video games installed so you can play Atari’s Pong at 35,000 feet! Now that’s luxury, ’77 style!
*. Watching Airport ’77 I was struck by how it may be the best movie of the bunch, but it’s not as much fun as the first two. Parts of it are dated, and other parts are just plain bad, but it’s not dated or bad enough to be wholly enjoyable as camp. It is, however, a decent enough disaster thriller for its day, and passes the time better than most.