Airplane! (1980)


Filled from the back to the cock pit, this is a very very silly movie and a classic of comedy. There’s an awful lot of words and visuals to keep you chuckling along and it’s clear to see why this feature hits funniest films of all time lists.

A group of passengers board a Trans American flight, amongst them is taxi driver Ted Striker (Robert Hays) who wants to win back his love Elaine (Julie Hagerty) who happens to be an air hostess on the journey. Things get turbulent as comedy racks up and food poisoning takes over.

Your eyes may have a hard time keeping up, as there’s plenty of visual gags to tide the film over. It is truly an exercise and now master class in how to create short and snappy comedy. The line up of people waiting to violently deal with a panicking passenger is a perfect example of quick funny sight jokes. The inflatable pilot, the horrendous amount of ‘sweat’ and the kid losing her life as a song gets sung to her are further examples and if I had to list them all I’d be here writing to ten thousand words and more.

There’s a lot in here that takes you back, not because it’s bad, I mean yes it’s dated in places thanks to some vague racist comedy but it’s blackly funny at times. The captain who errs slightly towards less than good words to a minor and the woman who hangs herself during a flashback story. The film flings plenty of things at you and most of them hit true.

I’d say that the only weaknesses are in the stories of Striker, as he reminisces about his piloting past and his meeting of Elaine. The club sequence as he woos Elaine is musical and fun to be fair but the rest of these flashbacks are quite dull and put an unwanted break on the fast paced comedy, leading me at least to feel like that suicidal old lady. By the end you almost feel worn out by the amount of jokes you’ve seen and heard, if that can be a weakness, I don’t think it can actually!

Of course there’s the quotable lines we all know and love, where would we be without the droll delivery of “and don’t call me Shirley”? David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams wrote a thoroughly stupid plot, that cannot be denied, a lot of what goes on like horses in bed and double sunglasses are childish but that’s what makes this script so bananas and enjoyable. The trio don’t just write, they joint directed this American comedy with a great sense of parodying disaster movies amongst other tropes of different genres. I must say I love the moment a lady runs alongside the aircraft as if on a train station platform.

Robert Hays is a proper buffoon in thinking he’s doing the right thing, from leaving his cab behind to taking the reins of the plane. It’s a normal guy comedy role as he doesn’t play the fool which makes him more foolish. Julie Hagerty is great and dealing with the madness that’s hurled at her and gets to act some comedy moments herself too in a fantastic way. Leslie Nielsen is ace at delivering his lines in such a flat way that makes everything sound much more amusing. The whole cast of characters end up wailing or frantic at some point but it’s the way that they act serious that makes this more delightful.

There are a mountain of jokes to climb over by the time you’ve finished the movie, some aren’t fantastic and some are crude but on the whole this is a product of great tempo, gags and silliness that is whacky and important to comedy.



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