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Airport is the first of a 1970s series of disaster movies centering around aircraft in distress. The first, award-winning movie became the Trope Codifier for the Disaster Movie genre. Based on the novel of the same name by Arthur Hailey, and can be considered a very close and faithful adaptation the sequels, however, have nothing to do with an original book.
Airport begins with the day-to-day concerns and life issues of various crew and patrons of Chicago's fictional Lincoln International Airport (actually, a redressed Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport). The central drama to this movie seems to be marital problems; first in the guise of difficulties between airport manager Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) and his wife. Mel has a rivalry with his brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin) over who's right about airport operations. Demerest also happens to be doing the deed with one of his flight attendants, Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset). However, Mel is fortunately not alone; he does have help from his friend, Trans-Global Airlines Supervisor of Passenger Relations Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) and TWA Chief of Maintenance Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) in the numerous challenges...usual and unusual.
A wrinkle that will disrupt the whole flow of things is a despondent, suicidal passenger (Van Heflin) who plans to bring down an aircraft via a bomb. He's only partially successful, and now the stricken plane must be brought to safety -- and another airliner is stuck in the snow on the only suitable runway. Can the ground crew get the stranded aircraft cleared from the runway in time?
Helen Hayes' performance as Ada Quonsett won her an Oscar, and the movie was very well received in general.
Airport spawned three sequels: Airport 1975, Airport 1977, and Airport '79 (in a Concorde!). A TV-movie and miniseries was also created in the aftermath of Airport; San Francisco International Airport. (The miniseries simply dropped the word Airport).
Tropes present in Airport include:
- All-Star Cast
- Anyone Can Die: Subverted in that only Guerrero dies.
- Breakout Character: Joe Patroni.
- The Chessmaster: Mrs. Quansett, professional airplane stowaway, having stolen hundreds of rides and has an arsenal of tricks. She uses her advanced age to get away with a number of schemes, including faking illness to get rid of the man who is supposed to babysit her (and keep her from stowing away on another plane) and defeating Mrs. Livingston's attempt to keep her from doing so. The book makes this explicit: both Mrs. Quansett and Mrs. Livingston independently realize the two of them are battling to see who can win. The result: age and craftiness defeat youth and inexperience.
- Cool Old Lady: Ada Quonsett.
- Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover adds a fire effect to the 707. At no time is fire seen in the movie.
- Developing Doomed Characters
- Disaster Movie: The Trope Codifier.
- Downer Ending: For some characters.
- Explosive Decompression: Guerrero’s bomb causes this to be a danger to the passengers.
- The Film of the Book
- He Didn't Make It: Used straight to indicate someone failed to do something, not as in the typical euphemism for "someone died."
- Idiosyncratic Wipes
- Jerkass: That one whiny, surly bald passenger (played by Steven Turgeon). Even a priest felt the need to hit him!
- The smug pilot that strands the plane from earlier, providing half the plot.
- Secret Relationship
- Split Screen: Used several times. Very de rigueur for a 1970 film.
- The Windy City
- View from the Top: George Kennedy makes a short cameo as a flight passenger in the film, undoubtedly an Actor Allusion to this franchise.