Joe Patroni is back! The spiritual center of the Airport series (strictly by default since he’s the only recurring character in all four films) completes a journey that began in the original Airport when he was the chief mechanic who helped shovel out a snowbound plane on Runway 29. Since that blizzardy night, he’s become an executive at a different airline, gone on to be a liaison between the military and yet another company, before finally settling in at a fourth airline as a pilot who now magically has 30 years experience flying all manner of aircraft!
And like his professional life, his personal life has gone through the sort of changes most of us go through in 10 years time (if our lives were written by several different people who didn’t care what anyone else wrote before), like inexplicably going from having five kids in the first film to downsizing to just the beloved Joe, Jr., having his beloved wife killed in a car accident (offscreen of course – who has the budget to shoot a car accident when you’re paying salaries for such luminaries as Jimmie Walker?), and now eagerly partaking of his beloved high priced hookers provided by his French co-pilot at various stopovers.
In many ways, Joe’s development as a character is a microcosm of the entire Airport series, going from the moderately over-the-top and trashy Airport, settling in for two fairly routine middle adventures (Airport 1975, Airport ’77) before finally bursting back onto the scene for an adventure so crazy that it sends not only the series, but the entire 1970s disaster genre out in an absurdly blinding blaze of glory much like what happened when Joe, the pilot with 30 years experience, accidentally discharged a flare gun in the cockpit while in the middle of trying to avoid having the Concorde hit by a missile!
If it was anyone but Joe, you’d be worried that once they landed, he’d be grounded for a little while so that a bunch of pencil pushing bureaucrats could grill Joe about just what the hell he was doing when he thought it would be good idea to brandish the flare gun in the cockpit (and only after opening the cockpit window to shoot a flare to distract the missile), but who has time to attend disciplinary hearings when you’re taking the edge off of narrowly surviving an attack by an unmanned drone and a fighter jet by pumping hookers all night and have a flight to Moscow the next morning!
But who would want to shoot down a Concorde full of Love Boat refugees? Just another TV star named Robert Wagner! He plays Ken Harrison, a weapons designer who has a couple of big time problems. One is that he’s been illegally selling arms to terrorist countries. Even worse is that he’s stupidly kept track of these illegal dealings in handy dandy files, complete with his freaking signature on the invoices! But the worse ramps up to Mach 2 when the files are given to a nosy reporter! A nosy reporter who happens to be his girlfriend! A girlfriend who happens to be taking the Concorde that very day!
To his credit, Harrison works overtime to try and correct his record keeping blunder. First he has a test flight of his latest surface to air missile reprogrammed to blow up the Concorde. When that fails, he immediately hires a mercenary who just happens to own a fully armed F-4 Phantom II fighter jet in the area and is willing to risk battling the French Air Force to shoot down the Concorde. And when that unsurprisingly doesn’t work, he tries to make nice with his girlfriend by pretending he will go public with the information.
But you know how unforgiving women are when they feel like you’ve duped them about being an international criminal, so it’s back to the drawing board for another crazy “destroy the Concorde” scheme, this time involving paying a mechanic to plant a device on the plane which will cause the cargo doors to open in flight, depressurizing and destroying the plane. All these resources at your disposal and you never think to just have her murdered when she’s in Paris waiting for the flight the next morning? So many times we just outsmart ourselves.
But you know who didn’t outsmart themselves? Martha Raye! Martha appears as a passenger who constantly has to use the bathroom on the plane! During one of the plane’s hard landings, she is of course in the bathroom and when she comes out in the greatest moment in all four Airport films, she’s soaked in toilet water and dejectedly announces to everyone on the plane that the bathroom is broken. During the next day’s flight to Moscow, she is back on board, but this time she says she’s not using the bathroom and instead demands more alcohol! Finally, someone in these movies actually learned something!
The Concorde… Airport ’79 is a Super Sonic Transport of unintended hilarity with characters seemingly introduced at random and then in the best Airport tradition, completely forgotten about. What was the point of having Charo show up smuggling a small dog other than to tease the audience for an inflight cuchi cuchi song and dance number that never comes? Did we ever find out what happened with the heart that was packed in ice and being transported for a transplant? And Jimmie Walker smoking a blunt and playing the saxophone during the flight? This jet didn’t just break the sound barrier, it surely broke moviegoer’s brains, too!
By the time John Davidson marries himself to a Russian gymnast just before the plane makes a hard landing in a snow field in the Alps that the co-pilot remembered was there because he previously skied in the area, one has to wonder if all the people who say they love the over-praised parody Airplane! that came out a year later, didn’t actually see The Concorde… Airport ’79 instead.
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