Review of Airport '77 from Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1977

Airport '77


U.S.A., 1977                                                        Director:  Jerry Jameson


Cert--A.  dist--CIC.  p.c--Universal.  exec. p--Jennings Lang.  p--William Frye.  p. manager--Lloyd Anderson.  2nd Unit p. manager--Don Roberts.  2nd Unit d--Michael Moore.  asst. d--Wilbur Mosier, Bob Graner, Jim Nasella.  sc--Michael Sheff, David Spector.  story--H.A.L. Craig, Charles Kuenstle, inspired by the film Airport based on the novel by Arthur Hailey.  ph--Philip Lathrop.  Panavision.  col--Technicolor.  2nd Unit ph--Rexvor Metz.  miniatures--Cleo E. Baker.  matte ph--Bill Taylor, Dennis Glouner.  sp. ph. effects--Albert Whitlock.  ed--J. Terry Williams, Robert Watts.  p. designer--George C. Webb.  set dec--Mickey S. Michaels.  sp. effects--Frank Brendel.  m/m.d--John Cacavas.  song--"Beauty Is in the Eyes of the Beholder" by and sung by Tom Sullivan.  cost--Edith Head.  titles/optical effects--Universal Title.  s. ed--Jim Troutman.  sd. rec--Charles D. Knight, Robert Knudson.  stunt co-ordinator--Stan Barrett.  marine co-ordinator--Manfred Zendar.  l.p--Jack Lemmon (Don Gallagher), Lee Grant (Karen Wallace), Brenda Vaccaro (Eve Clayton), Joseph Cotten (Nicholas St. Downs III), Olivia de Havilland (Emily Livingston), Darren McGavin (Stan Buchek), Christopher Lee (Martin Wallace), Robert Doxworth (Chambers), Robert Hooks (Eddie), Monte Markham (Banker), Kathleen Quinlan (Julie), Gil Gerard (Frank Powers), James Booth (Ralph Crawford), Monica Lewis (Anne), Maidie Norman (Dorothy), Pamela Bellwood (Lisa), Arlene Golonka (Mrs. Jane Stern), Tom Sullivan

As part of the celebrations for the opening of his private museum, multi-millionaire Philip Stevens transports his guests--along with an additional cargo of artworks--in a custom-built luxury airliner.  The passengers include Stevens' rebellious daughter Lisa and her young son; Emily Livingston and her old flame Nicholas St. Downs III; Karen and Martin Wallace, an unhappily married couple locked in a sado-masochistic relationship; and the plane's designer, Stan Buchek.  Also on board is Stevens' secretary Eve Clayton, who has been pilot Don Gallagher's long-time lover; and for the guests entertainment, blind piano-player Steve.   With the prior connivance 0of the co-pilot, a sophisticated plot to hijack the craft is put smoothly into effect.  In its final stages, however, the plan goes awry when the craft hits an off-shore oilrig in the fog.  Still intact, the plane settles beneath the sea's surface on a sandbank.  Gallagher manages to  calm the panicking passengers and organise help for the wounded; he also captures one of the hijackers alive, but is aware that since their whereabouts are unknown there is little chance of rescue.  As the fuselage begins to yield under the pressure of the water, Gallagher determines to reach the surface and signal for h3lp.  Martin Wallace volunteers to go with him but is killed in the attempt.  Gallagher's radio signals are picked up and the Navy begins a submarine rescue in the hope of raising the plane intact.  Stevens flies in and watches as the initially faltering operation finally proves successful.  Reunited with his daughter and grandson, he watches the fuselage sink beneath the waves.

"I think you'll agree," remarks James Steward laconically in the pre-credit sequence of Airport '77, "that we brought the guests down in style".  Stylishness is not, however, the most obvious characteristic of what follows.  The regulation assembly of motley characters, brought together on an appropriately grandiose pretext, regale the viewer with a quick litany of their neuroses and marital problems.  Lulls in the action are thereafter studded with capsule revelations, like that of Philip Stevens' terminal illness, dispensed in an amazingly cavalier fashion.  But the project's most disconcerting aspect is its refusal to make anything of its rather nicely diversified cast, all of whom acquit themselves with some aplomb in roles which (Lemmon's apart) seem to exist only in shreds.  Like is predecessors, however, Airport '77 is less concerned with the details of its characters' lives than with simply establishing their financial status, less with the interaction of character than with the titillating tension between complete technological breakdown and the assertion of that same technology's ultimate invincibility.  The film acquits itself reasonably well in this department, with the spectacularly realised crash and the detailed description of the U.S. Navy's real-live submarine rescue routine (capably handled, some unconvincing model shots apart).  But despite the fact that it manages to incorporate key ingredients from such forerunners as Juggernaut and The Poseidon Adventure, as well as from the original Airport, Airport '77 is neither as riveting as it should be, given the elemental phobia it exploits, nor as much fun as its absurd plotline might suggest.

--Verina Glaessner