Airport (1970)

06 Jun

As my dad said, “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going.” I’m not sure it was the intent, but the film Airport does testify to the durability of the Boeing 707, with George Kennedy’s mechanic character repeatedly and lovingly discoursing on how it’s the finest of its time. The plane even survives a bomb blowing a hole in the side of the plane from the lavatory.

I was interested in seeing Airport because I had heard that it was the film that inaugurated the string of 1970s disaster films (including The Poseidon Adventure ) and that it was exactly the kind of film that was spoofed in Airplane!. The film is also interesting for the bonanza of familiar faces: Burt Lancaster, Jean Seberg, Dean Martin, Jacqueline Bisset, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Lloyd Nolan, George Kennedy, Maureen Stapleton, Dana Wynter, Jessie Royce Landis, and Barbara Hale.

The film is based on a novel by Arthur Hailey, an author of a number of bestselling novels that were also turned into movies. The setting is an airport in Chicago, at night, during a snow storm. One 707 is stuck in the snow, having turned too quickly and missed the runway. Picketers are outside, protesting the noise pollution that disrupts their sleep at night. Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) is the manager of the airport, who has marital issues at home. His brother-in-law is Captain Vernon Demarest (Dean Martin), a playboy pilot who does not get along with Mel and has gotten stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset) pregnant. Costumer relations Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) has to deal with a variety of issues, including chronic airplane stowaway Ada Quonset (Helen Hayes), as well as her relationship with Mel. To top things off, a bomber (Van Heflin) gets on a flight for Rome, which is Captain Demarest’s flight.

It’s an eventful night. One only hopes that all nights are not like it for poor Mel.

One thing that fascinating me was the totally blase attitude towards security. Ada Quonset would never be able to stowaway in today’s security-obsessed world. One of her favorite tricks is to say that her son dropped his wallet and is allowed to go up to the plane to return it. The only thing the airport seems particularly alert to is customs (with Lloyd Nolan playing an experienced custom’s officer). And there is no way that Van Heflin’s bomber would have gotten anywhere near an airplane now.

Dean Martin and Jacqueline Bisset

It’s a very earnest film, with the exception of Helen Hayes, who appears to be having a ball stealing every scene that is not nailed down (those scenes that she is simply not in). She is a sweet little old lady who knits on flights and pretty much has the entire system figured out, to the frustration of Tanya Livingston.

Dean Martin plays the captain who is irresponsible in his personal life, but is at least a responsible pilot who is calm under pressure. I am used to thinking of Dean Martin as a very charming guy, but he’s actually rather a jerk in this one. It’s not Dean Martin’s fault; I think he’s playing the character as written.

Dean Martin is one of those actors who is living proof that singers can be good actors. In fact, there are a surprising number of singers who were so successful in acting that they were able to make movies where they do not need to sing to justify themselves: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand. I often think that when musicals are made today, instead of having actors try to sing, get a real singer and have them act. It worked wonderfully for Dean Martin.

Airplane is not his finest film. It would make a good soap opera, actually. But I was pleased to see him in one of his non-musical roles.

This post is my contribution to “The Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon,” hosted by Musings of a Classic Film Addict. For more posts celebrating Dean Martin, check out the recap for Days 1, 2, and 3 of the blogathon.


Posted by on June 6, 2017 in Movies


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21 responses to “Airport (1970)

  1. maddylovesherclassicfilms

    June 6, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I saw Airplane! long before I saw this, and because of that I can’t help laughing at some scenes in this. I do like this film quite a bit though. I actually liked Dean’s character in this because although he’s having an affair, he does genuinely seem to love Jacqueline’s character. I feel really sorry for his characters wife, but I get the impression that they had long been out of love. I also agree that he was very calm under pressure when the disaster strikes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 6, 2017 at 4:21 pm

      Yes, I agree; he definitely does seem to love her. And he’s kind of in a tough spot now, because he can’t really do right by both women now that the Bisset character is pregnant.

      It’s a film that definitely keeps one’s attention!


  2. The Animation Commendation

    June 6, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    I enjoyed the disaster film-ness of this film and was glad for what it started. And yeah, the security was so lax in the 70s apparently, lol! Not to mention smoking on planes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 6, 2017 at 9:26 pm

      Yes, I’m so glad they don’t allow smoking on planes anymore!!! 🙂

      True…the disaster part is quite interesting and it has made me quite excited to see The Poseidon Adventure next!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Michaela

    June 6, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    I’ve kind of been avoiding the disaster films because they seem cheesy and too long, but the casts are always full of my favorites, so I know it’s only a matter of time before I cave.

    You make a great point about singers becoming actors. I wonder if it’s because they have to learn how to emote and express a lyric in order to be a successful singer, so when it comes to acting, they apply the same logic to their lines. Whatever it is, Dean was certainly one of the best to demonstrate it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 7, 2017 at 10:13 am

      Good point! That could be…since singing is a form of performance and communication. That makes sense!

      Yeah, I got into watching the disaster movies after watching the spoof Airplane, actually. It definitely gives one a sense of humor about watching them. 🙂 But it is fun to see all the actors.


  4. Quiggy

    June 7, 2017 at 4:19 am

    Gotta see this, along with some of the other classic “disaster” movies of the 70’s. (The only one I’ve actually seen, I think, is Towering Inferno, and I am a child of the 70’s so theres really no excuse…) Good review.


    • christinawehner

      June 7, 2017 at 10:16 am

      Thanks! I keep meaning to see Towering Inferno, because it has Fred Astaire…which seems like a very different movie from his musicals. I’ve only just begun watching disaster movies, myself. It was Airplane that got me started, actually.

      Hope you have fun seeing some of them!


  5. Realweegiemidget

    June 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Great post, love these movies and great reading about this one that started it all off xx Thanks x

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 7, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      Thanks! I am really looking forward to seeing Poseidon Adventure next. I’ve always thought of it as the ultimate 1970s disaster film. Is that true?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Realweegiemidget

        June 7, 2017 at 10:31 pm

        Definitely that one or the Towering Inferno, Irwin Allen is probably the best director of the Disaster movies. The Poseidon Adventure sequel with Michael Caine worth a look too. Looking forward to your post.

        Liked by 1 person

        • christinawehner

          June 8, 2017 at 10:48 am


          Liked by 1 person

          • Realweegiemidget

            June 8, 2017 at 10:52 am

            Must admit this was definitely one of the best eras for disaster movies, CGI ones just aren’t the same x (BTW Add Earthquake to your list as well, Charlton Heston is fantastic)

            Liked by 1 person

            • christinawehner

              June 8, 2017 at 11:07 am

              Earthquake – I’ll have to add that one…I always like seeing a good Charlton Heston!

              Yes, it’s so true about the CGI. Somehow, the sense of wonder is missing in those.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Sharon

    June 8, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Wonderful write-up! Coincidentally I too have been binging on the 1970s disaster movies lately. I must admit I’ve never seen Airplane! in its entirety, just clips; but from I understand its main source of material is Airport ’75, which I just watched a couple of weeks ago and is truly ridiculous. It stars Charlton Heston and Karen Black. Airport ’77 is not bad (Jack Lemmon and Brenda Vaccaro). Airport ’79: The Concorde is absolutely ludicrous, but at least it has a gorgeous Alain Delon in its cast. Oh and George Kennedy aka Joe Patroni pops up in all the Airport movies, even though his position and responsibilities at the airline changes constantly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 8, 2017 at 8:07 pm

      Sounds like fun!! I’ll have to see Airport ’75 now, especially if it influenced Airplane that much. Thanks! They certainly knew how put together a cast. 🙂 That’s funny how George Kennedy would always pop up with different jobs!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Sharon

    June 9, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Yes, it’s like Joe Patroni kept getting promoted! 🙂

    Also, Kennedy and Heston both appeared in Airport ’75 and Earthquake. Those movies were being filmed at the same time, with Kennedy and Heston often going from one set straight the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • christinawehner

      June 9, 2017 at 11:44 pm

      That must have been quite something! I wonder if actors ever have trouble keeping their roles straight when they do something like that. 🙂 It sounds like a fun double-header: Earthquake and Airport ’75.

      Liked by 1 person


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