Wednesday, September 5, 2012
My Favorite Era: Airplane! (1980)
The team of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers (David and Jerry) had previously collaborated with John Landis on The Kentucky Fried Movie which was a madcap rush of jokes at a rapid fire pace. They refined this technique here and the end result is one of the best and first parodies. Sure, Mel Brooks had done something similar with his 70's output but Airplane! took it to an entirely different level.
The movie is essentially a comedic remake of an old 50's disaster movie called Zero Hour that also serves as a spot-on spoof of the many disaster movies that were released in the 70's. The brilliant thing is that the plots are virtually identical with a food poisoning epidemic on a plane leaving only a traumatized former pilot and a pretty stewardess as the only ones who can bring the plane down safely.
The gags come fast and furious which is great for viewer since if you don't like one gag, chances are one that is more to your liking will come up pretty quickly. Word play, physical comedy, a bar fight between two Girl Scouts turns into a Saturday Night Fever parody, Leave it to Beaver mom Barbara Billingsley turns out to be down with the street, you name it and it's on display. There are literally too many great moments to list here.
The cast also does their job perfectly, playing things totally straight which adds to the comedy. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty are fun in the leads but the real gems are to be found in the supporting cast. Leslie Nielsen makes a second career in comedy (and given how lame his turn as a leading man was, this is a very good thing); Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack are hilarious as the guys trying to talk Hays through landing the plane. Hell, even basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is funny which is a miracle given how aloof he tended to be around the time the film was made.
Airplane! is a fantastic comedy that started a trend that continues today. Not an especially good trend as of late given how many awful parodies have been made since but still! The ZAZ team would go on to make several more movies like this, one of which I will be examining in this series at a later date.