Airport ’77 (1977)
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
Starring: Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Christopher Lee, Lee Grant, Olivia de Havilland
For some reason, I’m especially fond of the third of the Airport movies. Not because it’s the best one – the first one is – but it is very entertaining, and in some ways the quintessential disaster movie. Also, I enjoy the concept of sinking an airliner. But maybe my fondness mostly has to do with this being the first Airport movie I ever saw, when I was quite young.
Airport ’77 takes place aboard a luxury jetliner owned by millionaire Phillip Stevens, played by James Stewart who looks quite old and tired here. Stevens is opening his own private museum, and the flight will transport both his invaluable art and his guests to the grand premiere. Alas, the crew has been infiltrated by thieves, planning to steal the art collection. They render crew and passangers unconscious by gassing them, but then screw up royally by crashing the plane in the middle of the Bermuda triangle. The aircraft sinks to the bottom of the ocean. As water starts to seep in, the situation rapidly gets more desperate for the trapped survivors.
This movie offers many amusing details. This is the kind of airplane where the stewardess won’t give you security instructions but rather show a map of the plane and tell you where the library is. The passengers are the usual mix of characters you might find in many disaster movies of this era, only slightly more upscale. Olivia de Havilland makes an appearance playing an old philantropist lady who immediately after boarding the place kicks off a poker game. Christopher Lee plays one half of a quarreling couple, with Lee Grant as his slightly tipsy wife who delivers the film’s best line (“Excuse me, I don’t mean to intrude, but could you move your ass, dear?”). M. Emmet Walsh is a doctor and Jack Lemmon is good as the heroic pilot.
As opposed to the two previous movies, this one doesn’t boast a nun among the passengers. Instead we’re treated to a blind piano player who gets crushed by his own piano when the plane crashes into the sea. It happens very quickly and no one seems to bother with helping him afterwards, so supposedly he died.
George Kennedy is back as Joe Patroni for the third time, though he doesn’t get much screen time here – mostly he gets to stand around and look worried when the rescue is being organized. The same goes for James Stewart, who barely has a line after the opening minutes. That’s the trouble with using great big all-star casts: there is not room enough to let everybody shine.
But it’s quite entertaining, and the rescue scenes – featuring what is supposed to be genuine lifting-an-aircraft-from-the-bottom-of-the-ocean techniques – are actually pretty nicely done.