What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Story Time With J-Dub is the first installment of this relatively new series being done as part of a movie event. This distinction belongs to a monthly event hosted by MovieRob called Genre Grandeur. The way it works is every month MovieRob chooses a film blogger to pick a topic and a movie to write about, then also picks a movie for MovieRob to review. At the end of the month, MovieRob posts the reviews of all the participants.
For May of 2020, the honor of being the “guest picker” went to DJ Valentine of Simplistic Reviews. The topic is “Reluctant Heroes.” Not only does my choice fit the theme, but it tells a tale of my own reluctance.
“Airplane!” begins with the end of a romance between Ted Striker (played by Robert Hays) and Elaine Dickinson (played by Julie Haggerty). They met during the war when Striker was a fighter pilot. Now, he’s a traumatized war veteran turned taxi driver and she’s a flight attendant. But now it’s over, largely because Ted has what we would call today Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which means he has been unable to hold a steady job since the war. The crutch for his PTSD is one of the “running gags” throughout the movie…his “drinking problem.”
Elaine tells Ted their relationship is over as she’s getting ready to board her assigned flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. Ted abandons his taxi at the airport and buys a ticket on that flight in an attempt to win her back. This too proves to be a failure; she continues to reject him during the flight.
The necessary plot twist comes after the in-flight meal is served. You can tell this movie is 40 years old because nobody under the age of 50 remembers the “in-flight meal” on domestic journeys. The problem comes when food poisoning breaks out and takes out the pilots.
With the flight crew incapacitated, Elaine pleads for help from the control tower in Chicago. Tower supervisor Steve McCroskey (played by Lloyd Bridges) tells her how to activate “Otto the Auto-pilot.” While this solves the immediate problem of keeping the plane in the air, Otto can’t land it.
That means Elaine has to find somebody who can. Naturally, that brings us to the theme of this month’s event…enter Ted Striker, reluctant hero. At first, Ted cites his “drinking problem,” his “PTSD,” and pretty much anything else he can think of not to be the man in the pilot’s seat. Eventually, Elaine and Dr. Rumack (played by Leslie Nielsen) convince Ted to take the controls. But as a fighter pilot, Ted has no idea how to handle a multi-engine airliner; it’s a difference akin to riding a motorcycle versus driving a 18-wheel tractor-trailer. That’s when Steve McLoskey calls in Ted’s former commanding officer, Captain Rex Kramer (played by Robert Stack) who is now a senior commercial pilot so he can talk Ted through landing the plane.
Of course, the previously rocky nature of the relationship between Striker and Kramer immediately resurfaces. This stress makes Ted start having flashbacks to the war; eventually he puts Otto back in control and leave the cockpit. Knowing that Ted is their only hope, both Both Elaine and Rumack restore Ted’s confidence and he takes the controls under Rex’s guidance. The weather deteriorates as Ted gets closer to Chicago. Despite this, Ted manages to land the plane with the passengers suffering only minor injuries. The film ends withe the relationship between Ted and Elaine seeing a new beginning.
If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airliner, you know that you can have quite a bit of fun “people watching” as your fellow passengers board. Naturally, since most people flying dress comfortably, you tend to see a lot of polo shirts, cotton casual pants, and shoes easy to slip on and off, thanks to the post “9/11” TSA security screenings.
It’s not hard to see why people in uniform stand out in a sea of casual dress. That’s why the flight crew wears them, and makes their roles immediately identifiable. You can tell a flight attendant from a pilot in one glance; pilots tend to wear very military-like garb.
It’s ever easier to see how a guy in a full-blown military uniform also would be noticed immediately. To the untrained eye, the only difference most people notice is the color; Navy blue, Air Force blue, Army green, and in my case, Marine green. But to those in the know, a military dress uniform is like wearing your resumé. At a glance, a dress uniform will tell you the branch of service, rank, awards, qualifications, and in the case of enlisted men, roughly how long they’ve been in the service.
Naturally, a uniform like that is going to draw attention in a cabin full of casually-dressed “cattle class” passengers. The only reason I was wearing it on this flight was because the last time I had to travel between duty stations, the airline (I won’t mention the name but it was an AMERICAN airline) lost my luggage and I got to report for duty in the aforementioned polo shirt and a pair of cargo shorts. Not to mention it was easier to wear it rather than to pack in in a way that it wouldn’t make it a mass of wrinkles.
Now comes the “perfect storm.” Picture a guy in that eyeball-attracting uniform, complete with a gold pair of wings on the chest, sitting next to the world most-nervous flier.
Again, to the untrained eye, there are a lot of qualification badges in the military incorporating wings into the design, many of them do not indicate being an aviator. This is a fact completely lost on our nervous flier; so much so he never bothers to ask.
Think about it. If you were the “nervous flier,” wouldn’t you like to know if the guy sitting next to you were an actual pilot? It might be handy to know that guy is an expert on all those thing about flying you don’t know? After all, it is human nature to fear the unknown. In that same vein, it would seem it’s in the nature of the “nervous flier” just to make major assumptions.
Oh…there’s part of the perfect storm I forgot to mention; were sitting over the wing and “Nervous Norman” has the window seat. Granted that probably wasn’t this jughead’s real name, but he just looked like a “Norman.” But I digress.
If you never flown, you don’t know that sitting over the wing can be the worst place for the “Normans” of the world; it can be loud (depending where the engines are), bumpy, and there’s stuff on the wings that move all the time.
To make a long story short, I’m picturing how painful the next three hours of my life are going to be with “Norman” and his never-ending “What was that?” with every single noise or bump. Just when I think it can’t get any worse, I notice one of the flight attendants noticing me. Sure enough, she approached me and said she had been looking at my uniform and asked me if I were a pilot. I just smiled and nodded my head; I wasn’t about to say anything that might kick on the after-burners for “Norman” and his neurosis.
Then I realized what this flight attendant was really up to…she was sizing me up to be “Ted Striker”…just in case. Luckily, I had three things in my favor. They don’r serve meals on domestic flights anymore, so an outbreak of food poisoning wasn’t going to happen. Not to mention, accidents aboard major transport aircraft are exceptionally rare. But best of all, even if I found myself in the cockpit of that airliner in a crisis situation, I still wouldn’t be sitting next to fucking “Norman.”
You can see all the episodes of “Story Time” here.
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