Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 28, 2006)
In 1970, Airport launched the string of disaster movies that populated screens in the Seventies. Big hits like The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake all made their mark before weíd finally get another Airport movie.
That franchise picked up steam again in 1974 with Airport 1975. Businessman Alan Murdock (Charlton Heston) strings along his long-time girlfriend, flight attendant Nancy Pryor (Karen Black). She wants to talk about their relationship but he avoids this. He eventually promises to talk when they both make it to LA.
We meet some other passengers on the Columbia aircraft. Gloria Swanson (herself) returns from a meeting with the Supreme Court while sick young Janice Abbott (Linda Blair) needs a kidney transplant in California. Others include nuns Sister Ruth (Helen Reddy) and Sister Beatrice (Martha Scott), partying conventioneers Sam (Jerry Stiller), Bill (Norman Fell) and Arnie (Conrad Janis), struggling actor Barney (Sid Caesar) and boozehound old lady Mrs. Devaney (Myrna Loy). The roster includes Helen Patroni (Susan Clark) and her son (Brian Morrison), the wife and son of Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), one of the heroes of the first flick. We also get to know Captain Stacy (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), the planeís pilot, and co-pilot Urias (Roy Thinnes) and navigator Julio (Erik Estrada).
In the meantime, solo pilot Scott Freeman (Dana Andrews) decides to leave Gallup New Mexico despite inclement weather. He also seems a little worse for wear, but he chooses to make this unaccompanied flight anyway. He needs to be back for a meeting so he takes risks.
Bad weather affects the Columbia flight as well. Fog closes LAX and they get shifted to Salt Lake City. The same thing happens for Freeman, so he heads toward Utah as well.
Not good! Freeman has a heart attack and flies his plane right into the 747ís cockpit. This kills Julio and Urias and severely injures Stacy. This leaves Nancy in charge. Patroni gets wind and acts as part of the rescue, and we find out that Murdock is an expert in the operation of 747s, so Patroni brings him on the team. The movie follows these efforts and their results.
Flicks like this always require audience members to suspend disbelief. However, most donít go as far as 1975, which absolutely depends on the annihilation of disbelief for the viewer to enjoy it at all.
Where to start? I suppose the concept that thereís no one on the plane more qualified to fly it is a good place to begin. Of all the passengers, there isnít anyone with some experience at the helm of a plane Ė not even a Cessna? That seems tough to accept, but then again, in a world where Gloria Swanson a) plays herself, and b) meets with the Supreme Court, I guess we can swallow this.
Scads of coincidences abound, and the film takes some odd liberties. When Freemanís plane impacts with the 747, none of the air traffic controllers seem very concerned, and the folks on the jet themselves remain pretty laidback about things. On some occasions, they actually leave the cockpit unattended to deal with other matters! Nancy occasionally freaks out, but only as a plot device.
Oddly, the folks on the ground often exhibit much more passion than those at risk of death. Actually, the primary examples of this come from Heston and Kennedy. They give master courses in overacting here, as they play their roles in three ways: angry, angrier, and angriest. I half expect Kennedy to yell at his ham sandwich for being too tough.
At least 1975 gets going a lot more quickly than the extremely slow-paced Airport. As I noted when I reviewed it, the original flick was more soap opera than disaster movie. It concentrated on its bland character portraits and lacked much excitement.
For all its stupidity, at least 1975 delivers those particular goods. The filmmakers had the good sense to concentrate on the disaster elements. The crash takes place less than halfway through the movie. That means enough time to deliver reasonable exposition, but not enough for us to get bored. Donít get me wrong; I donít think these movies should immediately launch into hysterics with little to no build-up at all. The subsequent Airport flicks take that path, and they become less and less satisfying. I just donít want to have to suffer through all the nonsense seen in the original Airport, at least not unless the rest of the effort presents real excitement.
Boy does 1975 require us to accept a lot of idiocy along the way, though. We find a very Seventies sense of sexual politics with some insanely heavy-handed flirting. Itís also amusingly convenient that Janice brings along a guitar so pop star Reddy can play her a tune.
The whole plot device of the sick girl in desperate need of medical attention seems especially shameless, though for some bizarre reason, the film largely ignores it. Clearly it sets up the urgency of this matter, but it never invests much in it during later portions. Other characters come and go without much notice.
But who cares? We watch movies like this for their disaster elements, and Airport 1975 gives us what we want Ė at least to a moderate degree. Itís insanely cheesy, and not just because of the garish Seventies dťcor and fashions. I think a piece of fromage like this will likely appeal to fans of camp more than anyone else, but disaster aficionados may enjoy it as well.