'Airport' Review: Baby, It’s Cold Outside
If you’re living in the American Midwest or anywhere else that’s had even half of our weather recently, you’re probably sick to death of snow. It’s cold, it’s wet, it makes people forget how to drive… as much as we may romanticize it, the stuff honestly kinda sucks. But here I am, with my first review for our 70s Oscars month, 1970’s Airport, a film which follows the many goings on at a snowed-in Chicago airfield.
Airport is a movie built on many little working parts, as it begins with a series of seemingly unrelated stories from people around town. Manager Mel Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster) is forced to stay late because of the storm, prompting a fight with his wife (Dana Wynter). Captain Vernon Demarest (Dean Martin) discovers that his mistress flight attendant, Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), is pregnant with his child. Customer relations head Tanya Livingston (Jean Seberg) is forced to confront an elderly chronic stowaway, Ms. Quonsett (Helen Hayes). And a down-on-his-luck husband, D. O. Guerrero believes he has one last great ploy to keep his wife, Inez (Maureen Stapleton), secure for the rest of her life. On their own, each of these little story bits would be rather bland to pull for a nearly 140-minute film, but it’s the way that they all interweave and work on top of one another that really pushes this film over the edge.
Really, that’s the main selling point for the movie, though, just seeing the artful writing that gets Gurrero attempting to blow up a plane, puts Vernon in the cockpit, lets Ms. Quonsett slip out from under Tanya’s grasp and onto the same flight, and makes Mel have to control all of it. To me, this is the most riveting part of the film, because going into it expecting the disaster epic it was billed as and the genre it eventually spawned will just disappoint. It’s got all the framework of a good disaster movie, sure, but it doesn’t have the budget or the technology to match up with today’s understanding of the style. It’s really more the journey than the destination with this one, although once Guerrero’s plot is revealed, it does balance the tension exceedingly well.
Outside of these bits, the rest of the film is really only just so-so. The casting is great, as are the effects and cinematography, but they’re not the most engrossing thing you’ll ever watch. My main concern with Airport is really its runtime. As mentioned earlier, it’s well over two hours in total, and the movie’s already more than half over by the time anyone catches on to Guerrero. While all these little character bits are really great, I sort of wonder if there wouldn’t have been a way to cut some of them out. Maybe we don’t need Vernon fighting with the crew cleaning the runways? Maybe we don’t need to have him and Gwen discuss their options with the baby (although seeing a frank discussion about abortion all but in name from a social figure like Dean Martin at this time was pretty astounding)? Or maybe just cut the whole subplot about the noise pollution from the airport on the nearby suburbs? I’m not sure, but I feel like if the movie could just slim down below that 120-minute mark, it might have been a little stronger.
For these reasons, it’s hard to put a real pin on my thoughts about Airport. I certainly enjoyed it, but I can see where someone less invested in the craft of storytelling or who just got introduced to the film incorrectly could dislike it. I definitely think it was a bold choice to go up for an Oscar in its time, because it’s nowhere near the kind of mass-appeal or artistic film that seems to make their Best Picture lists these days. For me, I’d have to say that if you’re a fan of movies or just want to see a truly masterful way of weaving a plot, Airport is a great find. If you’re just looking for drama and something to munch popcorn to, maybe go back to a Michael Bay movie, or at least go put in Airplane! for the hundredth time for some classic laughs.