This Lancaster doesn't Bomb the Airport
"Airport" is a very good disaster movie, one of the more memorable out of the numerous 70s disaster movies, which builds to a crescendo of action and excitement which draws you to the edge of your seat, gripped by what is going on. It's just a shame that for nearly three quarters of the movie, over 90 minutes, it floats about building up all the separate storylines before delivering the big drama finale. It makes "Airport" feel drawn out, cumbersome in doing so as there is very little which makes all this build up, all the character and situation development in the least bit exciting.
As Lincoln International Airport is struggling to keep running thanks to heavy snow and a campaign by nearby residents over noise, airport manager Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster - The Professionals) finds himself pushed to the limit especially as his demanding wife becomes furious at him for working late. At the same time his brother in law Capt. Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin - Rough Night in Jericho) is planning a romantic few days with stewardess Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset - An Old Fashioned Christmas) who he has been having an affair with but some unexpected news puts a dampener on his raging libido. And that is nothing compared to the plans of D.O. Guerrero (Van Heflin) whose strange behaviour may make everyone's life a misery.
Adapted from Arthur Hailey's novel "Airport" is often held up as one of the great disaster movies and story wise it certainly is good. I may not like the prolonged build up to the major drama but the various storylines are interesting and often amusing. Although it has to be said that it is cliche that we spend so much time meeting the pivotal characters some of which have unoriginal situations. So what we get is the airport manager with an unhappy marriage and an assistant who loves him, a pilot who whilst married is having an affair with a stewardess and there are others. But there are also some quite original characters the sweet little old lady who stows away on the plane is priceless delivering so much effortless comedy it never feels out of place.
The trouble is that you go long past the half way point without anything majorly exciting happening making it feel like it is trudging through the build up stages. There are little bits of drama such as the fact that Lincoln airport is struggling with major snow and there is a plane blocking one of the main run ways. But other than that there isn't anything to interject any real excitement making it feel dull and overlong.
The annoying thing is that having spent so long developing all the little storylines, the characters and their situations the actual action and excitement gets so little time. And it is at the exciting finale where it all comes together and genuinely gets you gripped as to whether a stricken plane will be able to land and the plane blocking the runway will get removed in time. It is this adrenalin fuelled climax which makes "Airport" a better than average movie and if only the rest of the movie had been up to this level "Airport" could have been a great movie.
What also helps "Airport" become more than average is that it has a huge cast of stars all of which put in strong performances. Burt Lancaster as airport manager Mel Bakersfeld does a good job of leading the movie delivering that aspect of heroism but also that he has the weight of the world on his shoulders with his troubled marriage and the issues piling up at the airport. Dean Martin is equally good as Capt. Vernon Demerest who enjoys making Bakersfield's life a misery and George Kennedy pretty much steals every single scene he is in as airport trouble-shooter Joe Patroni.
The list of stars and good performances is endless with the likes of Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, Van Heflin and Maureen Stapleton all delivering spot on performances. But special mention has to go to Helen Hayes as the sweet old lady, Ada Quonsett who just through her appearance and mannerisms makes you smile let alone some of the great dialogue she delivers. It's such a perfect performance giving "Airport" a touch of humour without going overboard.
what this all boils down to is that "Airport" is a very good disaster movie with an interesting storyline and a great dramatic climax which does get you gripped as the drama unfolds. The trouble is that it is spoilt by it taking so long to get to the point of excitement that it feels like all of the character development is padding, drawn out much longer than it necessary. And whilst the countless stars make a good job of making their characters more than just 2 dimensional you end up losing interest in what now are some very cliche situations.