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EZ Viewing: Airplane!

December 10th, 2010
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The fifth and final film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Airplane! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, here to read about film three: Tropic Thunder, and here to read about film four: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.)

The spoof film from which all other spoof-films pay homage (and to which they all pale in comparison).  I find this film just as uproariously funny today as when I first saw it as a kid (though perhaps for different reasons).  Every single inch of this film is funny.  There are jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes.  (A few years ago I was able to see Airplane! on the big screen at a midnight showing at a local Boston theatre, and for the first time I could read some of the titles on the magazines in the airport newsstand.  All were funny, of course!)

Loosely based on the 1957 film Zero Hour (which one of the filmmakers once referred to as “the serious version of Airplane!”), the film was written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker.  They would go on to write and direct many other funny movies, but I don’t think any of their later efforts ever topped Airplane!.

The cast is amazing.  David Zucker commented that “the trick was to cast actors like Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges.  These were people, who up to that time, had never done comedy. We thought they were much funnier than the comedians of that time were.”  He was right — how funny are those four men in this movie???  They’re all pretty much perfect.  The film is filled with cameos.  Many of those faces aren’t that familiar to audiences today, but I don’t think anyone will ever forget Barbara Billingsley (from Leave it to Beaver) as the jive-speaking passenger.   In his original review of the film, Roger Ebert helpfully listed many of the film’s small roles and the films that their inclusion were parodying: “The movie exploits the previous films for all they’re worth. The passenger list includes a little old lady (like Helen Hayes in Airport), a guitar-playing nun (like Helen Reddy in Airport 1975), and even a critically ill little girl who’s being flown to an emergency operation (Linda Blair played the role in Airport 1975).”

And, of course, there’s Robert Hayes and Julie Hagerty in the lead roles.  They have to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to keep what little story the film has moving forward through all the gags and digressions, and they both acquit themselves admirably.

Airplane! was voted the tenth funniest American comedy ever on AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list.  (Though that list is undermined somewhat by the insane notion that MASH is funnier than Airplane!.)  It was listed on Empire’s list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time, the New York Times’ list of the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made, and countless other such lists that I have seen over the years.

In his review, Roger Ebert wrote that “Airplane! is sophomoric, obvious, predictable, corny, and quite often very funny. And the reason it’s funny is frequently because it’s sophomoric, predictable, corny, etc”.  Well said!

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