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 something called the “So Bad It’s Good Blog-A-Thon.” This is exactly what it purports to be; a celebration of movies so bad we love them anyway. This is being hosted by Taking Up Room, to whom we all owe a major “Thank You” for providing this amazing opportunity to share the fecal flicks we love!
Let’s get this out of the way right up front. This movie sucks out loud, but I love it. Here’s why.
In a previous installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies, I professed my proclivity for those big-budget, “all-star” cast cheese-taculars known as the 1970’s disaster flick. That’s why it should come as no surprise this will be my second trip through the “Airport” series, of the 1970’s, and my third through the genre in general. That notwithstanding, “Airport 1975” certainly lives up to what I’ve described about these kind of movies.
Big budget? The “flight” scenes alone cover that. “All-Star” cast? This movie has everybody from Charlton Heston to Erik Estrada, plus a 747 full of faces you’ll recognize. Need some “old-school” Hollywood royalty? How about Myrna Loy and Gloria Swanson?
As for the film itself, it’s all about a Beechcraft A55 Baron (a twin-engine private aircraft piloted by Dana Andrews) that collides with a Boeing 747 (a big-ass commercial airliner captained by Efrem “The FBI and father of Stephanie” Zimbalist, Jr.) after Andrews suffers a fatal heart-attack at the controls. Then it becomes standard “disaster movie” fare, complete with the usual trials and tribulations, followed by by the dramatic rescue complete with the “hero rides off into the sunset” ending.
For purposes of full disclosure, when I wrote about Airport ’77 and several times since then, I’ve made it clear I make it a point to not include the dreaded “spoiler,” and I religiously avoid being “that guy” who points out factual errors in a film. But like Airport ’77, this movie has so many factual issues which create plot holes big enough that I could fly a 747 through them. But once again, the first time I saw this movie was in drive-in when I was a kid, before I acquired a background in engineering and aviation.
But even after that, I’m still a sucker for this celluloid chunk of crap.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Once you watch this movie, it becomes clear that despite the cast and the billing, Karen Black as the stewardess who ends up flying the crippled airliner may be the definition of “stealing a movie.” She’s the star of this film…no if, ands, or buts about it. And let’s be honest…America could use more cross-eyed sex symbols. But to be even more honest, Black pulls off this amazing movie heist because she shares something with Van Johnson; they both are the Hollywood definition of the “back-up quarterback.”
In part, Johnson and Black are linked because they are both forced into action to avert imminent death. Granted, the situations are not similar, and their approaches are miles apart, but back-up quarterbacks are all about being thrust to center stage, usually in the face of disaster. The major difference between Johnson and Black is simple. As I explained in a previous installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies, Van Johnson does it by being the guy who comes in and does his job without being the star of the show. But you can’t watch Airport 1975 without having the idea that Karen Black is the star of this movie crash into you.
While she is also the definition of “reluctant heroine,” Black’s “Nancy Pryor” serves as the bond which holds this movie together from the mid-air collision until the rescue. In other words, once the “starting quarterback” in Efrem Zimbalist’s “Captain Stacy” is incapacitated in the crash, Black keeps the plane in the air until the team can get another “all-star” quarterback in Charlton Heston’s “Captain Al Murdock.”
The fun part in all of this is there’s a guy in this movie’s “cast of dozens” whose career trajectory as a back-up quarterback essentially mimics the “Nancy Pryor” story. Thus brings us to the saga of Jim Plunkett.
This is a a story which starts at Stanford University in the late 1960s, where Plunkett plundered the Pac-8 conference on his way to winning the 1970 Heisman Trophy. This earns him the distinction of being the first player taken in the 1971 National Football League draft. The problem is in the NFL, the first pick goes to the worst team, which at that time was the New England Patriots. Unlike today, the Patriots were an organization which couldn’t find 11 guys who could make a ham sandwich without screwing it up, let alone play football. As good as he was, Plunkett was not the prescription for what ailed the Patriots; he simply couldn’t do it all himself.
Unfortunately for Plunkett, this turns him into a journeyman “Have Heisman, Will Travel” type who bounces around the league looking for his next paycheck. Eventually he winds up with the Oakland Raiders, where 1980 finds him playing back-up to starter Dan Pastorini, who was actually drafted two spots behind Plunkett in 1971. But disaster struck when Pastorini suffered a season-ending leg injury, Plunkett takes the controls of the Raider offense and pilots all the way to a victory in Super Bowl XV.
1983 brings us “Groundhog Day;” once again Plunkett is riding the Raider pine behind Marc Wilson, who also suffered a season-ending leg injury. Once again, Plunkett does what back-up quarterbacks do, he puts on his helmet and leads Oakland on another march to the play-offs, again culminating in capturing a second Super Bowl title. That’s why Jim Plunkett takes the top spot on my list of greatest accomplishments by back-up quarterbacks.
But could he save a crippled jumbo jet?
The Moral of The Story:
Even crap can provide enjoyment…except for me, because I still haven’t forgiven Jim Plunkett for beating my Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XV.
Not to mention, both Karen Black and Plunkett are both a bit odd-looking. Yeah, I just said that…
If you liked what you saw here, be sure to check my Blog-a-Thons page to see all the upcoming projects in which Dubsism is proud to be a participant. There’s also time to get involved in two upcoming projects I’m hosting, the Surprise the Cat Blog-A-Thon and the M. Emmet Walsh Blog-A-Thon!
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Brilliant. Karen Black and Van Johnson are exactly as you say: Back-up Quarterbacks.
Airport 1975 is a mess of a movie, and I can’t get enough of it. I love it for all its cheesiness.
The 70s were the decade for disaster films in more ways than one. May have to find this just to see the cringiness. I have to echo Ruth here, too–your back-up quarterback analogy was brilliant. Thanks for this great review and participating in the blogathon, J-Dub!
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