Film Review: Airport
In 1970, George Seaton released , Airport, based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Arthur Hailey. Starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes, Van Heflin, Maureen Stapleton, Barry Nelson, Dana Wynter, Lloyd Nolan, Barbara Hale, and Gary Collins,the film grossed $100.5 million at the box office. Nominated for multiple awards, such as the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Stapleton), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Music, Original Score, the Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture, Best Original Score - Motion Picture, the Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special, and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress, the film won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Hayes), the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture, the Golden Laurel for Best Supporting Performance, Female, and the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing - Dialogue.
Paralyzed by a snowstorm, Lincoln International Airport must figure out a way to get a stuck Boeing 707 out of the snow while he argues with his pilot brother in law about airport operation and works out marital problems with his wife. However this and other airport operations are disrupted by a suicidal bomber who plans to bring down an aircraft.
Though initially an interesting film, Airport slowly loses its appeal as it progresses. Initially, it looks like the film is going to revolve around day to day airport operations and the struggles found in battling a snowstorm, showing how it can affect not only airport staff, but their families. Those issues actually make for an engaging plot with the problems of clearing snow and getting an airplane unstuck from it, dealing with protestors and discovering a stowaway heading to New York as some problems that can come across an airport. However, a little before halfway through, the film starts showing some guy away from the airport having bought life insurance and is about to set off a bomb in the air so his wife can collect the insurance money. Had the build-up been better for the plot, it might have made for a much better film but plot not only advances slowly and it's introduced practically out of nowhere. Further it has a much different feel than the dramatic goings on of the airport and the people that work there.
Fascinatingly though, of the most interesting characters in the film isn’t one who works there. It’s Mrs. Quansett, who is an extremely intelligent and thoughtful old lady who uses her wits to stow away on the flight. It's established that she’s stowed away and stolen hundreds of trips on airplanes with a number of tricks, such as using her old age as a gambit, and when she’s given a chaperone to make sure she gets on the correct flight home, she fakes an illness and is able to get away. It’s entertaining to note this could be a side plot to see if Quansett’s age or Mrs. Livingston’s youth are better and it’s clear that the former’s age and craftiness beat the latter’s inexperience.
Another fascinating character is Standish, head of the Customs Service. He can tell when someone is trying to smuggle contraband into the country just by looking at them. Further, he could have stopped the entire latter half of the film if the bomber was heading into the country rather than out of it, but didn’t consider checking the briefcase even though it looked suspicious.
However even with those good characters and despite the radical shift and tone from the dramatic to the disaster, what really does the film in is the predictability. The fact that a good chunk of the main cast is on the plane that the bomber decided to fly on makes the film lose a lot of the suspense that the plane isn’t going to make it.
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