The Concorde . . . Airport ’79 (1979)

*. I said in my notes on Airport ’77 that it was probably the best of the Airport movies, but not the “best” if you mean the most fun. You have to grade these films on a reverse or ironic curve. Vincent Canby put this very well with regard to this last chapter in the Airport saga: “The Concorde . . . Airport ’79 is — how should I put it? — not the best of the series, but to say that it’s the worst is to convey the wrong impression. In this case, worst is best.”
*. All of the Airport movies were described as being silly, but The Concorde takes silliness to all new levels, without quite having the sense that it was all meant as a joke. When audiences responded with laughter it was actually marketed in some places as an action-comedy (“Fasten your seatbelts, the thrills are terrific . . .and so are the laughs!”), but aside from the odd funny bit I don’t think most of this was intended. It’s just a hilariously bad movie.
*. Most of the key elements are still in place. There’s a sick kid and a cute kid. There’s a plane full of stars, though they were really down to the B-list of celebs by this point. Alain Delon still looks boyish, but also somehow older than he actually was at the time of filming. Sylvia Kristel is the sexy stewardess/captain’s love interest and Jimmie Walker provides the musical interludes with his saxophone. Charo is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Robert Wagner plays, you guessed it, the heel. Sybil Danning. Eddie Albert. You get the picture. About all you really need to know is that George Kennedy’s Patroni has, by dint of hanging around for all four movies, finally advanced into the lead role. This is his franchise now!
*. No that is not Kent Brockman reading the television news! It’s Harry Shearer. Sounding like Kent Brockman.
*. It’s a minor thing –Shearer’s voice work isn’t even credited — but that news broadcast is worth highlighting as a prime example of the clichéd silliness of The Concorde. We’re familiar with the idea of a news broadcast presenting us essential information in a condensed form, sort of like the spinning headlines in the 1940s. So we’re used to characters just turning on the TV and immediately catching us up to date on everything we need to know to better understand what’s going on in the movie we’re watching. That’s the cliché.
*. Here it’s taken to an extreme. The first news story tells us that the Concorde has arrived in the U.S. This is followed by a story about a new “highly secret” anti-aircraft attack drone being tested by Harrison Industries. Hm. Could these two stories be related? But wait! “In a related story” we learn that Dr. Kevin Harrison has been named Man of the Year by some science foundation. I wonder how he’s connected to all of this! And then wrapping things up there’s a quick profile on a gymnast who is a member of the Russian Olympic Team, who just happen to be traveling on the Concorde! Indeed, the journalist who narrates the story is the secret lover of the gymnast being profiled, and they’ll be flying on the plane together. Wow. There’s a whole menu of plot elements introduced in just a few minutes.

*. The Concorde is thick with this kind of badness. Take the casual bromance between Kennedy’s Patroni and Delon. These are manly men. When they ask Kristel to bring them their coffee black she sighs “Oh, you pilots are such men!” To which Patroni cleverly replies “They don’t call it the cockpit for nothing, honey!” Groan. The sexual innuendo, if that is what we can call it, has not aged well.
*. There’s worse, as Kennedy’s wife has died so Delon sets him up with a prostitute in their Paris layover so he can get his mojo back. Meanwhile, Delon can finally bring himself to express his love for Kristel. Oh, you pilots are such men!
*. It’s typical of the dialogue in bad movies to be not just groanworthy, but to skate upon the absurd or mystifying. My favourite moment in the film is when Kennedy tells Delon that he’s going to “go back and check the passengers” after the jet suffers a massive decompression incident and is in the process of falling apart in mid air. I don’t know why the hell Patroni would feel a need to leave the cockpit at such a moment to do such a pointless task, but Delon simply mutters “Yeah.” It’s a moment of pure weirdness that I can’t really explain.
*. Or try making sense of the journalist giving play-by-play into her tape recorder as the jet is about to crash into the ocean: “We’re diving straight down! There’s so much fear! Oh dear Lord, please help us! Oh God no, it’s the last thing we knew! Oh God no, please no! We’re going into the ocean! Oh no!” There’s so much fear? It’s the last thing we knew? What is she going on about?
*. So it’s ridiculous. Not just the plot, and the dialogue, and the effects, and the business with Kennedy firing a flare pistol out the window of the jet to distract a missile, but every single thing about it. It may even rank as the worst Airport ever. Which means it’s also the best.
*. On Sneak Previews an exasperated Gene Siskel was driven to say “I don’t think as critics we go to these Airport movies any more to criticize them so much as to endure them.” But that’s not how I felt watching this again (and I have to confess here that I saw The Concorde in a theatre during its initial release). In fact, I thought it was a lot of fun. These movies are all different shades of awful — one of the most remarkable things about seeing them altogether is seeing how wide a cultural arc was travelled in the decade of the ’70s — but none of them are dull or unwatchable, even (or especially) today. For a four-film franchise that’s actually quite a mark of distinction. After this, however, there was clearly nowhere else for them to go but for belly laughs.

6 thoughts on “The Concorde . . . Airport ’79 (1979)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I’m proud to be associated with Harrison Industries, whose work is badly represented by this wonderful film. Sure, shooting down Concorde with a drone is bad optics, but it’s at least honest of us to have our logo proudly on the side of the drone! And this kind of activity is a very small part of what our company does…

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Couldn’t you have found an easier way to avoid some bad press than to shoot down a plane full of innocents though? That seemed a little dramatic.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        No such thing as bad publicity, although we probably should have bought our equipment from Wylie E Coyote’s ACME company in retrospect.

        I love this film, it’s the essence of careless, hopeless, clueless movie-making….

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