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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||George Seaton|
|Produced by||Ross Hunter|
|Screenplay by||George Seaton|
by Arthur Hailey
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||Stuart Gilmore|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|March 5, 1970|
|Box office||$100.5 million|
Airport is a 1970 American air disaster-drama film starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin, directed and written by George Seaton, and based on Arthur Hailey's 1968 novel of the same name. It originated the 1970s disaster film genre. It is also the first in the Airport film series. Produced on a $10 million budget, it earned over $100 million.
The film is about an airport manager trying to keep his airport open during a snowstorm, while a suicidal bomber plots to blow up a Boeing 707 airliner in flight. It takes place at fictional Lincoln International Airport near Chicago, Illinois. The film was a commercial success and surpassed Spartacus as Universal Pictures' biggest moneymaker. The movie won Helen Hayes an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway and was nominated for nine other Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design for designer Edith Head.
With attention paid to the detail of day-to-day airport and airline operations, the plot concerns the response to a paralyzing snowstorm, environmental concerns over noise pollution, and an attempt to blow up an airliner. The film is characterized by personal stories intertwining while decisions are made minute-by-minute by the airport and airline staffs, operations and maintenance crews, flight crews, and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.
Chicago is paralyzed by a snowstorm affecting Lincoln International Airport. A Trans Global Airlines (TGA) Boeing 707 flight crew misjudge their turn from Runway 29 onto the taxiway, becoming stuck in the snow and closing that runway. Airport manager Mel Bakersfeld is forced to work overtime, causing tension with his wife, Cindy. A divorce seems imminent as he nurtures a closer relationship with a co-worker, TGA customer relations agent Tanya Livingston.
Vernon Demerest is a TGA captain scheduled to be the checkride captain for the airline to evaluate Captain Anson Harris during its Flight 2 to Rome. TGA's flagship international service, named The Golden Argosy, is being operated with a Boeing 707. Although Demerest is married to Bakersfeld's sister, Sarah, he is secretly having an affair with Gwen Meighen, chief stewardess on the flight, who informs him before takeoff that she is pregnant with his child.
Bakersfeld borrows TWA mechanic Joe Patroni to assist with moving TGA's disabled plane blocking Runway 29. Mel and Tanya also deal with Mrs. Ada Quonsett, an elderly lady from San Diego who is a habitual stowaway on various airlines.
Demolition expert D.O. Guerrero, down on his luck and with a history of mental illness, buys both a one-way TGA ticket aboard The Golden Argosy and a large life insurance policy with the intent of committing suicide by blowing up the plane. He plans to set off a bomb in an attaché case while over the Atlantic Ocean so that his wife, Inez, will collect the insurance money of $225,000. His erratic behavior at the airport, including using his last cash to buy the insurance policy and mistaking a U.S. Customs officer for an airline gate agent, attracts airport officials' attention. Inez finds a Special Delivery envelope from a travel agency and, realizing D.O. might be doing something desperate, goes to the airport to try to dissuade him. She informs airport officials that he had been fired from a construction job for "misplacing" explosives and that the family's financial situation was desperate.
Ada manages to evade the TGA employee assigned the task of putting her on a flight back to San Diego, talks her way past the gate agent, boards Flight 2, and happens to sit next to D.O. When the Golden Argosy crew is made aware of D.O.'s presence and possible intentions, they turn the plane back toward Chicago without informing the passengers. Once Ada is discovered, her help is enlisted by the crew to get to D.O.'s briefcase, but the ploy fails when a would-be helpful male passenger unwittingly returns the case to D.O.
Captain Demerest goes back into the passenger cabin and tries to persuade D.O. not to trigger the bomb, informing him that his insurance policy will be useless. D.O. briefly considers giving Vernon the bomb, but just then another passenger exits the lavatory at the rear of the aircraft, and the same would-be helpful passenger yells out that D.O. has a bomb. D.O. runs into the lavatory, locks it, and sets off the device. D.O. dies instantly and is sucked out through the hole blown in the fuselage by the explosion. Gwen, just outside the door, is injured in the explosion and subsequent explosive decompression, but the pilots retain control of the airplane.
With all airports east of Chicago unusable due to bad weather, they return to Lincoln International for an emergency landing. Due to the bomb damage, Captain Demerest demands the airport's longest runway—Runway 29, which is still closed due to the stuck airliner. Eventually Mel orders the plane to be pushed off the runway by snowplows, despite the costly damage they would do to it. Patroni, who is "taxi-qualified" on Boeing 707s, has been trying to move the stuck aircraft in time for Vernon's damaged aircraft to land. By exceeding the Boeing 707's engine operating parameters, Patroni frees the stuck jet without damage, allowing Runway 29 to be reopened just in time for the crippled Golden Argosy to land.
In a brief epilogue, Ada is enjoying her reward of free first-class travel on TGA. But as she arrives at the gate, she laments that it was "much more fun the other way."
Most of the filming was at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. A display in the terminal, with stills from the field and the film, says: "Minnesota's legendary winters attracted Hollywood here in 1969, when portions of the film Airport were shot in the terminal and on the field. The weather remained stubbornly clear, however, forcing the director to use plastic 'snow' to create the appropriate effect."
Only one Boeing 707 was used: a model 707-349C (registration N324F) leased from Flying Tiger Line. It sported an El Al cheatline over its bare metal finish, with the fictional Trans Global Airlines (TGA) titles and tail. This aircraft later crashed during a landing while in service with Transbrasil, killing three crew members and 22 persons on the ground.
Airport was released on March 5, 1970. It made $100,489,151, and adjusted for inflation this was equivalent to $558 million in 2010, the 42nd highest-grossing film of all time.
Variety magazine wrote: "Based on the novel by Arthur Hailey, over-produced by Ross Hunter with a cast of stars as long as a jet runway, and adapted and directed by George Seaton in a glossy, slick style, Airport is a handsome, often dramatically involving $10 million epitaph to a bygone brand of filmmaking" but added that the film "does not create suspense because the audience knows how it's going to end."
Film critic Pauline Kael gave Airport one of its worst contemporaneous reviews, scornfully dismissing it as "bland entertainment of the old school." "There's no electricity in it," she wrote; "every stereotyped action is followed by a stereotyped reaction."
Some modern critics have been similarly negative, including Roger Ebert, with the most generous reviews complimenting the film's influence on the disaster genre and its "camp value." Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 80%, based on 15 reviews.
This film was the final project for composer Alfred Newman. His health was failing and he was unable to conduct the sessions for his music's recording. The job was handled by Stanley Wilson, although the cover of the 1993 Varèse Sarabande CD issue credits Newman. Newman did conduct the music heard in the film. He died before the film's release. Newman received his 45th Academy Award nomination posthumously for this film, the most received by a composer at that time.
Soundtrack album listing:
Airport had three sequels, the first two of which were hits.
The only actor to appear in all four films is George Kennedy as Joe Patroni. Patroni's character evolves and he goes from a chief mechanic in Airport to a vice president of operations in Airport 1975, a consultant in Airport '77, and an experienced pilot in The Concorde ... Airport '79.
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