My colleague Greg Majewski reminded me this morning that today marks a significant date in film history. It's the 35th anniversary of Paramount Pictures release of the movie Airplane.
Okay, some may question my inflated opinion of a work filled with sight gags, double-entendres and absolute silliness. Surely, I can't be serious? I am serious, and…well, you know the rest.
Airplane is actually based on a real disaster film, 1957's Zero Hour. Brothers David and Jerry Zucker got the idea for a spoof after watching Zero Hour on late-night television. You'd be surprised how much of the dialogue they lifted from the original movie. Here's a comparison: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO90hdkeKrs
The Zuckers had help writing Airplane. In fact, Jim Abrahams is listed as co-writer and co-director, along with the brothers. What makes the movie work is the addition of serious actors we didn't know were funny. Up to that point Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack were known for their dramatic work.
Robert Stack did two movies in 1980, Airplane and 1941, directed by Steven Spielberg. He asked for a percentage of the Spielberg film, thinking the up-and-coming director couldn't miss. He did "Airplane" as a throw-away. Want to guess which one made more money?
Everyone has their favorite lines from Airplane. Most of mine are from the late Stephen Stucker, who played the part of Johnny, a smart-aleck air traffic controller. When asked by Lloyd Bridges' character, Steve McCroskey, what he could make out of weather maps of the situation, Johnny responds with, "Well, I could make a hat, a brooch a pterodactyl", at which point McCroskey grabs the maps from his hands.
Hard to believe it's been 35 years.