Three movies into the Airport franchise now and the kiddo and I are still holding strong, but it’s amazing what a few years can do. Where Airport had some comedy and camp elements, and Airport 1975 had a high-flying adventure spin, Airport ’77 is all claustrophobic suspense. Right down to its very ’70s score (the kiddo loved the ominous musical cues), and Edith Head award winning costumes, this is a movie steeped in the decade more so than either of its forerunners. It has a completely different tone.
Keeping in line with the all-star cast tradition, this time out we have Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Christopher Lee, and Olivia de Havilland alongside recognizable faces like Darren McGavin, Kathleen Quinlan, Gil Gerard, and M. Emmet Walsh. Filling the Helen Reddy role of singing passenger from the last film, we have blind singer Tom Sullivan as the inflight piano man. Notable TV director Jerry Jameson (The Mod Squad, The Six Million Dollar Man, Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, P.I., Dallas, Dynasty, Touched by an Angel, Dr. Quinn) helms this high flying – and deep diving – adventure.
The premise is wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (Stewart) flying a bunch of guests aboard his new tricked out luxury aircraft (complete with a piano bar, table-top Pong arcade machine, and a Laserdisc player!) to meet him at his private Palm Beach estate. Along with the people, including his estranged daughter and grandson, Stevens is transporting his private and valuable art collection. Unfortunately, a trio of art thieves that includes the co-pilot is also aboard the flight.
The hijackers plan to knock out the crew and passengers with sleeping gas, land the plane on an abandoned airfield, lift the art, and get outta Dodge before everyone comes to. To get to the deserted airfield, the co-pilot art thief has to fly the giant 747 low across the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle to get the plane off radar. Everything goes according to plan until an unaccounted for fog reduces his visibility and he clips an oil derrick, damaging an engine. They crash into the ocean and immediately descend, coming to rest on a shelf ledge.
To recap: Trapped passengers on hijacked and crashed plane under water in the Bermuda Triangle. Yep, that about covers it.
The impact wakes the drugged passengers while killing two of the three hijackers and badly injuring the co-pilot, and it’s up to Captain Don Gallagher (Lemmon) and airplane coordinator Stan Buchek (McGavin) to try and save the trapped passengers from inside, with the eternally promotable Joe Patroni (George Kennedy reprising his role from the first two Airport installments) and the U.S. Navy to organize efforts from the surface.
Captain Gallagher and Stevens’ assistant Eve Clayton (Brenda Vaccaro) are romantically involved and both on board the plane, and we see Stevens’ concern for his daughter and grandson from afar. But this time around, the love story focuses on a triangle between two business partners (Christopher Lee and Gil Gerard) and one partner’s wife (Lee Grant). It’s dark and tragic and mirrors the overall tone of the movie.
When I asked the kiddo how this movie stacks up against the first two Airport movies, he said this one is definitely “scarier, but the captain [Lemmon] is by far the best actor we’ve seen!” I thought the movie was every bit as entertaining as the previous one. Because of its claustrophobic nature, it certainly ratchets up the suspense over its predecessors.
Much in the same way each of the Alien movies is of a different genre, the Airport movies seem to share that quality. And because the fourth Alien movie sucked so hard, I have my concerns about The Concorde … Airport ’79. Things don’t bode well for the franchise’s final installment…