Rixflix A to Z: Airplane! (1980)

Directors/Screenwriters: David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker // Paramount; 1:26; Color
Crew Notables: Elmer Bernstein (music)

Cast Notables: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine), Robert Stack (Rex Kramer), Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack), Lloyd Bridges (McCroskey), Peter Graves (Captain Oveur), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Roger Murdock), Lorna Patterson (Randy), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Kenneth Tobey (Air controller Neubauer), Barbara Billingsley (Jive-speaking lady), Jill Whelan (Lisa Davis), Joyce Bulifant (Mrs. Davis), Jonathan Banks (Gunderson), Ethel Merman (Lt. Hurwitz), David Leisure (First Krishna), Jimmie Walker (Windshield Wiper Man), Frank Ashmore (Victor Basta), Howard Jarvis (Man in taxi), Otto the Auto-Pilot (Himself), Jim Abrahams (Religious Zealot #6), James Hong (Japanese general), Gregory Itzin (Religious Zealot #1), Maureen McGovern (Nun), Charlotte Zucker (Make-up lady), David Zucker (Ground crewman #1), Jerry Zucker (Ground crewman #2), Kitten Natividad (Bouncing topless woman on plane).

Cinema 4 Rating: 8

It is a most surprising moment. After the passengers on the seemingly doomed jet that provides the main setting for this lowbrow parodic masterpiece turn a blind eye to the unconscious bodies of first the navigator, then the co-pilot, and finally the captain being dragged to the rear of the plane (and all after much turbulence has been felt), stewardess Elaine (played with tiny-voiced blankness by an excellent Julie Hagerty) asks meekly if anyone knows how to fly a plane. The cabin erupts into chaos! People running, screaming, jumping over seats, starting fights with other passengers, throttling one another! And then, running to midscreen and stopping to turn towards the camera, is the body of a woman -- the topless body of a woman, I must add -- head unseen, just a torso -- and she jumps up and down screaming, while her tremendously sized breasts bounce up and down as if the Harlem Globetrotters were conducting a dribbling clinic. Then she runs offscreen, and we are returned to the chaos of the cabin.

I am always amazed when people tell me of their perceptions of films when they recall them from their youth. My good pal Robear told me once that he grew up believing The Wizard of Oz was totally in black-and-white, because they didn't have a color TV growing up. When he saw the film years later, he was astounded. Likewise, with Airplane!, my girlfriend Jen told me that she had only seen the film on television, and that it was a complete shock to her when she saw the film on video. If the film were R-rated, she might somehow be prepared for such an occurrence; after all, with that rating, you usually suspect that much randiness or foul language has been cut out when edited for television. But Airplane! is PG-rated, so expectations were probably considerably lowered for her in the raunch-expectation department.

Now, I am a good dozen years older than Jen, and I saw the film in a theatre the week of its release, and while, yes, the breasts shocked me (though pleasantly, I must point out), it was not as unexpected as all that, since PG-rated films often could get by with not just a spot of naughty but fairly benign nudity in those days, but also the occasional F-bomb. This was in the days before America went even more insane with the prudishness and media fear, and suddenly everything became dangerous to "the children" and we placed them all in protective bubbles that were hosed down every three hours with anti-bacterial agents, with the parents ever mindful to scrub carefully around the blinders, earplugs and mouthcorks.

No, the real shocker for me upon seeing Airplane! for the first time was its manic brilliance. I was not prepared in the least. I had no idea who these guys (ZAZ -- Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker) perpetrating this silliness were, and as for the actors, I knew Mssrs. Stack, Nielsen, Bridges and Graves were in the film, but I, like much of the world, knew them for stolid TV drama and cop shows, not for deadpan comedy. I knew the film was a spoof going in, but I didn't know the level to which this flight would climb. I was caught in its fart-spouting tailwind, completely by surprise, and I loved it enough to book two more flights before it left the theatres for the blue skies of the video world. Not long after the film, Ross and Gary, the two clerks at Video City who helped stoke my video insanity, tossed me a copy of Kentucky Fried Movie, and that was it. I was sold on ZAZ, and while their contributions to the world of comedy have run hot and cold over the intervening 25 years or so, they are still lurking about, making oddball parodies, sometimes separately, sometimes together.

The other night, I put in Airplane!, as I had not watched it for a good while and I had just snagged the "Don't Call Me Shirley" edition of the DVD. And yeah, it was as good, if not better, than ever. So many quotable lines, many of which have become part of my gang's lexicon. And yeah, there were those tits running around the cabin.

They caught me by surprise again.


ak_hepcat said…
I was gonna post something witty about how good Airplane is, using some quote or another from the flick.

But really, there's nothing that can really improve upon it, so I'll just leave you with this departing thought:

Airplane 2.

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