MOVIES EVERYBODY SHOULD SEE – AIRPLANE!
Once a week here at TWBT we will be discussing a movie we agree everyone should see at some point in their lives. For the most part we will try to avoid the really obvious choices (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, etc) as their reputations are such that if you are at all interested in film you’ll already have seen them, or you will be aware you probably should. In certain cases an obvious classic may be discussed if we think we have something new to say, or just really want to talk about it, but by and large we are looking at films the casual film fan may not have seen. This list will run the gamut as we’ll be looking at older films, foreign films, genre films, cult films, exploring the whole diverse world of the movies.
This weeks entry is…
The Zucker brothers zany spoof is perhaps the greatest argument ever produced for quantity over quality. Not every joke in Airplane! is a home run, but there are just so damned many of them that if one doesn’t work for you, the one that comes along a few seconds later probably will be. But then again, so many of the jokes are laugh out loud funny that maybe the film is an argument against there being too much of a good thing. There are over six hundred jokes in Airplane!, which is eighty four minutes long. That’s over seven jokes a minute. That’s more than one every ten seconds. That is insane.
The plot is classic disaster movie stuff. Striker, a pilot suffering from PTSD after the war (which war exactly is one of the running gags) boards the plane his air stewardess girlfriend works on in order to win her back. Shortly after take off the food is served and a great number of the passengers, and all of the pilots, fall extremely ill. Someone has to land the plane. Can Striker overcome his fear, and serious drinking problem, to save the day?
The film is actually based on an existing film, 1957’s Zero Hour!, which features the exact same premise, the same character names, and some lines of dialogue. But what sets Airplane! apart from modern, lesser spoofs is that the jokes aren’t dependent on you having seen the original to find them funny. The jokes are aimed more at the genre than they are at any only particular film. In fact, From Here to Eternity and Saturday Night Fever are the only films that get direct references, and the jokes still land regardless of your familiarity with those movies.
The sheer amount of jokes is what gets Airplane! talked about, but it is the actors selling those jokes that push this movie into classic status. The genius of the casting is that most of the actors were not known for their comedic abilities at the time. The cast was comprised of serious actors, and it is their gravitas and weighty reactions to such buffoonery that give the film its biggest laughs. Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves were all noted dramatic actors. And all of them originally turned down the film. Luckily they were talked into changing their mind as they each provided lines that will be quoted through the ages. Bridges provides the immortal “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue”. Graves’ pilot Oveur (pronounced over, resulting in plenty of confusion on the radio) has a running joke where he asks a young boy a number of highly inappropriate questions, “Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison”. And Nielsen’s response to “surely you can’t be serious” is one of the most famous lines in movie history.
I could spend another five hundred words just listing off quotes from this movie and it wouldn’t even cover half of the great jokes that are stuffed into Airplane!. Yes, when watched today some of them have dated a little. Most notably being the jive talking dudes whose ethnic dialogue gets subtitled. It leans a little too close to being offensive, but still manages to mine at least one laugh by subtitling the word Shit with Golly. Overall, the hit to miss ratio is pretty decent, and that is doubly impressive when you consider just how many jokes are in this thing.
Is it the greatest comedy of all time? There are a number of contenders for that particular crown, but it’s up there. Regardless of where you rank it among the pantheon of great comedies, one thing is certain, it is a movie everybody should see.
Oh, one more before I go: Lady -“Nervous?” Striker – “Yes.” Lady – “First time?” Striker – “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.”
Further viewing – If you like Airplane! you should check out…
The Naked Gun. Reuniting the minds behind Airplane! with star Leslie Nielsen results in more comic gold. Nielsen plays Detective Frank Drebin (reprising his role from the criminally cut short TV show Police Squad), one of the most hilariously inept police officer in all of film. Drebin uncovers a plan to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II, who is on a visit to the United States. The plot involves hypnotic mind control, and all sorts of nonsense that’s there so the Zucker’s can cram as many jokes in as possible. It might not have as many classic zingers as Airplane! but it does have “Nice Beaver” “Thanks, I just had it stuffed”.
Top Secret. Another movie from Zucker and Abrahams that is a little bit unappreciated. It doesn’t reach the highs of Airplane! or The Naked Gun but it is certainly worth a few chuckles. This time out they are parodying Elvis movies and World War 2 spy flicks. Worth watching just for the underwater bar fight.
Zero Hour! A middle of the road disaster flick that becomes a bizarre watch once you’ve seen Airplane! as it is almost beat for beat the same movie. I watched it as an experiment and found that I laughed throughout even though there are no jokes. I was laughing at where the jokes would be.