RogerBW's Blog

Airport 1975 08 October 2021

1974 air disaster film, dir. Jack Smight, Charlton Heston, Karen Black: IMDb / allmovie. Midair collision over Salt Lake… vt Airport '75.

We're definitely going downhill here: this is "inspired by the film based on the novel", and Arthur Hailey had no involvement. But this is much more conventionally air-disaster than Airport: the flight crew all get killed or knocked unconscious, and the stewardess has to fly the plane. The title is still "Airport", but the vast majority of the plot is going on inside the aircraft.

Which means it rests on Karen Black, and she handles it well. Her character gets grief from basically everyone here, from the flight crew via her boyfriend to the passengers, and (1970s woman) she never complains, just occasionally gives a little backtalk so that they can all laugh about it. If that's what men are, I guess you have to live with it.

Of course Charlton Heston will still save the day. Like John Wayne, he tended not to play characters who didn't save the day.

At last we get to a 747: in service from 1970, this is what "an airliner" looked like in my youth. But my goodness, whenever the plane turns, they're big dramatic turns, 40 degrees of bank or more as opposed to the 10-15 that you'd use normally, and with the low speeds they're supposedly flying at there'd be a distinct tilt inside the cabin as well. Still, it looks good…

The Learjet 24 is Clay Lacy's own aircraft; as well as operating the first executive jet charter company in the USA, Lacy co-invented a system of periscopes to allow true 360° aerial filming (they feed views from above and below the aircraft to the inside, and the operator can then point the camera to any angle they feel like without needing multiple cameras or losing part of the view), and he was involved in most of the Hollywood air-to-air photography of the 1970s and 1980s.

What's that "fighter" that comes up for a look, though? I think it may be a T-37B Tweet jet trainer, perhaps better known in its light attack variant as the A-37 Dragonfly. And of course for the air-to-air transfer we have an HH-53 Super Jolly, the Vietnam-era SAR helicopter that was being developed into the PAVE LOW special operations aircraft… though it can only get up to 170 knots flat out, and the 747 is explicitly claimed to be flying at 190. Oh well.

The collision itself is desperately unconvincing. Both aircraft are supposedly on the same approach path, but we see the Beechcraft head-on out of the cockpit of the 747… just sitting there in mid-air for several seconds, not even getting closer until suddenly there's a bang.

(All right, TCAS with its automated in-cockpit warnings doesn't come in until the late 1980s, but one wonders what the controllers were up to as the two blips got closer and closer together and one of them was still talking to them…) There would be ways of setting this up to work more plausibly, such as having both aircraft in a holding stack, but you'd presumably have to explain to the audience what a stack was

Even down at 190 knots, with a great big hole in the side of the cockpit, you don't just stand there nattering on the radio with your coiffure being artfully ruffled by the breeze.

But it's noticeable at least to me that there's very little time spent looking at the outside of the damaged aircraft, where they might have had to make something look convincing that would stand up to flight; it's mostly from the inside, or in one particular series of shots. Still, I praised the same decision in Airport, to stick to the views people would actually have; perhaps it's just that this feels as though it's trying to be more exciting, and showing the damage would be an exciting thing.

The main reason this particular film was part of my viewing was of course Kidney Transplant Girl – played by Linda Blair, a year after The Exorcist, and parodied in Airplane!. Portable dialysis machines were entirely normal and widely available in 1974; just add power and consumables. But that wouldn't be suitably dramatic, and this is of course the American health care system, so perhaps she's just poor. The singing nun is played by Helen Reddy.

This was Gloria Swanson's last film role, and she has fun with it; Myrna Loy's last but two, and she looks as if she's not quite sure why she's here but she does know what to do when the lights come on and the cameras start rolling. I can't believe that either of these names would have been a big draw in 1974, but they can at least act…

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by Jon Hancock at 11:44am on 08 October 2021

    "This was Gloria Swanson's last film role…"

    Roger, I'm disappointed. "This was Gloria's swan song" was right there!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 12:16pm on 08 October 2021

    Ah, but as you know I have no sense of humour.

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