Taking a 747 for a swim in the Bermuda Triangle?

airport77Airport 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.


6 thoughts on “Taking a 747 for a swim in the Bermuda Triangle?

    1. Strangely enough, as Airport ’77 ended, I turned to Claire and said “Imagine what it must have been like, watching something like this in a cinema.” Its something I occasionally consider, especially films of the 1970s. Why particularly those of the 1970s, I don’t know, but I recall what those dingy ABC cinemas were like in that decade and can picture films like Airport ’77 playing in that huge cavernous Screen One with its balcony seats (the stalls below having been converted to Screens Two and Three). The era of Pearl & Dean and supporting features, when filmgoers would never have dreamed of watching films on demand or owning copies of them. Different world. Part of the appeal of films like Airport ’77 though.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I saw The Towering Inferno – the only disaster movie I’ve ever seen in the cinema – in precisely those surroundings in 1979.

        Though the stalls hadn’t been converted, they were closed and empty which added to the gloominess of the venue (they were only ever opened once in my memory, when ET smashed ticket sales records).

        RIP The ABC Southport, which closed at the end of summer 1984.

      2. We have televisions at home with better picture quality than those old cinemas, and audio better too, so its daft to suggest ever going back to those old picture palaces, but there was definitely an atmosphere to those old cinemas utterly lacking in multiplex venues, certainly (I guess some of the London venues you go to are different). So I’m not sure I’d want to go back and re-watch Blade Runner in the ABC cinema I did in 1982, but I would give anything to visit the place again and look around, soak up the lobby etc which I took so for granted as a teen. The Odeon cinema across town, where I saw Star Wars and Close Encounters, was even more plush. In their heyday, they must have been something (I can picture Bond movies playing there in the 1960s, or full houses watching Zulu or Lawrence of Arabia). One of my freinds was a projectionist during the 1970s, he tells me stories dispelling the myth of any ‘magic’ (carrying heavy reels of film up flights of stairs when a new film arrived was a nightmare) but I still envy him the experience of working in a cinema back then. All those Quad film posters just thrown away- argh!

        The ABC was bulldozed, and the Odeon became a Bingo hall, and I doubt its even that now, I haven’t been around that part of the town in years.

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    My ABC was knocked down and made into flats. They’re still there.

    Have you looked at this site? I found some amazing photos of my one on there. Incredible nostalgia rush…

    Also, there’s this book which might have some details or info. It’s a good read anyway…

    The cinemas in London are a mixed bunch. The state-of-the-art places are as soulless as they come. The BFI IMAX and Cineworld Laser IMAX are technically amazing but really unpleasant environments. The nicer, older cinemas that offer a pleasant atmosphere often only have adequate but not amazing projection [eg I went to see ‘Arrival’ at The Screen On The Green because it’s a nice place and handy, but I had to see it again the next week at a massive screen in the West End because the SOTG sound system couldn’t handle the film’s audio mix properly].

    1. Thanks for the link, I found one of my old cinemas and will be looking for the other two when I get chance. That’s a great resource.

      Yeah, isn’t it weird how with every refit, cinemas just lose more charm and atmosphere. I’d have thought the architects would reach for that old silver-screen charm, but I suppose that would be lost on the young crowd who, ironically, happily watch films on their smart phones.

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