Airport 1975 is the most famously bad of the franchise. It’s the one that gets all the attention. But in fairness, The Concorde: Airport ‘79 should not be ignored. Let’s give it a moment in the spotlight, shall we? Yes, let’s, if for no other reason that George Kennedy’s Joe Patroni character finally moves to centre stage.
The plot arguably outdoes the underwater-plane gambit of the previous film. The Concorde is in the middle of a goodwill flight in the lead-up to the Moscow Olympics. (So already history was about to blindside the movie, but never mind, carry on.) This particular plane has just been purchased by an American company, and Kennedy, whose character has mysteriously morphed from engineer to executive and now to pilot, is going to be at the helm, along with French pilot Alain Delon. The latter is romantically involved with flight attendant Sylvia (Emmanuelle) Kristel. Their relationship is undergoing some rather vaguely defined problems. Anyway, the big problems concern another relationship. News anchor Susan Blakely has just come by evidence that her beau, tycoon Robert Wagner, has been involved in all sorts of illegal arms sales and other skullduggery. Being an idiot, however, Blakely doesn’t blow the whistle immediately. Wagner decides to take care of the problem by downing the Concorde. What follows bears more than passing resemblance to Wile E. Coyote’s repeated attempts to exterminate the Road Runner. Only less realistic.
So the plot gives us plenty of fodder for merriment in an of itself. Then there’s the cast. Funny/pathetic stuff here from a couple of angles. In the first place, there’s the usual slumming of actors who either know or deserve better. Thus, Bibi Andersson, a long, loooooong way from her work with Ingmar Bergman, plays a French prostitute who tickles Kennedy’s fancy. (Oh, did I mention the gender politics are antediluvian? Then again, that’s par for the course for this series.) On the other hand, most of the cast, while familiar faces (of a kind), show that the series is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Not so many older stars willing to debase themselves, it seems. So where before we had Jack Lemmon, Christopher Lee, James Stewart, Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Lee Grant and so on, here one of our leads is best known for her starring role in high end soft-core porn. And Kristel is both one of the better actors and one of the classier members of the cast. The other “guest stars” include such luminaries as Eddie Albert, Charo, Jimmy Walker and Martha Raye. Oh boy.
So it’s all bad. Very, very bad. But this mix can’t help but be entertaining. Whether it be the staggeringly sexist dialogue, the endless but terminally unfunny running gags, the po-faced ludicrousness of the plot, or the clumsy special effects, one’s jaw is rarely far from the ground. And really, could one ask for anything more from a film?
So the next time someone brings up Airport 1975 as the worst of the series (must happen to you all the time, right?), remind your interlocutor of this gem. You’ll be warmly thanked.