What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating Lee Grant. This is an event hosted by two “must-read” blogs, Angelman’s Place and Realweegiemidget Reviews. This isn’t the first time I’ve participated in an event hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews, and hopefully it won’t be the last as long as the great people in the classic film blog-o-sphere keep tolerating my non-sense…
Here is where you can see all the participating blogs:
If you’re under the age of 40, you likely don’t know when the “Bermuda Triangle” was a “thing.” The central point of “Airport ’77” is the hi-jacking of a Jumbo Jet loaded with a billionaire’s mega-valuable art collection; the idea being to fake the aircraft’s disappearing in the “Bermuda Triangle.” In order to understand that, you need to know the “Bermuda Triangle” is a section of the Atlantic Ocean bounded by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico where there was a great deal of mythology about ships and planes have disappearing here without a trace.
At the time this movie was released, the Bermuda Triangle was in the forefront of pop culture. There were at least four other films made in this time which featured this area and the mysterious disappearances therein; Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975), The Bermuda Triangle (1978), Mystery in the Bermuda Triangle (1979), The Island (1980), as well as a documentary Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle (1978).
Another bit of topical trivia surrounding “Airport ’77” was that a few weeks after it’s release, the worst aviation disaster to date occurred when two 747s collided on a runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people.
Whenever I write about movies, I make it a point to not include the dreaded “spolier,” and I religiously avoid being “that guy” who points out factual errors in a film. This movie has so many such gaffes they create plot holes big enough that I could fly a 747 through them, but thankfully most of them aren’t immediately evident to those with out a background in engineering and aviation. That’s why I’m glad the first time I saw this movie was in the theater when I was a kid and didn’t have such knowledge yet.
Being “that guy” will only take away enjoying a film which makes no pretenses about being anything other than what it is. It is a flawed, yet enjoyable example of the 1970s big-budget “Disaster” film with the “all-star” cast. Better yet, it spices that with a good, old-fashioned “heist” flick.
This movie is completely “over the top” so many ways, but that what makes it fun. If you want two hours of easy entertainment, this a perfect film for that. But even if you’re a film snob and require some form of “greatness” to invest in a movie, you can still enjoy “Airport ’77.”
All you have to do is watch Lee Grant.
Grant’s portrayal of boozy, ignored wife Karen Wallace steals the entire film. That is nothing short of miraculous when you consider these two facts.
First, just look at the heavy Hollywood hitters in this cast. Jimmy Stewart (who is perfect for an “airplane” movie as he was Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force), Jack Lemmon (on my list of favorite actors), Olivia DeHavilland, Joseph Cotten, and Sir Christopher Lee…and that’s just for starters.
There’s also a “Who’s Who” of character actors; George Kennedy (also on my list of favorite actors), Brenda Vaccaro, Darrin McGavin, and M. Emmet Walsh, about whom Roger Ebert said “You can tell a movie is good if he’s in it.” Given such a cast in such a “cheese-tastic” plot, you would expect there would be some major “scenery-chewing” going on, but not only do all these “heavy-hitters” play it straight, they get circles acted around them by Grant.
Secondly, she pulls of this amazing feat of acting in a role which is non-essential to the plot. If you needed to trim 30 minutes off this movie, you could cut her character and the plot wouldn’t suffer even a shaving nick.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
The big-budget, big-cast “Disaster” is a film genre which has suffered from the tyranny of time. I’m a sucker for them, but I know when I watch one, I’m setting Rod Taylor’s time machine for 40 years ago. Another thing which has lost its luster to the patina of time is baseball’s All-Star game. Yeah, they still call it the “Mid-Summer Classic,” but let’s be honest; it isn’t what it used to be. In both cases, the reasons why aren’t nearly as important as the idea neither can now be re-created. Good, bad, or indifferent, there will never be another “Airport ’77.” In the same vein, there will never be another 1971 All-Star Game.
That’s because as long as Hollywood exists in it’s current configuration, there will never be another movie like “Airport ’77;” there’s simply no way you could come up with a cast like that from today’s stable of “talent.” Baseball would be hard-pressed to produce another spectacle like the 1971 Mid-Summer Classic because it’s likely never going to have another confluence of greatness as it did then. Just look at the number of Hall-of-Famers who were in that game.
¹ – Not in the Hall of Fame; we all know that story.
If you’re a baseball fan, you appreciate the magnitude of that list. If not, imagine making a movie with 21 of the greatest actors in the history of Hollywood. If you can grasp that, picture such a movie with that cast of Hollywood heavy-hitters, then think of one person you wouldn’t expect to steal the entire film.
That’s what Lee Grant does in “Airport ’77.” From the minute she appears on-screen, the zeitgeist of the entire film (except the climactic rescue scene) flows through her. Grant’s boozy, bitchy abandoned wife character Karen Wallace simultaneously has you empathizing for the obvious emotional pain which drives her, yet has you rooting for Brenda Vaccaro when she slaps the shit out of her.
It doesn’t do justice to Grant’s performance to merely say this was a Hollywood “home run,” it was one of the memorable long-balls of all-time. But Grant’s acting blast never got the credit it’s due, but when it happened, it was as titanic as the moment most baseball fans came to know Reggie Jackson.
Disciples of the diamond certainly know the name Reggie Jackson, especially those of my age. Nobody could forget the night Reggie forever became “Mr. October” his three moon-shot homers on three straight pitches in the clinching Game 6 of 1977 the World Series against the Dodgers. But if baseball means nothing to you and you’re here strictly for the movie aspect, you’ll recognize Reggie Jackson as the player robotized to kill Queen Elizabeth II in “The Naked Gun.”
But to see today’s hidden sports analogy, we need to go back to the 1971 All-Star Game, when in a single at-bat, Reggie Jackson stood the baseball world on it’s batting helmet.
Jackson got one at-bat in that game, but what he did with it changed the “pecking order” amongst the royalty of baseball. To make a long story short, in only his second All-Star Game appearance Jackson turned on a Dock Ellis slider and belted it into the light tower on top of the upper deck in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium. This remains the longest homer ever hit in the All-Star game; some estimates say that ball traveled as much as 600 feet. It was at that moment, every other future Hall-of-Famer in the ball park had to take notice.
The difference is Grant didn’t get the recognition she deserved for her performance. Maybe it was the fact she did it in a cheesy disaster flick; maybe it was the fact she had been “black-listed” two decades earlier, but there was no way she didn’t deserve a Best Actress nomination over Marsha Mason for “The Goodbye Girl” or even Best Supporting Actress over Melinda Dillon for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The Moral of The Story:
Reggie Jackson started his journey to baseball immortality on that night in Detroit in 1971. Six years later, Lee Grant out-slugged an all-star movie version of “Murderer’s Row” and doesn’t even have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
There’s something fundamentally wrong with that.