What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of the Disaster Blog-A-Thon. This is an event being co-hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and yours truly here at Dubsism. Originally, this was an idea conceived by my frequent partner in blog-crime Realweegiemidget Reviews, but circumstances did not allow her to serve in the role of co-host. The Midnite Drive-In stepped into keep the “Disaster Blog-A-Thon from becoming a disaster of it’s own!
Regardless of who does what here, the common theme is a fascination with disaster movies, and as you’ll see, this event is chock full of great contributions! As such, this blog-a-thon is exactly what is purports to be…all about all things “disaster.” We held this event when we did to celebrate the birth of disaster movie mogul Irwin Allen, which happened on June 12th, 1916.
As for yours truly, part of what got this all starting was the fact I’ve already covered several delicious “disaster” flicks:
With that, let’s get this installment going…
Most people think the 1980 classic comedy “Airplane!” is a parody of those 1970’s “Airport” movies. While those films are ripe with spoof material, and while they contain more cheese than the state of Wisconsin, “Airplane!” is actually a send-up of two different movies; in it’s wonderful “mash-up” nature it becomes a nearly a shot-for-shot satire of both of them.
“Zero Hour” is not on my list of essential films.
Thanks to the wonder that is YouTube, a guy named DM Wood did an awesome job illustrating the relationship between “Zero Hour!” and “Airplane!” It’s no accident they both have exclamation points in their titles.
But that’s not the whole picture. The second film which “Airplane!” parodies is an unfortunately lesser-known John Wayne classic titled “The High and the Mighty.” This movie went unseen on American television for decades as it was tied up in a licensing dispute, and to this day it is rarely shown. That’s why my DVD copy of it remains under “lock and key.”
“The High and the Mighty” is on my list of essential films.
For openers, you may want to go back and familiarize yourself with the movie “Airplane!”…or more specifically, why I was terrified to be Ted Striker.
The Story: Zero Hour!
This is a 1957 film based on a book titled “Flight Into Danger” which was written by Arthur Hailey…who went on to pen “Airport.” That’s where the common misconception comes from; that “Airplane!” is a spoof of “Airport.” In reality, the truly awful sequel “Airplane II!” borrows heavily from Hailey’s 1970 classic. But this is about the “Airplane!” movie which isn’t terrible.
“Zero Hour!” is where “Airplane!” borrows it’s plot, many of it’s characters, and even some of it’s most iconic lines. The main character in both “Zero Hour!” and “Airplane!” is Ted Stryker (spelled differently). Despite the spelling, they are they same guy; a traumatized pilot carrying around some heavy mental baggage from the war. As a result, Ted Stryker (played by Dana Andrews) returns to civilian life where he has trouble holding a steady job. One day upon returning home, Stryker finds a note from his wife Ellen (played by Linda Darnell) saying she is taking their son (who is named “Joey” of course…) and leaving him. He rushes to the airport to board the same flight as Ellen. He begs her to reconsider, but she tells him she can no longer love a man she does not respect.
Naturally, what was supposed to be a routine flight turns deadly stewardess Janet Turner (played by Peggy King) begins serving the in-flight meal (you know you’re old if you remember those!) Not long after everybody has finished eating, several passengers become severely ill. A doctor who happened to be on the flight (played by Geoffrey Toone) diagnoses them with food poisoning; the source having been one the meal options…the fish.
While dealing with the spate of sick passengers, the stewardess and doctor discover both the pilot and co-pilot have also succumbed to the on-board illness. While the airliner can remain in-flight with the auto-pilot system, it can’t land. With both pilots incapacitated, there’s no one who can land the airplane. Eventually, the stewardess discovers that Stryker is the only one aboard with flying experience. The problem is he has not flown in a decade and there’s a HUGE difference between flying a military fighter and a civilian airliner. Because dense fog has settled in, they can’t land at the nearest airport; they have no choice but to continue on to Vancouver.
Stryker takes the controls, and Ellen joins him in the cockpit to handle the radio. But because Stryker really doesn’t know how to handle a large airliner, a veteran airline pilot is called in to give him instructions about how to land the aircraft. Things get complicated when it is discovered that the called-in Captain Treleaven (played by Sterling Hayden) was Stryker’s tough-minded commanding officer during the war. Tensions immediately surface between Treleavan and Stryker.
The boiling point comes when Stryker defies an order from Treleavan to remain in the air. Stryker disobeys, telling Treleavan that he has to land the plane now, because he fears several of the passengers will die if they do not get to a hospital soon.
Stryker finds himself battling the elements, Treleavan, and his own delicate mental state. But despite the rough landing, he gets the plane on the ground thus earning the respect of Ellen and Captain Treleaven.
The Story: The High And The Mighty
“Airplane!” gets it’s plot and a major part of either it’s dialog or jokes playing off the original dialog from “Zero Hour!”, but the exterior shots are all about “The High and the Mighty.” One of the great running gags in “Airplane!” is the jet plying through the skies accompanied by the distinct sound of turbo-prop engines. The scene of the emergency vehicles heading out to the runway is a straight-up shot-for-shot homage to the 1954 John Wayne classic.
“The High and the Mighty” is all about a Douglas DC-4 on what was supposed to be a routine flight from Honolulu to San Francisco. The flight leaves Hawaii with 17 passengers and 5 crew. The flight;s veteran first officer Dan Roman (played by John Wayne) is a former captain haunted by a crash that killed his wife and son and left him with a permanent limp. The captain John Sullivan (played by Robert Stack) suffers from a secret fear of responsibility after logging thousands of hours looking after the lives of passengers and crew. The flight crew is rounded out by a young second officer Hobie Wheeler (played by William Campbell) whose inexperience is offset by the veteran navigator Lenny Wilby (played by Wally Brown).
While stewardess Miss Spalding (played by Doe Avedon) is attending her passengers, a series of strange vibrations rack the aircraft. Eventually, one of them is severe enough she burns her hand because she spills coffee. After that, first officer Roman inspects the plane, but finds nothing out of order. Meanwhile, “The High and the Mighty” introduces us to one of the best features of great “Disaster” flicks; the “All-Star” cast and the “filler” of humanizing the soon-to-be victims until the calamity actually occurs. Another participant in this event did a tremendous job examining the dynamics of the relationship between the characters; you should really read his accounting of that.
Eventually, the random odd vibrations escalate into the airliner swerving violently when it loses a propeller and an engine bursts into flame. While the flight crew extinguishes the fire, the damaged engine has torqued itself from its mounting. Now over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it soon becomes clear the plane is also losing fuel from a damaged wing tank. The leaking fuel combined with a headwind and the drag caused by the damaged engine leads the flight crew to believe the plane will eventually run out of fuel and be forced to ditch.
At this point, the differences among the passengers disappear when Roman explains the situation. At once, he lessens their anxiety while honestly apprising them of what the are facing. Once he tells them their odds of making the California coast are “one in a thousand,” the passengers come together tossing luggage from the airliner to lighten the load. All along the way, the preparations for such a water landing are underway. In San Francisco, airport manager Tim Garfield (played by Regis Toomey) comes to the airline’s operations center but is less than optimistic about the plane’s chances of making the coast. However, there’s a change in the wind direction which raises the crew’s hopes they can reach San Francisco. Unfortunately, this is also when Wilby discovers his initial calculations are incorrect; he no longer believes they can make land.
Roman’s experience tells him their best chance comes from trying to make land rather than ditching in the rough seas at night. However, Sullivan panics and prepares to ditch immediately, but Dan slaps him back to his senses. Thinking clearly again, Sullivan decides not to ditch (keep an eye open for the cameo of “Alfalfa” from the “Little Rascals.”)
The DC-4 approaches approaches San Francisco in the middle during a squall. Because of their dangerously low altitude, the airliner barely clears the city’s hills. But when it breaks down under the clouds, the lights of the runway are dead ahead. Roman and Sullivan stick the landing.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Now, you might think that because I called this piece a “double-header” that today’s hidden sports analogy is about baseball. Au contràire, mon frère! Just like “Zero Hour!” and “The High and the Mighty” were combined to make “Airplane!,” there’s a great example of combining two into one from the annals of the National Football League (NFL).
During the Second World War, the NFL found itself faced with a shortage of players; the same big, strong healthy men who play football also make excellent Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines. When the United States entered the war in December of 1941, over 600 NFL players joined the military. By 1943, the shortage was so great that some squads could not field complete rosters. The solution was to combine teams. The first was a melding of the two teams in Pennsylvania; the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. Hence, the 1943 Phil-Pitt “Steagles” were born. The official NFL record book refers to the team as the “Phil-Pitt Combine,” but despite never being registered by the league, this short-lived squad went down in history as the “Steagles.”
With the drain of players headed into the service, this meant the available pool of players were men deemed not fir for military service. This did not mean they were necessarily unhealthy; there were three classifications for men to stay out of the wartime military. The first group was class III-A, which made a man with dependents would be made a lower priority by the draft board. The second group had three classes; II-A, II-B, and II-C. These were men that today would have been called “essential;” by 1943 these classes consisted of those working in “critical” civilian occupations, war industries producing and preparing ammunition, weapons and materials, or who worked in the agriculture/food processing industries. The third group were labeled IV-F; these were the men determined to be unfit for military service due to ailments such as chronic ulcers, improperly-healed injuries, defects of the extremities, bad hearing, and partial blindness among other reasons..
Naturally, most NFL football players wanted to serve their country during the war, and for man to be fit enough to play football yet be classified IV-F by the draft board was was a major blow to the ego, but there were a large number of such player in the NFL, and the “Steagles” had several. For example Tony Bova was the team’s leading pass-catcher with 17 receptions, but he was completely blind in one eye and only had partial sight in the other. Guard Ed Michaels was almost totally deaf; his neighbor on the offensive center Ray Graves was completely deaf in one ear. Tailback John Butler made his first start for the Steagles the day after the draft board classified him IV-F because of his poor eyesight and bad knees.
But for some, the stigma of being classifed IV-F was too much. Bill Hewitt was a member of the “Steagles,” but he felt guilty about not being able to fight in the war, and his “unfit” status earned him boos and jeers from opposing fans. So, he hung up his cleats in the middle of the 1943 season.
“Now’s the time to quit. I want them to remember me as a good end. I’ve heard those boos from the grandstand before, and believe me, it’s a lot more fun to quit with cheers instead ringing in your ears.” ~ from the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Hewitt was the first player to be named “All-NFL” with two different teams; the Chicago Bears in 1933, 1934, and 1936, and with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1937. Hewitt was good enough to have his number #56 retired by the Chicago Bears, to be included in the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame, and to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. He was also one tough hombre; Hewitt is best known for being the last man in the NFL to play without a helmet.
Hewitt never revealed the reason for his being denied the chance to trade the fields of the NFL for the battlefields of the Second World War. Maybe the military knew he wouldn’t wear a helmet then, either.
The Moral of the Story:
Remember those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials from back in the day? Well, some combinations are like that of “Airplane!;” they become classics which will last forever. But for every success, there’s a “Phil-Pitt Steagles.”
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