Sunday, June 11, 2017

The prequel to Airplane!, the prequel to Elizabeth Hurley

On Saturday night I watched a movie you'd think I would have seen ages ago. After all, when you really love a parody, you have a natural curiosity about the thing that inspired that parody.

The parody I love is Airplane! (called Flying High in Australia -- true story!), and the thing that inspired it is Airport, George Seaton's 1970 disaster movie. It's one of the famous 70s disaster movies with an all-star cast, alongside something like Towering Inferno. I saw Inferno way back in college, but it took until I was a 43-year-old man to finally see one of the granddaddies of the airplane-in-peril genre.

Although more plot elements of the original Airplane! are out of Airport '75 (or is it Airport '77?), there's no doubt that this movie provided the template for the jokes in the Zucker-Abrahams spoof classic. That's especially so because those other two movies were direct sequels to this one. Actually, in a bit of counterintuitive logic, Airplane II: The Sequel actually derives its plot about a crazy bomber directly from the first Airport movie ... with the notable change of the bomb in the suitcase being on a space shuttle instead of an airplane, of course. Sonny Bono memorably plays the bomber in Airplane II, while here the role is essayed by an actor named Van Heflin. But the details of the execution are almost identical, from both actors being twitchy and refusing to stop clutching their briefcases (called an "attache case" in Airport) to the rest of the passengers gathering behind Dean Martin and/or Robert Hays as he tries to talk the bomber down (having the passengers in the parody lean so far in as to actually absent-mindedly fondle Ted Striker while waiting to see what will happen).

I laughed repeatedly during Airport, but not primarily because of the hokey writing and dated pacing (it takes a full hour before the plane in peril even gets off the ground). No, it was laughter inspired by a new appreciation of how spot-on the parody in Airplane! is, including white courtesy vs. red courtesy phones, stands at the airport that sell life insurance policies, the self-serious air traffic controller jargon that makes excessive use of the word "niner," and the domestic entanglements/squabbles of the various professionals brought in to address the crisis.

All that said, I'm not entirely sure I can recommend Airport because of just how slow it is. For the first hour of the movie you'd think that the greatest crisis they have on their hands is a snow storm, and whether one particular flight from Chicago to Rome is going to get off the ground. Nowadays, flight cancellations are as commonplace as airline peanuts -- or perhaps more so, as many airlines have moved away from actual peanuts. (And in Airport, one passenger actually complains about a package of those freebie snacks being stale.)

Perhaps the single most surprising element that originated in this movie is the slapping of hysterical passengers, one of the most memorable scenes in the Zucker-Abrahams parody. There are two different instances of a hysterical passengers being slapped in this movie, though one is certainly played for comedy, as it's a priest doing the slapping. That was really the only moment in the whole movie where they appeared to be winking at us.

There's also a hilariously long amount of time spent on a subplot about a little old lady who flies airlines without buying tickets, as a stowaway. In the days after 9/11, it is simply inconceivable to us that there could have been a time when security was so lax that people without tickets could get on planes. A variation on this character shows up in Airplane! as well. Then again, when it's the guy who actually bought a ticket who tries to blow up this plane with a bomb, maybe little old lady stowaways should be the least of their security concerns.

Now for the other half of the title of this post. There are a lot of big names in this movie, from Martin to Burt Lancaster to George Kennedy to Maureen O'Hara. But there was one I hadn't seen in anything for so long, I had sort of forgotten what she looked like, especially since I'd never seen her in anything when she was this young.

Well, what she looked like was a lot like Elizabeth Hurley.

That's Jacqueline Bisset I'm talking about, and once I saw it, I couldn't un-see it. It doesn't hurt the comparison that she's also British, like the model-turned-actor who was once Hugh Grant's love interest.

I'll let you judge for yourself:

It's not only that I could see Elizabeth Hurley playing her in the remake -- if the remake had been made 20 years ago -- but part of me wondered if Hurley had actually jumped in a time machine and gone back to 1970 to star in the original.

They've both got aging well in common, as Bisset still looks beautiful at age 72, while Hurley might not even need the hypothetical Airport remake to have been made 20 years ago in order to star in it -- she just turned 52 yesterday and is still stunning:

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