Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Airport 1975 (1975)

Aiport 1975 Marquee

Directed by Jack Smight

starring
Charlton Heston
Karen Black
George Kennedy
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Susan Clark
Helen Reddy
Linda Blair
Mryna Loy
Gloria Swanson
Sid Caesar
Christopher Norris
Roy Thinnes
Erik Estrada
Jerry Stiller
Larry Storch
Nancy Olsen
Ed Nelson

I have sincere sympathy for deceased Director Jack Smight. He departed this planet for parts unknown having achieved the dubious distinction of directing two of the sloppiest big budget productions ever captured onto celluloid. One film was something called Damnation Alley. I don't know if you've ever seen Damnation Alley, but it should be required viewing especially for both science fiction film and Mystery Science Theater 3000 buffs who love bad cinema. The film is entertaining for setting a new level of ineptitude in the Science Fiction genre (for a big budget production), and has developed a cult following attributed totally to its cinematic worthlessness.  And you can now judge for yourself as to the the enormity of this colossal failure on state of the art blu-ray.

My first encounter with Damnation Alley was when it played as the second feature at a drive-in back in the 70's when I was on my first date with a young lady. I can't tell you her name, not because of any sense of decorum, but I simply can't remember it. I still remember Damnation Alley though. What does this mean? Probably nothing, maybe something, but I throw it up there anyway for you to mull over and dissect. Maybe if my date had made a bad movie I'd remember her as well.   Anyway, I'm putting the cart before the horse, because Alley hit the screen a full two years after Smight's other big screen nightmare, Airport 1975.   Available just below you can watch the Airport 1975 trailer, which amazingly is still around three or four years after I originally wrote this in depth dissection of Smight’s masterpiece.  I’m tempted to remove it now and save myself a hassle later.  But we’ll resist, as I’m sure this trailer will do everything in it’s power to convince you that Airport 1975 is a must see film.

Having made a tidy little sum on the original Airport (from this point on to be known as Airport: The Beginning), and urged on by the success of other disaster films such as The Poseidon Adventure, Executive Producer Jennings Lang decided to slap this concoction together from a TV movie script and sell it as a sequel to the Airport: The Beginning. But unlike most sequels, instead of calling it Airport II (or Airport 2: The Big Hole in the Plane if you prefer), Lang decided to use the year of the release date as a subtitle, perhaps to disassociate it from Airport: The Beginning and Hailey's novel as much as possible. Or quite possibly he did it to let us know it wasn't a real sequel or a continuation of anything that happened in the original film. It doesn't matter though, because once you have viewed Airport 1975, there is absolutely no way possible that you could associate it with the original, even if the screenwriter does give Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) a promotion, a new airliner to work for, and a new wife (well sort of, maybe, not really).

But as it is with each tacky Airport movie, we spend less and less time at an actual airport and more time in the air (or as in the case of Airport 1977, underwater But that's a review for a later date.)  Having blown most of the budget of the first film on an all star A List cast, Universal and Lang opted to go with Charlton Heston as its one big star, and to bring back the aforementioned George Kennedy as Patroni. After that the cast is pretty much a cinematic goulash of has beens, game show celebrities, TV stars, up and coming actresses, starlets, one Grammy winning female pop singer, and one exorcized teenage girl in need of a kidney transplant.

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Heston plays Alan Murdoch, an airline executive/pilot whose main hobby seems to be male chauvinist pilot pig first class. He makes Dean Martin's Vern Demerest in Airport: The Beginning seem like hugs and puppies by comparison.

In the opening of the film, which is also quite a comedown from Airport: The Beginning, we get to watch Stewardess Nancy Pryor played by Karen Black, walk, walk, walk, and walk some more through an airport as the credits roll and some crappy elevator music (courtesy of composer John Cacavas who seems to have made a career out of composing generic crappy TV scores) plays in the background endlessly. At the end of her never ending airport journey, she falls into the arms of Murdoch, they kiss, and then we get to find out how much of a shit he really is.

Murdoch makes it perfectly clear that he likes having Pryor around, but only when he can find time to shack up with her at the nearest hotels available whenever their paths cross. She wants a more permanent relationship, he wants one that doesn't go beyond using up whatever condoms he might happen to have on hand.  As for whether or not Black was able to pry that gun out of  Heston’s mitt in order to do the wild thing is left to the imagination.   

In Airport 1975, the main plot this time around centers around what happens when a small aircraft and a jumbo jet collide. Producer Lang decided the hole in Airport: The Beginning wasn't dramatic enough or big enough so for this film they move it to the front of the plane, make it somewhat larger, and just for good measure have the co-pilot, Urias (Roy Thinnes), sucked through it. Since the pilot, Captain Stacy (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), is gravely wounded and since the flight engineer Julio (Erik Estrada) also takes a quick trip to Judgment City, it is left up to Head Stewardess Nancy Pryor to pilot the jet. Too bad for the passengers, worst luck for us.

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We also have several actors who dusted off the old acting cobwebs to take flight on the doomed 747. These would include Gloria Swanson, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, and Sid Caesar.  Swanson plays a passenger by the name of Gloria Swanson. No, folks that's not a typo. She's playing herself and worse yet, writing her autobiography by constantly dictating into a tape recorder. I think she really did write a book about herself but after watching this film I was never inclined to read it.  Possibly because it’s out of print and will run you over a hundred bucks.  Hard to say who would be more insane, the person who would buy it, or the joker who is selling it.

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Loy is aboard as passenger “no first name given” Mrs.. Devaney, who drinks boilermakers. She does it so that we can see the reaction of character actors like Caesar, Conrad Janis, and Norman Fell. It's supposed to be funny I suppose, but you should follow this rule of thumb for Airport 1975: If it's supposed to be humorous chances are it won't be, if it's supposed to be dramatic you'll roll on the floor laughing.

Poor Dana Andrews as private pilot Scott Andrews is at least fortunate enough not to have become involved with the rest of these mile high club clowns and has the good sense to bow out early along with Thinnes and Estrada.  But Andrews is an old pro. 
He’s been through this scenario once before with his buddy Zimbalist.  That time, their roles were switched.  You can’t say that Lang didn’t know his disaster film history as there’s no way this was purely coincidental.  Practice makes perfect I suppose.  But not for Andrews, who starred in Zero Hour which was based on another out of print Arthur Hailey book called Runaway Zero Eight, both of which were also comic fodder for the Airplane movie.  Andrews made an entire career out of being a crappy pilot. 

Then we have the two actors who thought this film would be a career advancement after having received good notices for other performances. One was Christopher Norris who was unforgettable in
Summer of '42 as a slutty teenager and not bad as a pregnant young lass in the TV film Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones. Here she plays wide eyed, very blonde, and supposedly naive stewardess Bette.

Norris portrays Bette “No Last Name Given” as if she is a fifteen year old high school freshman just learning the ways of the world. As a matter of fact, her character is only eighteen or nineteen (it is mentioned that she is a "teenager" so we can surmise it has to be one or the other) and you might expect her to go be-bopping up and down the aisles wearing an iPod except for the small problem that they weren't invented yet. Bette’s main job is to go up to the cockpit every once in a while while Stewardess Pryor is piloting the plane and offer moral support with long anguished gazing. This movie seems to have cornered the market on long anguished glances.  But none of them will top the look of dismay on your own face as you watch this calamity unfold.

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Also present is Linda Blair as Janice Abbot, who after having been put through the wringer by Satan in The Exorcist, and on top of that had female inmates commit mop handle atrocities on her in the TV film Born Innocent, decided to take a less demanding role. Blair plays a young gal being flown out to L.A. to have a kidney transplant. Her major acting requirement for the role is to lie back, look sweet for a while, look longingly at her guitar that she doesn't know how to play, and then look gravely ill. As it turns out, it's all the same plastered on goofy look for each scene so you'll never know for sure if she's really really happy, sad, indifferent, or if she's just about ready to keel over and kick the bucket. I kept rooting for Satan to make another appearance and have Blair spit pea soup all over Sister Ruth.

Kennedy’s Petroni is pretty much the same as he was in Airport: The Beginning only with sillier dialog brought on by the fact that along with everybody else he now has to look tense, tormented,  and constipated.  The biggest difference between this film and the original is that in Airport: The Beginning he was at times intentionally funny.  When he elicits a giggle or two here it’s purely by accident. But I suppose it’s difficult to be jovial when your wife and Petroni Jr. are on board the 747 with the big hole in the cockpit. As for said wife, she should have stayed at home. 

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In a strange set of circumstances Patroni's wife is now called Helen instead of Marie, and she is now played by Susan Clark instead of Jodean Lawrence, and has their kid in tow, Joe Jr played by Brian Morrison who is on hiatus from playing Carol Traynor’s son on TV’s Maude.   Clark is on loan from being Alex Karras’s wife and Webster’s mother

Maybe Ms. Clark didn't like the name Marie and lobbied for a script change. Maybe Petroni got divorced and remarried and had a kid in the five years since Airport: The Beginning. The problem with this idea though is that the kid looks to be about fourteen. But maybe the kid is from Patroni's first marriage. Maybe they thought we wouldn't notice. Who knows, as it is never really explained sufficiently and it shall remain one of the great mysteries of Airport 1975.

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Then there's the case of Helen Reddy. She makes her big screen debut here as Sister Ruth, The Singing Nun. The good Sister is on hand solely to provide us with a musical number which she herself wrote called Best Friend and to exchange long, knowing empty and of course anguished gazes with kidney transplant patient Janice while Janice's mother, Mrs. Abbot (Nancy Olson) looks on endearingly sprinkled with a little bit of, you guessed it, resigned anguish.

We know Sister Ruth is going to sing before it happens though for some very obvious reasons. The first of course is because she is after all,
Helen Reddy the singer, and the writers didn't give her an airline ticket so she could demonstrate her dramatic prowess. The second reason is that director Smight keeps giving us long long zooming close ups of the guitar that Linda Blair lugs onto the plane, and we know Blair isn't going to sit up and belt out Give My Regards To Broadway any time soon.

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If you've seen the movie Airplane, the whole moment was lampooned expertly in that film so you should know what I'm talking about. Amazingly, Reddy managed to wrangle a Golden Globe for her non performance as Most Promising Newcomer, (after her big musical number she practically disappears from the film. But that's a good thing) an award that ranks up there with the one Pia Zadora received for Butterfly. Now you know why they don't give that award out any more. 

As for the song, it doesn’t appear on any of Reddy’s Greatest Hits Albums so other than the posted video good luck finding it.  But why would you want to?   She’s no Mr. Rogers.  Reddy went on to do
Pete’s Dragon for Disney, where she bellowed out something about Candles on the Water at which point I think the dragon roasted and then ate her.  I’ll check it out.

Black's portrayal of Nancy sure doesn't help things much and after a while, her annoying whining might even flip you over to Alan Murdoch's point of view. I've never seen facial expressions put on the screen such as the ones Karen Black uses in this film. You can almost hear director Smight in the background coaxing her on, "look worried, now look upset, now look anguished, now look tormented, more anguish, Karen, more anguish.  Sparkle, Karen, sparkle!" Huge chunks of this film are nothing but looks of agonized anguish emanating from Black. No wonder Alan Murdock doesn't want to be seen with her in public.

The many faces of Karen Black

In Airport: The Beginning, each cast member had their own story line. In Airport 1975, this cast is brought aboard to do nothing but act, react and scream a lot during every single crisis. "We've just hit another plane!" (AHHHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) There's a big hole in the plane! (AHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) The co-pilot got sucked out! (AHHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) The pilot is blind! (AHHHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) The stewardess is piloting the plane! (AHHHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) The engine is leaking gasoline! (AHHHHHHHHH! We're all going to die!) Sister Ruth is picking up the guitar to sing again! (AHHHHHHHHH! Please God, kill us all!)

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There are some really remarkable scenes in this film. For instance, although there is a big hole in the side of the plane, when Karen Black is in the cockpit, her hair hardly blows around at all. It's as if she's filming a commercial for the latest hair conditioning product. (Even with a big hole in the plane, your hair will stay so healthy and happy you'll hardly notice the dead flight engineer laying nearby). But the one line that puts me in hysterics every time is when Petroni talks to Helen over the radio and asks how Captain Stacy is doing. Her answer? "He's in Pain." No shit, Helen.

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You'll also get a kick out of Gloria Swanson's super deluxe heavy duty make up job trying to convince us she really wasn't in her seventies. But by the end of the film, as you listen to her narrate her tedious biography endlessly into a cassette recorder, you'll be wishing somebody would throw her sorry old crypt keeper ass and her damn recorder out of the big hole in the plane. Certainly her secretary/assistant looks as if she would love to do it.  But she goes on a drunken bender instead.

I would also nominate this film for the most outlandish use of 1975 - 00019 the color purple. I'm talking intense, brilliant, purple used in the interior of the aircraft. It is outstanding. Maybe they should have called it Airport II: The Color Purple.

Edith Head did design the costumes for this film just as she did for Airport: The Beginning, and I must say that at least the uniforms for this film aren't quite as tacky as those for the Airport: The Beginning. But early in the film, you can marvel at the secret agent undercover detective garb being worn by both Black and Norris as they walk into the airport. It's a hoot.  I thought they were on their way to do an episode of The Snoop Sisters.

I could go on and on and on and on about this film but I urge you to watch and see it all for yourself. Nothing I write will truly prepare you for what you will experience. Yeah, it's a crappy film. And yeah, I'm giving it my special poo poo on you award. But now that you have been clued in on what to look for, you can invite your friends over and have a really swell time. Then again, forget that. You might want to keep what friends you have.

Not everybody agrees with me (Have they ever?).  Ebert actually proclaims this to be a better film than Airport: The Beginning.  And someone once wrote an article that proclaimed the same thing but I can’t locate it.  Well it seems as if I have located it. 
It was written by someone named Gerardo Valero and uploaded by Ebert. That explains it.  I’ve read it, and I don’t think I’ve ever disagreed with anyone as much as I do the guy who wrote it.  And I’m not talking about this film, but all of them.  But you can look at all his pretty pictures and YouTube videos that for some reason seem to work, unlike mine which seldom do.  I guess it helps if you’re a big shot writer and I’m not in that class yet.  Maybe tomorrow.

But honestly, they are just wrong.  Or they were drinking boilermakers with Myrna Loy when they saw these movies and wrote about the films.   I have the utmost respect for Ebert, but sometimes he does miss the boat.  Ebert is as wrong now as he was when he reviewed the original
Straw Dogs.  But that’s just my opinion of his opinion on these particular films. 

None the less, Airport 1975 joins our growing list of poo poo winners such as RV, Norbit, and The Hills Have Eyes 2. Universal can put that award in its trophy case along with anything the film may have received for being inducted into the Razzie Hall of Shame in 1983 not to mention Linda Blair's Worst Career Achievement award. Jennings Lang and Jack Smight may move to the front of the class and accept their comeuppance. 

Poo Poo on You Award

Monday, April 1, 2013

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Airport (1970)

Airport Marquee

Airport (1970)

Written and Directed by George Seaton

Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey

Music by Alfred Newman

"At half-past six on a Friday evening in January, Lincoln International Airport, Illinois, was functioning, though with difficulty" - The Opening line of Arthur Hailey's Airport.

In 1968, Arthur Hailey's best selling novel Airport seemed as if it would be a permanent fixture at the top of the best seller's lists. It was an intricate detailed telling of the inner workings of fictional Lincoln International Airport trying desperately to function during one of the worst snow storms in decades. Hailey had researched the book for five years, and as he weaved his soap opera storyline magic, we gained a fascinating behind the scenes look of airport operations, why airlines function the way they do, and a detailed look at the stressful lives of air-traffic controllers.

It was these details that made the novel such a great read. Hailey wrote his characters with substance, digging deep into Airport Novel their personalities, motivations and psyche, so that we always understood their actions and reactions. The basic story lines may have sometimes seemed like the stuff high class soap-operas are made of, but when placed against the behind the scenes backdrop of a major Metropolitan airport, everything seemed incredibly fresh.

Things have changed quite a bit in the forty years since Hailey's book was written. In those days, airports and Airlines seemed to have been willing to bend over backwards to please the paying customer although I couldn't attest to it personally. I didn't take my first ride in the wild blue yonder until 2000. But I'll take Hailey's word for it. As you know, especially if you've been reading any consumer web pages or magazines at all, the worm has turned and most airline policies seem to be based on one single industry wide proposition: Make the cash and screw the paying customer any way you can with add on fees, cramped planes, and generally shitty service.

Still, I suppose some things are the same. I imagine being an air traffic controller is just as stressful now as it was then if not more so despite the improvements that may have occurred in the system. I mean, aren't there even more aircraft both large and small up there like chess pieces in a daily game of chicken trying to stay out of each other's way?

And it would also seem that in 2008, airlines and airports are just as clueless about dealing with the weather as they were in 1968, and probably even less so since pleasing the customer is no longer put above raking in the profits which may be one of the reasons they have such a tough time making those profits these days. But I can't swear to that, and since Hailey departed for that great big runaway in the sky four years ago he isn't around to update his book for us. So I guess I'll have to remain clueless on that particular subject until the next expose on the Discovery Channel.  Half inch of snow coming you say?  Close every airport east of the Mississippi.


All of that aside, in 1970, Hailey's book hit the big screen as an all star glitzy Hollywood production. Unable to put all of the complex details of Airport operations onto the big screen, director and writer George Seaton gave us a whole lot of melodrama and just a little bit of the technical details included in the bestselling novel, only throwing them in as time permits. And it doesn't permit much so you’d better enjoy the stars and the glitz.

As Hollywood spectacle it's fun to watch and taken on that level you won't mind it a bit. If you've read Hailey's novel, you'll probably be a bit disappointed in the fact that so much was left out of the screenplay including one of the more intriguing subplots involving a suicidal air traffic controller. Too bad too, because it dramatically portrayed the plight of those who who work constantly under a great deal of stress that some of us could never understand or even think of coping with.  Then again, it’s not like anybody’s job is really stress free these days is it?  Mine sure isn’t.  

Airport All Star Cast

In a film such as this with enough plots to make six movies, you are bound by the unwritten law of Hollywood to have a recognizable all star cast. So get your pens and pencils out and get ready to draw a chart or just use the handy pictorial I have included.

Headlining Airport are Burt Lancaster as Mel Bakersfield the airport manager, and Dean Martin as Mel's brother-in-law and philandering pilot, Vern Demerest. Lancaster is easily the better of the two. He has this aura of efficiency about him that makes us believe he could be running a Metropolitan Airport. And that's exactly what he does throughout most of Airport's running time. Mel deals with pickets, an aircraft mired deep into the fallen snow, and a stowaway in between juggling phone calls from his wife and lusting after Tonya Livingston (Jean Seberg).

Dean Martin plays Dean Martin pretending to be the aforementioned philandering playboy pilot. His wife, played by Perry Mason’s Secretary of nine years, Della Street (Barbara Hale), is kept around solely as his insurance policy to guard against any of his playmates becoming too serious.   She also happens to be Mel Bakersfield's sister which means she spends a lot of time playing referee since Mel and Vern loathe each other thoroughly and completely.

Still, Martin does the impossible and manages to make the character a likable guy, because Martin always has had this amicable, casual, personna about him which was the one on display when he did his weekly variety show on NBC.  Martin always seemed to be the most easy going likable guy in the room, something his one time partner Jerry Lewis was never able to convey and maybe that there was the real problem between the two. 

In the novel, Vern Demerest was about as far away from being likable as one could get, even when you take into account his “redemption.”  He’s what one would call a real sonofabitch.  Even his late epiphany in both the film and the novel comes at the expense of someone getting the shit end of the stick. Guess who that might be?

One major disappointment is the fact that Martin and Lancaster only have two brief scenes together. It would have been nice if Seaton would have added a few more, just so we could watch two legends on screen together even if the material was nothing more than a Twinkie sandwich. In the novel, there is a flashback to why the two in-laws hate each other, but we don’t get that here.  In that case, Demerest made a presentation to the airport board on behalf of the pilot’s association as to why they should quit selling flight insurance at the airport.  Mel, presented his case as to why it shouldn’t be eliminated, and his biggest ace card was the revenue it brought in.  So when you see the film, you can thank me for providing that bit of background. 

Lancaster is said to have once called the film "the worst piece of junk ever made" This despite making a fortune from his 10 percent profit participation once the film hit 48 million. Martin did even better, pocketing a cool seven million from his ten percent of the gross which adjusts to about $36 million in today's dollars.  

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Seberg’s Tonya Livingston is an airline representative who has designs on Mel despite the fact that Mel is still married to Cyndi played by Dana Wynter. We believe Seberg as the airline liaison, but the romantic chemistry between Seberg and Lancaster never really clicks. 

And although we know Seberg's character is attracted to Mel through some of her actions, not once do we get any clue from Lancaster's character that he feels any emotional involvement with her other than their “being honest with each other” chat.  It is really short changed and there is only a few hints about what their relationship may or may not be or is going to be. The only thing we know for sure is that Tonya gives great omelets.

In the book, Mel's wife Cyndi was played as a horny shrew who had only two things on her mind: Getting laid and moving up in social status, not necessarily in that order. She had one rich boyfriend on the side for social climbing, and in one memorable chapter found another one to take care of her physical needs which pretty much left Mel out in the cold.  But alas, all that is missing from the screenplay and Cyndi is only portrayed as a social climbing witch who appears on screen just long enough to annoy the crap out of Mel and us. Except for one scene, She is mostly seen chewing him out in split screen mode over the telephone. (This movie has an abundance of split screens and pictures in pictures but they are well done.)

Next up in our role call is Jacqueline Bisset, who plays British stewardess and Vernon’s Mistress Gwen Meighen.  As Gwen, Bisset gives us one of the more believable characters in this film, making us understand her feelings for Vern enough that when she says she loves him at one dramatic junction of the film, we totally believe her.  There is also a reason why she has a job as the head stewardess.  As we find out, she’s pretty damn cool under fire.

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George Kennedy provides comedy relief as Joe Patroni, an ace airline mechanic brought in to remove an airliner mired in the snow and blocking a key runway. It was the also the beginning of a long career for Kennedy in not only three more Airport flicks but Universal hauled his ass into L.A. to play a cop in Earthquake as well. I guess you could say that Kennedy is your quintessential disaster film actor.   He is entertaining, and when I first saw Airport, Kennedy was exactly the way I would have pictured Petroni.  Certainly the idea of Kennedy as Petroni was formulated partly because of his Academy Award Winning performance in Cool Hand Luke.

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Helen Hayes makes a three point landing at Lincoln International as Ada Quonsett, a professional stowaway. Though she may look like a sweet little old lady, don't be fooled. Having won an Oscar in 1932 for The Sin of Madelon Claudet, she would pick up another one thirty eight years later as a supporting actress for her role as Ada Quonsett. Here, she is kind of cute and cuddly in a conniving sort of way. In the book she was anything but that as we were clued into what Ada was actually thinking when she was being the sweet little old lady. Let's just say that her thoughts didn't jive with her outer persona.  As to that award she won, well read on.

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The very best in this film though are Van Heflin as D.O. Guerrero, a down on his luck, out of work construction worker, who hatches a chilling desperate plan to change the financial fortunes of his family. As his wife Inez, Maureen Stapleton may not have copped the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, but probably should have won over sentimental favorite and co-star Hayes. I guess annoyingly cute little old ladies who stowaway on airplanes trump everything else in Hollywood. Stapleton's portrayal of Inez is easily the best performance you'll see in this film, with Heflin's chilling portrayal of a down on his luck construction worker out to become the first suicide bomber a close second.

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There are also a few lesser characters. Lloyd Nolan shows up as sharp as a tack customs agent, Harry Standish,  Gary Collins shows up as flight engineer Cy Jordan, and Barry Nelson plays Captain and co-pilot Anson Harris.   Harris is Demerest’s family oriented co-pilot who dispenses advice to Vern when the opportunity arises. In other words, a bore.  Jordan’s job is to keep the airline’s mechanics functioning.  Or so I guessed.  Again, a role that really doesn’t demand a whole lot.  You don’t need to study method acting to turn the heating system up and down.   Standish however, does play a crucial role in a major plot development, which he does right after he finishes terrorizing rich old ladies and their dogs coming through customs.

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One of the other great stars of Airport is the snow storm itself. In scenes filmed by Ernest Lazlo and directed by Henry Hathaway, the outdoor settings of snow blanketing the airport are so realistic; you'll be going to the closet to grab a coat. Alfred Newman' s terrific score over the opening credits makes the title sequence of this film one of my all time favorites. I mean, who knew that snow could not only be made to look this great, but be exciting as well. As for Newman, he also wrote and conducted another favorite score of mine, that being How The West Was Won. Sadly, Airport would be his last complete work before passing away.

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Ross Hunter was the producer on airport. His involvement in glitzy Hollywood soap operas of the past such as Imitation of Life, Madame X, would help to explain much of the goings on in this film.  

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On another note, I was unimpressed with Edith Head's costume design for the film. The stewardess uniforms seem bland to the point where Bisset's outfit seems almost matronly and everybody else walks around as if they are dressed in strait-jackets. It's all a bit too formal for me. So despite having a closet full of Academy Awards for some fine work, here it just leaves me snowbound.  No worries, as just three years later she would rake in another statuette for The Sting.

Somehow Director and screenwriter George Seaton manages to keep his myriad of plots from running into each other, and the film really zips along at just a tad over two hours worth of running time.  As mentioned before though,  removing about half of the novel for the film made that accomplishment a whole lot easier.

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Airport will never be confused with great film making. Nonetheless, it is still highly watch-able entertainment and an airplane hanger full of fun. It's also a film of a bygone era, and it's the kind of lavish all star melodrama super technicolorized extravaganza we may never see again. Airport gives us a lot of plots, a lot of stars, a shit pot full of snow and just enough suspense to keep things moving along. It also does it in grand style, and if you do anything in grand style no matter how predictable everything else may be, I have no choice but to give you my grade which lands on runway two-niner as a solid B.

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Airport has been available as part of a three pack Airport Terminal Edition on DVD where you get it, and it’s three sequels on dual sided discs.  Other than having George Kennedy’s Petroni character in them, none of the film’s are real sequels in the true sense of the word.  Recently, a new blu-ray edition of Airport was released which I readily purchased.  The transfer is gorgeous, and it is the one I recommend if you have a blu-ray player even if you already have or purchase the Terminal pack for the other films.   Use the links located throughout the review.

Clyde’s Movie Palace: The Uninvited (1944)

The Uninvited Marquee2

The Uninvited
Starring
Ray Milland
Ruth Hussey
Gail Russell
Donald Crisp
Cornelia Otis Skinner
Alan Napier

Directed by
Lewis Allen
 
 

In case you were locked in a closet for the past several years, you undoubtedly know that 2009's sleeper hit was something called “Paranormal Activity”.  Filmed on a budget so small you could tattoo the zeros in the production costs on a fly’s ass and have room left over, the film raked in the moolah at at the box office.  It wasn't  the highest grossing film of the year of course, but it was easily one of the more profitable projects to hit the multiplexes.

But we’ve been down this road once before with an over hyped mess of a  micro-budgeted film called “The Blair Witch Project.”   Just twelve short years ago it was supposed to scare the crap out of me.  It didn’t, I yawned, never understood what the hell the fuss was about, and I still would like the studio to give me my money back.  I know, fat chance.   And if I’m wrong about Paranormal Activity it wouldn’t be the first time that I've been, although it is a pretty rare occurrence and only happens about as often as a total eclipse of the sun in Oshkosh.

I have to admit that it is difficult to make a really creepy ghost story these days that would send chills up my spine.  As Helen Hayes once told Dean Martin in Airport (1970), “When you get to be my age, there isn’t a whole lot left to be scared of.” 

Oh, there are films out there that can make me squirm or put me on edge.  However, this is an effect often achieved with very little plot and a whole lot of pointless  torture, maiming, vivisection, slicing, dicing, chopping, and raping, but not necessarily in that order.

And to be honest, it’s not like Hollywood has done a terrific job with some of their pure haunted house offerings.  Instead we get crappy ridiculous hammer you over the head with special effects film retreads like 13 Ghosts or The Haunting.  The original low budget film 13 Ghosts by William Castle  wasn’t that great to begin with but it did have its charming moments.  The remake?   How can I put this delicately?  It sucked.

In the case of The Haunting, not only did the special effects ruin the  psychological premise of the original, it mucked Shirley Jackson’s novel up in ever other way possible, morphing a real thriller into a dumbed down CGI snooze fest in surround sound.  But it did have Catherine Zeta-Jones so at least that was some consolation. Let’s face it, Haunted House movies are not only hard to get made, they’re almost impossible to get right.

Think about it for a moment.  Frankenstein and Dracula had been haunting the back lots of Universal Studios for well over a decade before a major studio decided to invest in the first honest to goodness haunted house spooktacular complete with cold clammy rooms, flickering candles, wails in the night, unexplained scents, ghostly apparitions, séances, and an honest to goodness mystery to go right along with it.   Before The Uninvited, haunted houses were either a laugh house built for the antics of Abbott & Costello, Bob Hope, or consisted of fake hauntings  manufactured to keep others out of a house being used for nefarious deeds by mere mortals, most of them in the criminal profession.

But back in 1944, Hollywood  finally got its act together and produced their first serious haunted house movie complete with eerie rooms, strange happenings, and floating ghostly apparitions and called it The Uninvited.  So, how did they do in this initial effort?   Let’s let Roderick Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) invite you into Windward House with the opening narration:

"They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and sea fog, and eerie stories. That’s not because there are more ghosts here than in other places, mind you. It’s just that people who live hereabouts are strangely aware of them.  You see, day and night, year in year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves.  There’s life and death in that restless sound, and eternity too.  If you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened.  You come by strange instincts.  You get to recognize a peculiar cold which is a first warning.  The cold which is no mere matter of degrees Fahrenheit but a draining of warmth from the vital centers of the living.

Local people tell me they would have felt it, even outside that locked door.  We didn’t.  They can’t understand why we didn’t know what it meant when our dog wouldn’t go up those stairs.  Animals see the blasted things it appears."

Pretty cool narrative if I do say so myself.   So while vacationing on the English coast, Roderick (hereafter known as Rick) Fitzgerald, music critic and composer wannabe, and his sister Pamela (Ruth Hussey), occupation unknown, just happen to come across a long abandoned mansion sitting forlornly up on a cliff. When their little Toto-cloned dog (aka Bobby) chases the wicked witch of the east…I mean the wicked squirrel of the tree in the front yard into the house, they chase after him through a window which was conveniently left partially open so that they could retrieve the dog and save the squirrel and get our ghost flick underway. After dispensing with the squirrel business and making sure the local constable isn't around to arrest them for breaking and entering, Rick and Pam begin exploring the dwelling.  It's pretty much your typical abandoned mansion by the sea  except for the prerequisite  haunted house locked room that they can’t get into.  But other than that, the house seems normal in every other aspect.  Well, almost.


There is the matter of the bathroom.  It has a fireplace a bathtub, a sink, but no toilet.   This may seem strange at first until you remember that this is the forties and toilets were banned from appearing in cinemas. And since fireplaces weren’t generally used for relieving one’s self, they could appear on screen which is why there may be one in the bathroom. Or more explanation is maybe that's the way rich old bastards built their haunted houses.  Or maybe they just held it until it was time to put the fire out.  The possibilities are endless.  Okay, so sometimes when watching a movie I do think of some weird crap like this that even Robert Osborne never consdered for no reason in particular.


But despite the lack of a commode, Pam falls in love with the house and convinces Rick that they just absolutely have to buy it, right now, right this minute, no questions asked.  And Rick, oddly henpecked by sis Pam, finally agrees to look into acquiring the house, although he’s probably thinking that it would be a terribly long walk down the cliff to the ocean if he wanted to take a quick leak somewhere other than in the fireplace.  You know, I bet it was a real bitch carrying firewood up to the second floor.  The owner, as it turns out is one Commander Beech (Donald Crisp) who is only too happy to sell Windwood in order to provide a nest egg for his granddaughter Stella Meredith (Gail Russell) and because previous tenants had spread rumors about the house being haunted by the Commander's deceased daughter, Mary Meredith, who met an untimely death near the castle.   It is my personal contention however that death is inconvenient, annoying, and untimely for most people, so in that regards Poor Mary was no exception. Capture 0050 As for Stella, she ain't too hot to trot for dear old Grandpa to let go of Mama's Family Mansion, and when Rick and Pamela inquire about the house, she no longer wants to be the friendly helpful neighbor she was when she thought the Fitzgeralds were just out looking for a place to urinate.  Okay, no more potty jokes from here on out.  But with or without Stella's input, Grandfather Son of a Beech unloads the house on the unsuspecting but more than willing brother and sister act, Rick and Pam. Rick, being the smart composer and movie critic that he is, returns home to pack their belongings, tie up some loose ends, and bide his time while Pam cleans up and gets the house decorated for some brother and sister cohabitation.  Coincidentally, this also enables Rick to have his sis be the one to make sure there isn't some deadly apparition waiting to throw her over the cliff or down the stairwell.  Or, worst yet, for Stella to punch her lights out for having the audacity to buy her long dead Mother's mansion.  But before he heads back to London, Rick and Stella actually end up becoming quite cozy and cuddly in between Rick's bouts of nausea on a sailboat.  Capture 0017  Capture 0020Maybe his change of heart was from finding out that when Stella was 3, her Mother died by committing suicide via taking an Olympic sized dive off the cliff outside Windwood.  In fact, he invites her up to Windwood to keep Pam company, and to negotiate a peace treaty with her dead mother if she should happen to come around. When Rick finally returns along with the housekeeper, Lizzie Borden..... I mean Lizzie Flynn and her cat, Whiskey, things appear normal, but only on the surface.   It seems that the toto-dog Bobby has proclaimed his independence by running off to live the remainder of his doggie days elsewhere rather than at Windwood.  This is a move that the Fitzgerald's treat kind of nonchalantly which tells you that people must not have been that attached to their pets back in 1944.   It also turns out that despite the fact that Stella had promised him she would visit Pam, she was a no show.  Then again, maybe Pam wasn’t her type just because Stella’s ghostly (or is that ghastly?) mom possibly maybe could have had a thing.  We’ll get to that.

Pam then informs Rick that she had sent Stella a personal invitation herself, but had been rebuffed by the Captain.  And then there's the cat, Whiskey (don’t hold me to the cat’s name, I wasn’t sure if they were saying Whiskey or Pissy or just Pussy), who like dog Bobby, throws a kitty fit when asked to take a walk up the stairs. 
Capture 0037 The fun really begins later that night when Rick is awaken by the sounds of a sobbing woman filling the darkened house.   Thinking it might be Pamela or Lizzie, he heads out into the pitch black hallway armed with nothing but a candle and is met a moment later by his sister who assures him that the crying is not coming from the housekeeper.  In fact, the scene played to perfection by both Milland and especially Hussey, will be creeping you out and sending a chill down your spine as well.

Eventually, Stella does come to visit Rick and Pam at Windwood, and things quickly go from bad to worse.  Stella begins to "feel" the presence of mama mia, Mary Meredith, but at the same time the spirit seems to want her to take a flying leap off the same cliff that Mommie Dearest had flown off of some 17 years previously.
Capture 0038 There are moments when The Uninvited is a rather conversation laden film, but I mean that as a compliment. There are many conversations that take place but they are not here just as screen filler. You have to be on your toes and listen carefully as each clue unravels some deep dark secrets of the past.  Pay attention, and you can earn your Nancy Drew merit badge before Rick and the gang practically get hit over the head with the information near the end of the movie. Complications ensue when Roderick begins falling for the young Stella, who is drawn to the house by the ghost of her dead mother who may or may not have good intentions. Should Rick let her stay or convince her to leave for her own good, perhaps losing his own chance at romantic bliss? Capture 0044 If ever there was a reason for black and white films The Uninvited is it. The stark cinematography by Charles Lang perfectly captures the eeriness of the house, especially in the dimly lit night scenes which are highlighted only by candles. Candles flicker when they shouldn't; the house is filled at night by the uncontrollable sobbing echoes of an unseen entity. A flower inexplicably wilts in a matter of seconds. Anyone who enters the studio where Stella's father painted her mother is overcome by a huge sense of dread and depression.  While playing a love song for Stella, the now famous Stella By Starlight on the piano, the music Rod is playing turns haunting, surreal, and if you could describe music that way, almost vicious. Capture 0048 There is  not one single headless, rotting guts hanging out corpse that makes an appearance.  Instead we get a continual foreboding atmosphere and a sense of dread that hangs over each frame of the production.   Yes we do see the ghosts, which were added by  the insistence of the studio, but by using the simplest of special effects, they are more haunting than any amount of CGI could ever hope to duplicate. It is what we do not see that scares us, and the anticipation of what we might see that fills us with dread.  As sort of the icing on the cake, it is all topped all off with what I consider to be is one of the best séance sequences ever put on film. Capture 0046 A film like The Uninvited will probably not appeal to many of today's youthful film watchers who have to be hammered over the head with 3D Imax CGI extravaganzas.  For a serious film viewer, who wants to see what a true haunted house film should be, The Uninvited is a must see. It's a genuine puzzling mystery film that will leave you guessing until the end and a truly chilling ghost story with just enough romance and a few light comedic touches thrown in to top things off. The casting here is perfect. 

Although I had a bit of fun in regards to Rick and Pam being siblings, the fact is that their performances often compliment each other.  Pam is the no nonsense sister, who takes things a bit more seriously than Rick who puts on a brave front but is a timid mouse underneath.  Milland brings enough of a light hearted touch to his Rick so that we don't get too bogged down in the seriousness of the story.  And Gail Russell is simply stunning as Stella. 

We may initially view her as milquetoast, but we later find out that there is much more to her than that and that Stella is not beyond being defiant to her overbearing grandfather when the occasion calls for it. And despite the 19 year age difference between her and Rick, they somehow manage to make the romance work in a believable manner.
Cornelia Otis Skinner as Miss Holloway

About midway through the film, Cornelia Otis Skinner shows up as Miss Holloway, who runs a home for mentally ill women.  And oh yeah, the place is called The Mary Meredith Retreat.  It turns out that back in the days when she was just plain old lowly Nurse Holloway, she was quite an admirer of Mary Meredith, not to mention being her best friend and confidante as well.  She was so obsessed with Mary that there are only two possible explanations:  Either Holloway and Mary Meredith were closet lesbians, or Holloway is off her rocker to the point where she should be a patient in the Mary Meredith Home instead of running the joint.

Or maybe she's both a closet lesbian and a nut case as well.   A guest brought this idea up on Turner Classic Movies once and host Robert Osborne pooh poohed the very thought.  But hey, who knows what really lurks in the minds of screenwriters.  You can watch the video below captured from that particular broadcast (the fact that I was watching again tells you how much I like this film) and decide for yourself whom you agree with.  Frankly, having viewed the movie several times, I don’t think you can come up with any other rational explanation for such a deep emotional attachment.  So despite their millions of other shortcomings as human beings, at least Ms. Meredith and Ms. Holloway were what they were and I say, go for it.  Sorry, Bob.


The remaining major cast member, Alan Napier, shows up as Dr. Scott, the local medicine man.  You might remember him from another gig he had back in the 60’s (See picture with insert) 

There is no doubt that The Uninvited is one of the best Ghost Stories ever to be put on celluloid.  It has everything you could want in a film with romance, mystery, suspense, chills and a few thrills, and at times even a little comedy intervention.  And if you can combine all those elements together so successfully to win me over for so many years, then I have no choice but to give you a highly spirited A.

So how does one see The Uninvited?  It runs occasionally on Turner Classic Movies so keep a look out for it there.  It is one of the top movies requested to be put on DVD, but unfortunately whoever has the rights hasn't felt compelled to release it in that format in the good old USA.  It is not even available in the Warner Archive Store, which makes no sense at all.  You can order a region free copy on DVD at Amazon.  Do so at your own risk.  The film is a treasure, and I hope you'll dig around and look it up.  All you really need is a little luck and a little initiative. My copy is one I burned from the Turner Classic Movies broadcast. 

UPDATE!:  Criterion has finally released this wonderful film on DVD and Blu-ray.  Use the links in the ads at the top of the page.  You know, the ones you can’t see unless you give a hard working guy a break and turn your ad blocker off.  Thanks.

Beginning with this review and hopefully with future reviews we offer up an opinion and perspective from one of today’s more youthful moviegoers.  (Edit:  It didn’t work out.  Josh has left the building. The position is now open.  No, you don’t get paid, same as me.)  Josh hopes someday to be a writer, loves video games, and will be all of 20 years of age this March.  Currently the plan is that he won’t read my review before writing his review, although Josh may offer up some comments afterwards.  Full disclosure:  “Josh, I am your Father.”  “NOooooooooooooooooo!”

The Uninvited is what most young people today will probably think of as a long-forgotten movie. They’re probably right, but just because the movie is old doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Remember this children.

This was the first black and white movie I had ever seen, and while the acting was top-notch and the plot was entertaining, I still find that there is a big problem with the pacing.

As much as I enjoyed this movie, I couldn’t help but notice that it took the better part of 90 minutes for things to finally start happening. The moaning, wailing, miserable woman crying loudly in the night proved entertaining…for a while. But they spent a vast majority of their time introducing characters that you love to hate, and asking more questions than they answered. I know it is supposed to be a mystery, and they do a good job of setting things up for the final scenes, but during that time there is little to no advancement.

Bad pace aside, everything manages to pull itself together during the movie’s final moments. The big, mysterious truth is finally revealed, and the scenes begin to blur together as you find yourself eager to know how the story is going to end.  :

Most of the actors that starred in this movie are probably unfamiliar to most of you, but I urge you to look into any other movies they’ve performed in, no matter how old. The three main cast-members (Ray Milland, Ruth Hussey, and Gail Russell) present a spectacular performance, and they have a talent for acting that is rarely seen in Hollywood these days. The Uninvited is one forgotten movie that is an inviting change from the jumble of remakes currently spewing out of Hollywood. This movie is definitely worth the watch.

My score for The Uninvited (1944):

7.6/10

(This review originally ran on my Clyde’s Movie Palace blog.  It has been re-edited and update to be included here)