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Posted by Katherine Putnam on January 20th, 2012

“There’s no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?”

I forgot to mention last time that these movie reviews will likely contain a lot of spoilers. Sorry. Read these posts at your own risk.

Moving along, up next on the agenda is 1980’s airplane-disaster-movie parody, Airplane!

“You got a letter from headquarters this morning.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a big building where generals meet, but that’s not important.”


“Do you know what it’s like to fall in the mud and get kicked… in the head… with an iron boot? Of course you don’t, no one does. It never happens. Sorry, Ted, that’s a dumb question… skip that.”

Airplane! is a parody of a slew of airplane disaster movies that came out in the decades prior to it’s release. It specifically targets the 1957 film, Zero Hour!, going so far as to use character names, plot points, and entire sections of dialogue. However, it also borrows from films and TV shows such as Airport 1975, Jaws, 60 Minutes, San Fransisco International Airport, The Untouchables, and From Here to Eternity. Airplane! is notable not only for being extremely quotable (ouch. That rhyme hurt me too), but for the careers it launched (or re-directed). Airplane! marked Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty’s first starring roles on the silver screen, as well as introducing Leslie Nielson (who had previously been known for serious and even villainous characters) as a comedic actor.

The use of primarily dramatic actors in a decidedly silly comedy was, in my opinion, a great move. Leslie Nielson was not the only actor who had rarely, if ever, done comedy prior to this film; Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and Peter Graves were all known for their serious roles. (In fact, Robert Stack’s role was written specifically to parody his character from The Untouchables. You have to love DVD commentary and trivia tracks for facts like these!) By playing their roles seriously, the cast of the film allowed the audience to discover the comedy for themselves, rather than making exaggerated efforts (like explaining the joke as soon as it happened or giving over the top reactions to visual gags) to point the the jokes out to the audience.

There is so much comedy to discover in Airplane!, and by balancing between playing the roles seriously yet not taking the film as a whole too seriously, the comedy is allowed to speak for itself. And hey, if you miss something the first time, you can always catch it during a later viewing. For example, while I’ve always loved the name gags (Victor/Vector, Roger/Roger, Clarence/Clearance, Oveur/Over), I had previously failed to realize why the automatic pilot was named Otto. It was fun to get a new chuckle out of a movie I’ve seen half a dozen times.

This post will be rather short, as I don’t have anything specific to criticize about Airplane!, nor do I have anything terribly intelligent to say in its favor. (No spoilers in this post as the plot does not exactly lend itself to deep analysis.) It’s a fun movie. It’s not the smartest, most original comedy ever made, but it’s definitely not the worst. In fact, modern day “parody” (I use the term lightly) makers Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer–of Date Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck and other “fame” (<--those would be heavily sarcastic air quotes if this were a live conversation)--could learn a lot about how to make a decent parody from watching Airplane!.

So if you’re looking for a classic comedy to enjoy (and you don’t mind sexual humor, drug references, and a few other off color jokes), then you can’t go wrong with Airplane!. It will always be a staple of my collection, if only for the completely ad-libbed lines of Stephen Stucker in the role of Johnny. In fact, I”ll leave you with a few of his lines: watch here.

NEXT TIME: Along Came a Spider

P.S.- As famous as this movie is, why does no one get it when I reference Ted Striker’s “drinking problem” whenever I accidentally spill a little of my drink? Having that joke fall flat is almost as devastating as all the times I’ve used a variation of “I’m Katherine; I’m twenty-four years old and I don’t need a governess” and no one gets it. What is wrong with you people?

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