Written and Directed by David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams
Love! Action! Romance! Hare Krishnas!
The passengers and crew on an airplane suffer food poisoning and only ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) can save them!
The cast was absolutely brilliant. Each one was perfect, and they created iconic comedic characters. Casting Robert Hays as Ted Striker would not have been my first choice. Given the genre it parodies, he doesn’t look like the typical lead which would be the logical choice, but he nailed it. Julie Hagerty was great as Flight Attendant Elaine Dickinson. Her timing in the film was impeccable and she delivers her lines-especially the one about wriggling-so ommocently. Leslie Nielsen as Dr. Rumack was an inspired choice and a stroke of good luck as well since his deadpan delivery was ideal. He was known for drama up until that point so who knew he would be so good? Peter Graves (Capt. Clarence Oveur), Lloyd Bridges (Steve McCroskey) and Robert Stack (Capt. Rex Kramer) fall into that category as well. None were known for comedy like this. They had wanted dramatic actors for the roles since they felt they were much funnier than the comedians they were seeing.
A special mention must be made of the late, great Stephen Stucker as Air Traffic Controller Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs. He was manic and off-the-wall in the role. His one-liners were non sequitur and totally absurd. Supposedly everything his character said and did was his idea. What a comedic genius! He was absolutely brilliant and if he had been with us longer I’m sure we’d be laughing our asses off still at the things he could have done. His death was a loss to comedy.
The movie contained a few interesting names in smaller parts. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Roger Murdock was an interesting casting decision. Barbara Billingsley as the scene stealing Jive Lady that translates for the one stewardess was totally out of left field. Nobody in their right mind would have thought to cast Beaver’s mom in a role like this. Ethel Merman has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as Lt. Hurwitz-a man in the hospital with Ted who has been traumatized by his war experiences and thinks he is, well, Ethel Merman. Jimmie Walker is another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as Windshield Wiper Man. Supposedly the plan was to have comedians in bit background parts, but he was the only one that said “Yes.”
The role of Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) was originally to be played by George Kennedy since he was identified with the Airport film series. He declined the role because he didn’t want to sour his Airport cash cow I guess. He would eventually work with Nielsen and the Zuckers in the Naked Gun trilogy. Given his performance there I wonder what could have been here, but Lloyd Bridges is just amazing so we didn’t lose out.
It’s the greatest comedy of all time. There’s no way you can say otherwise. The jokes themselves have withstood the test of time. Even the handful of topical jokes in the film are still funny. People still quote “…and don’t call me Shirley.” That’s the sign of well-crafted comedy and that none of the humor has aged badly is a testament to this film’s greatness.
The film is packed with jokes from beginning to end. And I mean the very end. There are even jokes in the credits! If you watch till after the credits you will see one last scene involving the guy from Ted Striker’s cab still waiting. There is just so much going on in the foreground and the background. The movie is filled with nothing but silly jokes and puns.
The movie went for the laugh. Its whole goal was you make jokes that made you laugh and reality be damned! It embraced the silly. From the Mayo Clinic scene with the mayonnaise on the shelves with the heart leaping around to two vultures on the plane during the climax. It just wanted to make you laugh.
This is perhaps my favorite comedy and it is most definitely one of the greatest comedies ever made. This comedy is a monument which will be watched and remembered and talked about long into the future.