Directed by Jack Smight
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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 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.