Airport 77, 1977, 114 mins, Digital
Well, I only watched this because its a Jack Lemmon film I’d never seen before. No doubt if I had a tick sheet of all his films, I could never hope to complete it, but anyway, here’s one more off the list. Turns out its one of the oddest films of his I’ve ever seen, albeit paradoxically very Hollywood, oh so typical of that mainstream Hollywood that Lemmon worked in and was a part of. Airport 77 is from that cycle of disaster movies so popular in the 1970s that seemed to pull in surprising talent – either an irresistible easy pay-check, or maybe the acting fraternity of the time felt they simply HAD to be in one of these disaster flicks to be considered part of the then-zeitgeist. I can imagine Hollywood parties at the time and thespians exchanging notes, and sneering at those who HADN’T appeared in one yet. Nearest thing we have these days to something like it would be Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express or Death on the Nile, films that don’t really seem to deserve their star-studded cast’s (and surely the most anticipated thing regards the third of those films is when the cast gets revealed).
But considering what a silly little film this is (hijackers trying to steal a fortune of art treasures from a 747 fly it into the Bermuda Triangle, where it collides with an oil rig, crashes into the sea and lies submerged on the sea-bed), what a cast Airport 1977 has! Its got Jack Lemmon, one of my favourite all-time actors in one of his weirdest, most physical roles; he plays Captain Don Gallagher, pilot of a 747 with a talent for scuba-diving who manages to save everyone. Its got Dracula (Christopher Lee), its got Kolchak (Darren McGavin), its got Buck Rogers (Gil Gerard), its got the Seven Million Dollar Man (Monte Markham, that’s the bad bionic man for those who weren’t around back in 1975), its got Apollo 13‘s Marilyn Lovell (Kathleen Quinlan), its got Inspector Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh) – seriously, its got a cast which itself alone makes the film worthy of a watch. I haven’t included those cast-members who include such films as Citizen Kane, Vertigo and Gone With the Wind in their filmography! Its quite extraordinary stuff for a film so inherently daft but which, as I have noted, also makes it just so damned watchable. Production values are pretty good, too, and while some of the visual effects betray the pre-Star Wars quality level that was acceptable at the time (but would get laughed at afterwards and not age well post-ILM/Apogee etc), some of the effects shots are surprisingly fine (as its a Universal picture, it included Albert Whitlock as part of the effects crew).
While The Towering Inferno remains, surely, the best of all those disaster flicks, Airport 1977 is one of the better examples, no doubt, albeit its not really in the ‘so bad its good’ category. I suppose there is something rather endearing about the genre and its possibly my loss that I’ve never watched Airport, Airport 1975 nor The Concorde-Airport ’79 either (having watched Airplane! I figured they were redundant). Seems there’s a Blu-ray box to fix that. Something for my film bucket-list maybe, someday.