Welcome to ESTA’S ECLECTIC CLASSIC CORNER. These are movies that have stood the test of time throughout past decades and made a difference in my life. Films that I could watch over and over and still love them as much as the first viewing. They are like “comfort food” for me. Each week I will be reviewing a classic that I have loved and can’t wait to share my thoughts with you. Please note, there will be some spoilers in these reviews. I will have to share some of my favorite scenes and dialogue to back up my personal reflections. I am who l am because of theatre and movies.
AIRPLANE! was first seen on the screen in 1980. I was instantly hit by a “lightning bolt” of hilarious zaniness. Little did I know that less than twenty years later, I would have the honor of being in charge of a Leslie Nielsen Master Class at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. He was one of my many comedic idols, and I was overwhelmed when we had our picture taken together. I remember sitting next to him, and in my exuberant excitement, I placed my hand high on his thigh and left it there while I was talking. He looked down at my hand and then up at me and repeated this several times. I was oblivious. Finally, he smiled that boyish grin, sighed, leaned over to me in between camera takes, and said, “Do I know you that well?” I looked up into his gorgeous blue eyes, blushed, and quickly removed my hand. I was mortified, but he laughed out loud with me. It was a split-second, but one I will never forget. The rest of the day, everyone was privy to his relaxed sarcasm and improvisational “schtick.” He was one of a kind.
AIRPLANE! was written and directed by Jerry Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker. They were the kings of “spoof movies,” starting with THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. They were a magical team that made several AIRPLANE! sequels and THE NAKED GUN franchise. They were a huge success but then had a falling out and went their separate ways. They never achieved the creative heights of their original partnership. This trio added as many disaster parodies as possible into an 88-minute film. Each one created another layer to the already over-flowing insanity of the characters and plot line.
The movie is a love story gone wrong. Throw in some rotten fish, PTSD, sexual innuendo for all ages, “pervert” mentality, and stormy weather, and the viewer is in for an amazing roller coaster ride. I loved the running gag of Ted (Robert Hays) telling three different people sitting next to him his love problems with Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and each one ended up taking their lives out of utter boredom. Whoever heard of a hanging, a stabbing, and a near setting yourself on fire while the AIRPLANE! is 30,000 feet in the air? Or how about the Mom from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, Barbara Billingsley, talking “jive talk” with two black passengers. What a hoot! AIRPLANE! It is corny and filled with sight gags. It works so well, even though it is predictable and “sophomoric.”
The entire ensemble was sheer brilliance, casting Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Robert Stack, and of course, Leslie Nielsen. Can you imagine the outtakes from any filming day? My cheeks would be hurting from the hysterics of it all. There are too many funny scenes to list, but I am determined to do my best to share. (And they are in no particular order.)
- The two airport announcers, in the beginning, are beyond hysterical. “No stopping in the red zone…no stopping in the white zone.” This man and woman argued and riffed back and forth. I couldn’t stop laughing. In real life, the “announcers” worked for the airport and were married each other. Incredible.
- The disco dance routine with Elaine and Ted was phenomenal. John Travolta would have been so proud, white suit and all.
- The woman who wonders why her husband never has a second cup of coffee later becomes hysterical and then gets slapped by a line-up of passengers carrying weaponry. Leslie Nielsen improvised and slapped her twice for real!
- Blow-up autopilots. and blowing up “blowup autopilots”…there is nothing more I can add.
- Woman playing the guitar in the plane for Lisa, the sick child, while every passenger reacts with pure joy and happiness, and she is accidentally disconnected from her breathing apparatus.
- There was handing out absurd magazines by the flight attendants, directing the AIRPLANE! the wrong direction into the terminal, and the FROM HERE TO ETERNITY ocean, waves, lusty moment complete with a kelp back. Can I please stop laughing now?
Not only was “stupid humor” the theme, but the writers had a field day with famous one-liners. From sniffing glue, drinking, and doing drugs…”I picked a terrible day to quit.” to the most famous, longest-running line of perhaps all time, “Surely you can’t be serious. I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.” Nothing was held back or considered too cool to lambast our society’s PC code of acceptable material. There wasn’t anything considered too sacred. For the times, it worked perfectly. This kind of humor has never gone out of style. Thank goodness.
AIRPLANE! is a cult classic favorite. It made a “butt-load” of money when it was released and has endured for over forty years. It brought tears of happiness and giggles to millions of viewers worldwide. This is impossible to say about many movies today. Some have even tried to imitate it. which is the highest form of flattery. Where else can you find Charles Dickens’ name and A TALE OF TWO CITIES in the crawls? Kudos…just kudos. I am still laughing.
AIRPLANE! is available to stream on HBO.