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 Travel Gone Wrong Blog-A-Thon being hosted by 18 Cinema Lane. This event is exactly as advertised; it’s tales of travel gone wrong. But it’s also broken into two categories…hilariously wrong and horrifyingly wrong. This movie is not hilarious.
More importantly, this completes the set for me having written about all four Airport movies. Once I saw that great blog-a-thon banner based on the “old-school’ airline boarding pass, I knew I had to get in.
You can see all my other forays into this series here:
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:
One of the reasons why this movie is so entertaining is it’s fun meld of disaster movie and a soap opera. At first, you think the disaster part is coming from a snowstorm which is crippling Chicago and it’s fictional Lincoln International Airport. But that’s only a prat of what is to come; like a good soap, there’s more layers of drama on the wing.
Because of the blizzard, a Trans Global Airlines (TGA) flight crew miss a turn onto a taxiway from Runway 29. As a result, the big Boeing 707 Strato-liner gets stuck in the snow, which renders the runway unusable to other aircraft. This will prove to be a problem since 29 is Lincoln’s longest runway, making it the strip of choice in bad weather and emergencies.
This only adds to the stress piling up on airport manager Mel Bakersfeld (played by Burt Lancaster). In the middle of all this, Bakersfeld marriage is suffering from the demands of his job, and his wife Cindy (played by Dana Wynter) misses no opportunities to bust his chops. Like many marriages headed for the “big D,” there’s a complication in the form of a burgeoning relationship between Bakersfeld and TGA customer relations agent Tanya Livingston (played by Jean Seberg).
Meanwhile, another TGA Boeing 707 is preparing for departure to Rome. Onboard are Captains Vernon Demerest (played by Dean Martin) and Anson Harris (played by Barry Nelson). Demarest is on this flight as he is a “check-ride” captain; meaning he’s there to evaluate Harris’ performance. But the real drama on this flight comes from the fact Demerest is married to Bakersfeld’s sister, yet he’s been canoodling with chief stewardess Gwen Meighen (played by Jacqueline Bissett). Of course, this is the moment she picks to tell Demerest she’s carrying their “love child.”
For most soap operas, this would be more than enough to get us rolling down the runway, but like the classic late-night “info-mercial” says…but wait, there’s more!
But first, we have to get back to the stranded airliner blocking Runway 29. The snowstorm limits Bakersfeld’s options, so he is forced to “borrow” a cockpit-certified (meaning he can taxi a jet) mechanic from another airline to try to move TGA’s stranded jet. Thus enters TWA mechanic Joe Patroni (played by George Kennedy), who becomes the only character to appear in all four Airport films (albeit in wildly different roles…)
As if they already don’t have enough to contend with, Bakersfeld and Livingston two more headaches…just they don’t know about one of them yet. The known problem is embodied by Ada Quonsett (played by Helen Hayes) who is an elderly widow whose hobby is being a serial stowaway.
However, the problem nobody knows about yet comes in the form of D.O. Guerrero (played by Van Heflin). Guerrero is a demolitions expert with a history of mental illness and who has been recently fired from his job. His odd behavior at the airport begins to attract attention, but he manages to board the flight. Meanwhile, Quonsett manages to give “the slip” to the TGA employee tasked with “babysitting” her, and she also boards the TGA jet heading for Rome….and ends up seated right next to Guerrero.
At the same time, Guerrero’s wife Inez (played by Maureen Stapleton) finds things around their home that convince her D.O. might be about to do something drastic. She’s not wrong; she heads to the airport in an attempt to stop him.
Guerrero has bought a one-way ticket aboard TGA’s flight to Rome and a large life insurance policy. Once Inez arrives at the airport, she tells Bakersfeld and other officials that her husband fired from a construction job for “misplacing” explosives and they are on the verge of financial ruin. Now we all know Guerrero’s intent. He has a bomb hidden in an attaché case and by blowing up the plane over the Atlantic, Inez will collect $225,000 from his life insurance.
Bakersfeld radios Demerest and Harris to tell them they have two problems; a stowaway and a bomb. They turn the plane back toward Chicago in a way so the passengers won’t notice, and they actually use Quonsett in a plan to get the attaché case away from Guerrero. They almost pull it off until a meddlesome passenger intervenes and gives the case back to Guerrero.
Not only did the plan fail, but now Guerrero knows they are on to him. Demerest attempts to convince Guerrero not to set off the bomb by telling him his insurance policy has been cancelled. Guerrero almost gives the bomb to Demerest, but at that exact moment another passenger exits the lavatory behind Guerrero while the same dipshit who gave him back the bomb yells out that Guerrero has a bomb. As a result Guerrero panics, dashes into the lavatory and detonates it. Guerrero is killed instantly, Gwen is badly injured, and the plane now has a three-foot hole in the fuselage.
The snowstorm has every airport east of Chicago socked in, so Demererst and Harris have no choice but to gut it out all the way back to Lincoln International. Due to the bomb damage, Demerest requests Runway 29 for the emergency landing, because as previously mentioned, it’s Lincoln’s longest. But there’s one problem. Joe Patroni has not yet managed to move the jet blocking it.
Bakersfeld gives Patroni a deadline to get the jet moved, or he will order it pushed by the snowplows; a process neither wants as it will incur costly damage to the aircraft. But they must make Runway 29 operational for the stricken incoming airliner. Patroni breaks every rule in the book, but he gets the massive jet to break free from the snow’s grip. Demerest and Harris stick the landing.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
For today’s dose of “Alanis Morrisette”-level irony, I’m using a movie I prefaced this piece as “not hilarious” to tell what might the funniest hidden sports analogy in the entire history of this series.
A few episodes back, I told a tale of the Silna brothers and their quest to own a basketball team. Well, hidden inside that story is the tale of Marvin Barnes, who not only was one of the best players in the American Basketball Association (ABA), he easily could have been the “poster child” for stuff that goes wrong on airplanes.
To understand this, you have to know a bit about Marvin Barnes himself. Barnes came into this world in North Kingstown, Rhode Island on July 27, 1952. He grew up as a poor kid in Providence. But from an early age, Barnes showed an immense talent for basketball. On top of that, he was growing into the frame of a dominant hoopster; he eventually would end up at a hyper-athletic 6’9″ and 230 pounds.
As one would expect, the hardwood paved a road to a better life for Barnes. His basketball prowess got him a leading role taking Providence Central High School to multiple state championships. Barnes was such a force on the hardwood floor the The Providence Journal called him “the greatest basketball talent the city ever produced.”
The problem was Barnes’ high school days contained previews of coming attractions for more than his athletic talents. He also had a reckless streak; the best example came when he and some high school buddies took a city bus for a “joyride.” Barnes was easily identified not only from being a gigantic black kid in predominately white Providence; he was also wearing his letterman’s jacket embossed with his name.
Dismissed as “boys being boys,” Barnes’ hi-jinx didn’t stop him from being a highly sought-after collegiate player. Choosing to stay close to home, as a sophomore Barnes led Providence College to the NCAA Final Four in 1973. At the time, the National Basketball Association (NBA) had a rule against drafting college underclassmen. But the upstart American Basketball Association (ABA) had no such restriction. So, in 1974 when the ABA’s Spirits of St. Louis offered Barnes $300,000 per year, there was little chance the poor kid from Providence was passing up that kind of money in an era when one could buy a brand new Cadillac for 1/100th of that salary.
But sometimes, when you turn a poor kid into a rich kid overnight, interesting things happen. Barely a month after signing his contract with the Spirits of St. Louis, Barnes disappeared from the team only to turn up in a pool hall in Dayton, Ohio. Reportedly, Barnes was upset with his contract, but nobody ever really knew why.
But with all the travel professional athletes do, it was only a matter of time before the “airplane”-related stories started. For starters, there was the time after a game in the “Big Apple” against the Julius “Dr. J” Erving-led New York Nets. Barnes poured in 35 points and snatched 25 rebounds and showed himself to be the better player on the floor that night against the ABA’s biggest star and future Hall-of-Famer.
Such a night led to a celebration which stretched into the early Manhattan morning. As one might expect, young Mr. Barnes didn’t answer his hotel wake-up call. As a result, he missed every flight to Norfolk, Virginia…where the Spirits were playing the Virginia Squires that night.
In order to make the 360-mile trip in time, Barnes hired a private jet. He arrived at the arena with only minutes to spare. In his own inimitable style, Barnes blew into the Spirits’ locker room with a woman on each arm, and a bag of fast-food hamburgers in each hand. When confronted by head coach Bob MacKinnon about his readiness to play, Barnes ripped open his full-length mink coat to reveal he was decked out in his 100% game-ready uniform. MacKinnon benched Barnes for the first quarter; he still inked 43 points and 19 rebounds.
However, basketballers aren’t the only one ones subject to travel issues; you would expect them to be quite common with those whose travel with teams as part of their jobs. In 1974, legendary broadcaster Bob Costas wasn’t a sports icon yet. In fact, he was a 21-year-old fresh out of Syracuse University, and was learning the ropes in his first broadcasting job as the radio play-by-play announcer for the Spirits of St. Louis.
One day, Costas was late getting to Memphis because of a delayed flight. As a result, he missed the start of the Spirits’ game he was supposed to cover. According to Costas in the Terry Pluto book Loose Balls, he was concerned this might cost him him his first job in his chosen career. Instead, he got an offer to be Marvin Barnes’ chaffeur.
“I told the guys they don’t fine people in radio, they fire them for missing games. The guys were listening to me, offering their sympathy. Then Marvin Barnes said, ‘Hey, bro, don’t worry about it. I’ve been looking for a little white dude to drive me around in my Rolls-Royce.”~ Bob Costas as told to Terry Pluto in Loose Balls
But the best Marvin Barnes travel story is the one which tells you he would have never been a fan of Rod Taylor. After an afternoon game against the Kentucky Colonels, the Spirits were scheduled to fly back to St. Louis. However, somewhere in the process, Marvin Barnes noticed the flight was scheduled to leave Louisville at 8 p.m., but was due to arrive in St. Louis at 7:55 p.m. Being blissfully unaware of the time zone difference between the two cities, Barnes declared “I ain’t gettin’ on no muthafuckin’ time machine!” Barnes stormed out of the airport, rented a car, and drove the 260 miles back to St. Louis.
The Moral of the Story:
Had Dante set his Inferno 700 years later than he did, airports would have been one of his rings of hell…and eh probably would have been a fan of Marvin Barnes.
Facts For Aviation Nerds:
During the making of Airport, only one Boeing 707 was used: a model 707-349C, “November” number N324F, which was leased from the cargo carrier Flying Tigers. It’s livery for the film consisted of an El Al “cheat line” over its bare metal finish, with the fictional Trans Global Airlines (TGA) titles and tail. This aircraft served several carriers until March 21, 1989 when it was destroyed in crash while making an approach into São Paulo, Brazil’s Guarulhos Airport (IATA code GRU). At the time, this aircraft was in service as a cargo ship for carrier Transbrasil. The crash killed all three crew members and 22 people on the ground.
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