I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley. Airplane!, one of the funniest movies of all time was released on July 2, 1980. The movie was directed and written by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, and influenced many other satires including the Naked Gun, as well as the Scary Movie franchises. It was a satire of disaster movies, and was basically a remake of a 1957 movie called Zero Hour. Airplane! starred Robert Hays as Ted Striker – an ex-fighter pilot who was traumatized after an incident during the war, leading to his fear of flying and his “drinking problem”. Of course his “drinking problem” was not alcoholism, but the problem was that he always missed his mouth whenever he tried to drink something. Striker attempts to regain the love of his life from the war, Elaine (Julie Hagerty), now a stewardess. In order to win her love, Striker overcomes his fear and buys a ticket on a flight she is serving on, from Los Angeles to Chicago. During the flight a major case of food poisoning breaks out, and knocks the pilot, co-pilot, and navigator out of commission. Ted needs to overcome his fear, and take over as pilot, and landing the plane safely.
Airplane! also starred several actors playing against the type of roles they were used to playing.
This movie changed Leslie Nielsen’s career. Before Airplane!, Nielsen had leading roles in the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet and as the ship’s captain in The Poseidon Adventure. His last role before Airplane! was in the 1977 action movie Project: Kill. In Airplane!, he played Dr. Rumack:
Rumack: What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Elaine: Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Rumack: Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.
Sadly, Leslie Nielsen passed away November 28, 2010 from complications of pneumonia.
Peter Graves, who died on March 14 this year, was better known as Jim Phelps from the Mission: Impossible television show. But, he was great as Captain Oveur. The things that he said to little Joey probably would not appear in any movies today without causing an outrage:
“Joey, have you ever seen a grown man naked?”
“Joey, have you ever been to a Turkish prison?”
“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”
Robert Stack was also known for serious roles, such as Eliot Ness in the television drama The Untouchables (1959–63). Most of us also know him from hosting Unsolved Mysteries from 1987-2002. In Airplane!, Stack played Captain Rex Kramer, Ted’s former commander, who is called in to air control to talk Ted down.
[continuing to talk into the radio after Striker lands the plane] “Ted, have you ever been face down in the mud, and been kicked in the head with an iron boot? Of course you haven’t! No one has! It’s a stupid question! Forget I even asked!”
And who could forget Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey, the tower supervisor!? He sure picked the wrong week to quit his many vices:
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”
“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.”
There are so many comedic moments in this movie that you can not possibly catch everything the first time you watch the movie. 30 years later, there are still things I see in the movie that I had missed or had forgotten about.
And here is my favorite scene of the movie. Talk about playing against type! Check out Barbara Billingsley (aka Mrs. June Cleaver) as the Jive Lady:
Randy: Can I get you something?
Second Jive Dude: ‘S’mofo butter layin’ me to da’ BONE! Jackin’ me up… tight me!
Randy: I’m sorry, I don’t understand.
First Jive Dude: Cutty say ‘e can’t HANG!
Jive Lady: Oh stewardess! I speak jive.
Randy: Oh, good.
Jive Lady: He said that he’s in great pain and he wants to know if you can help him.
Randy: All right. Would you tell him to just relax and I’ll be back as soon as I can with some medicine?
Jive Lady: Jus’ hang loose, blood. She gonna catch ya up on da’ rebound on da’ med side.
Second Jive Dude: What it is, big mama? My mama no raise no dummies. I dug her rap!
Jive Lady: Cut me some slack, Jack! Chump don’ want no help, chump don’t GET da’ help!
First Jive Dude: Say ‘e can’t hang, say seven up!
Jive Lady: Jive ass dude don’t got no brains anyhow! Hmmph!
There are so many great moments in the movie. What are your favorite scenes or quotes?