Directed by: George Seaton
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes.
Airport is the film that is oftentimes credited with starting the disaster movie wave of the 1970’s. With hindsight it’s kind of funny, since Airport itself barely can be described as a disaster movie. Certainly, catastrophic events take place in it, but it takes almost 100 of the film’s 137 minutes before we get there. Before that, it’s all about the messy love lives of the main characters and the stress of running a major airport.
None of this is meant as criticism. Airport may be more melodrama than pure disaster flick, but it’s a quite entertaining movie. Burt Lancaster stars as the airport’s operations manager, who prefers to stay at work with his pretty assistant (Jean Seberg) rather than go home to his embittered wife. Burt gets his hands full as a snow storm hits and an aircraft slides off a runway, blocking traffic as a result. Burt enlists mechanic Joe Patroni (George Kennedy, a mainstay of the series) to dig out the plane. Meanwhile, another plane, piloted by Dean Martin, takes off for Rome. Dino has an affair with lovely stewardess Jacqueline Bisset, who is also aboard the Rome flight along with an elderly stowaway, a couple of nuns and – maybe more importantly – a desperate bomber.
There’s not much proper action until the last half hour, but there is enough drama going on to keep things interesting until then. Both the thriller elements and the relationship plots work well. Worth noting is that the bomber isn’t portrayed as your typical movie villain but is given a somewhat pitiable backstory. Also, it’s all nicely shot, and who can resist a film where the soundtrack features a kind of bossanova-like groove as soon as we get to the romantic parts.
The sequels to Airport continued with the basic concept – large ensemble casts solving their personal problems in the midst of a full-blown crisis – but amped up the catastrophe. Almost no one dies in Airport. It’s the subtler and somewhat more mature big brother of the disaster flicks that were to follow. And it’s still well worth watching.