Movie Review of the classic Airplane!

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Disaster movies involving airplanes really got off the ground in 1954, when John Wayne starred in "The High and The Mighty" along with Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, and an ensemble cast. During the 1970s, the genre continued with "Airport" and its three sequels. However, the classic comedy, "Airplane!" owes most of its plot and dialog to a 1954 film, "Zero Hour!" which starred Dana Andrews in the lead role.

The writers of "Airplane!" (Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams) initially had difficulty in generating interest in the script. They were finally able to get it into production in 1979 with a modest budget of $3.5 million. When it was released in 1980, it earned back its costs in the very first weekend, going on to register the fourth highest gross of the year. In the years since, it has earned an impressive number of spots on various lists of "Best Comedies" and "Greatest Movies."

The cast included newcomers Robert Hays as Ted Striker and Julie Hagerty as Elaine, his girlfriend. It also featured established stars such as Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Barbara Billingsley, and Barbara Stuart also had roles in the film.

As the movie opens, Ted Striker learns that Elaine, a stewardess, has left him. Striker was a pilot in "the war" and his guilt over failing his men has led to a fear of flying and a "drinking problem." However, it isn't alcoholism, it's that he can't seem to get a drink into his mouth. Hoping to win back Elaine, Ted buys a ticket on the flight Elaine is working. Early on, he tells his fellow seatmates all his woes, much to their chagrin.

After dinner is served, the pilot, co-pilot, and navigator succumb to food poisoning. When Elaine radios for help, she is told to activate the autopilot and then find someone on board who can land the plane. There is no subtlety in her method; she inquires over the loudspeaker whether there is anyone on board who can fly the plane. After the panic subsides, she realizes that Ted is the only hope they have and manages to convince him to conquer his fear and take the controls.

Robert Stack's character, Captain Rex Kramer, is summoned to the control tower to help talk Striker down since he has no experience with so large a plane. Striker and Kramer served together in the war and have an intense dislike for each other. Kramer informs the crew in the control tower that they must build up Striker's confidence, but leaves the mike open when he tells them all the reasons that Striker can't possibly land the plane safely.

Throughout, Steve McCroskey (played by Lloyd Bridges) inserts comments about how he chose a bad week to give up a particular habit. He begins with a comment that he picked a bad week to quit smoking, progressing through other habits until he observes that he picked a bad week to quit sniffing glue.

While most of the satire is based on "Zero Hour!" the film also borrowed liberally from other movies. The opening shot of a plane's tailfin barely visible above the clouds and the accompanying music was a reminder of "Jaws." The little girl who is being airlifted for a medical emergency came from one of the "Airport" movies. The hysterical passenger appeared in more than one airplane disaster flick. Just like all of the other films, however, the plane lands safely.

Elisa writes in her up-front style in dealing with travel, cheap flights and personal finance. You can get more information on frequent flyer credit cards such as Qantas frequent flyer credit cards on her website.

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