Film #6 on the 100 Movies Bucket List: Airplane!
Airplane! is a well-known comedy classic, but for me I’m ashamed to admit that aside from the infamous “Don’t call me Shirley” line, I could barely remember a thing about this film. Airplane! is undoubtedly the mother, and master, of all comedy spoof films. Written and directed by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker, this focuses Ted Striker (Robert Hays) who despite his fear of flying boards a plane to win back his girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty), only to wind up having to ensure the plane lands safely when the pilots get sick.
The plot is definitely basic, but what it lacks in proper story it more than makes up for in laughs. I’ve never seen a film so chock full of jokes and gags, and in such a wide variety too. This features everything from subtle(ish) background jokes to witty and smart dialogue and obvious physical humour, and apart from a few misses, the majority of these jokes land perfectly. There’s the crude and hilarious autopilot scene, to the incredibly funny and smart lines like when stewardess Elaine asks Doctor Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) about the onboard illness, “A hospital? What is it?”, to which he replies “It’s a big building with patients”. There’s something incredibly simple about the humour in this film that works so well, and yet aside from those few misses, it never resorts to crudeness that becomes disgusting and overbearing like most modern comedies do. These gags paired with the spoofing and sending up of disaster movies (plus many other genres) is a winning formula that has been emulated many times over by the likes of The Naked Gun and Hot Shots films since this was released in 1980. Admittedly there are some jokes that nowadays would be considered unacceptable and would never see the light of day, but fortunately, these are a small minority and don’t spoil the overall enjoyment of the film, even now 40 years later.
The cast excels too in pulling off the over the top cheesiness you’d expect from a parody, and this is no mean feat. Whilst Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays do well as the main characters, it’s the smaller supporting roles that really stand out especially as they appear to have been given the best lines. You have Leslie Nielsen as the deadpan Doctor Rumack who delivers some hilarious dialogue with such a straight face, Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey with his immortal lines beginning with “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop…” and my absolute favourite background character Johnny (Stephen Stucker) who has some of the funniest moments you’ll ever see from such a minor character. And a notable mention has to go to Otto the automatic pilot, who even gets a feature in the credits.
Airplane! is a rightful comedy classic that could beat modern comedy films hands down, and it truly is a shame they don’t make spoofs like this anymore. It’s hilariously funny, right until the very end of the credits and an entirely unforgettable comedy experience.
See all photos >>