Can you fly this plane and land it?”
“Surely, you cannot be serious?”
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”
On July 2nd, 1980, Paramount released a parody of the disaster film genre called Airplane!. Somehow, it would become one of the best and funniest pictures in the history of film. While it may not have a perfect story-line or the most fleshed-out characters, Airplane! keeps the momentum up with its surreal (yet obscure) humor, slapstick comedy, and memorable quotes that endure to this day.
The directors/writers (Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers) sought to obtain comedy routines for this work when performing at a theater in the early 1970s. They stumbled upon the 1957 feature Zero Hour!, which would be drawn on for massive inspiration to make the 1980 classic. In fact, many scenes were the same shot-to-shot, and the directors had to secure the rights to remake it for their own work.
The film centers on a love story with a former rogue pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) trying to reconcile with his stewardess ex-girlfriend Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty). When they both board a plane heading to Chicago, many of the passengers (and crewmembers) become incapacitated due to food poisoning. Striker must cooperate with Elaine to fly and land the plane safely.
The actors do an excellent job in this work. Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack are just a few of the people that nail their roles onscreen. The chemistry between Hays and Hagerty is fresh and keeps us compelled to see both settle their differences to save every passenger onboard.
What augments the film is the absurd humor put into it. Every minute, there is some gag or one-liner thrown in, and somehow it works terrifically. Are some of them dirty? Absolutely. Is it hilarious? Undoubtedly. Any audience is guaranteed to get at least one chuckle out of it. Sometimes in films, the humor comes forcibly, and it does not amount to any satisfaction, but instead induces cringe. This classic acknowledges every step of the way it is corny, sophomoric, and predictable. That is the exact reason why it yields laughter. The jokes undercut one’s expectations so dexterously.
There are also many quotes in the film that are pure gold, from the quote listed at the beginning of this document to quotes from Bridge’s character saying he needs to quit everything (from smoking to sniffing glue). It is moments like these that amplify the film’s relevance (and memorability).
Is it a perfect film? No, but it is worth remembering how juvenile and silly it was when made in 1980. The drama, comedy, and action will keep one thoroughly entertained. This writer highly recommends it for anyone looking for something funny or has ninety minutes to spare. It can be assured; you’ll want to take-off with Airplane! again and again.