International Airport (1985)

I’m sure Airport resonated with the fossils who saw it when it first came out way back in 1970. Back in those days, you could slap Burt Lancaster’s name on a movie poster and people would pay to see just about anything, even a movie where he just drove back and forth from his office to different parts of airport!

In those more innocent/clueless days gone by, you could watch a sweaty nervous guy just bring a primitive bomb onto a plane and think “shoot, that could probably happen about six or seven times a week at any old airport!” There were probably even folks back then who actually owed some of star Dean Martin’s record albums!

But what about those of us who grew up in America’s awesome future (the 1980s) where airports had more than two runways? Where we didn’t want to be embarrassed for our film legends cashing an easy paycheck to appear in such lukewarm drivel? And where we didn’t have to endure awkward scenes about abortion (without ever using the dreaded “a” word) because the Supreme Court upheld a sexy stewardess’s right to choose whether or not to put her married playboy pilot’s nuts in a sling over the whole deal? Where is our freaking airport movie?

Like so many times in the 1980s, it’s ABC and Aaron Spelling to the rescue! Upgrading Airport in every way imaginable, International Airport (just the title alone tells you it’s a worldwide kind of awesome despite the most international thing happening is that there is a Latino kid named Pepe on the loose and causing trouble at International Airport) does barrel rolls around Airport with its decidedly low altitude TV movie style thrills that call to mind such disaster entertainment as The Love Boat more than The Towering Inferno or Earthquake.

How else to explain the presence of The Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed (as Carl) at the airport bar getting wasted because his wife left him while old friend, Buck Rogers star Gil Gerard, tries to talk some sense into him? Or the Hulk-sized clash between Bill Bixby and Connie Sellica (Hotel) when she reports to work at Bixby’s control tower only to find that he’s a raving sexist who even questions how Connie will manage to do her job “once a month, when you don’t feel so good?” Playing the menstruation card in her first five minutes on the job? Has anyone committed sexual discrimination in the workplace faster?

Gerard’s airport manager David Montgomery has even bigger problems than the storylines of his fellow recognizable TV stars. There’s also the matter of a note threatening a plane bound for Honolulu which causes him to have to come up with all sorts of crazy plans in the control tower to avert certain disaster!

OK, it really wasn’t certain as the letter’s author admitted on the plane that the whole thing was a hoax in a bizarre bid to settle a personal score with another passenger. That didn’t stop David from first ordering the plane into a descent to dump all the cargo in case the bomb was somewhere in there and then later advising them to ascend to 41,000 feet to catch a 100 mph jet stream they could coast home. (Robert Vaughn played the pilot and he was very good at dramatically pushing and pulling levers in the cockpit.)

In a genius move to bridge the gap between the first four Aiport films and this small screen re-imagining, George Kennedy appears for the fifth time in an Airport film! His character has a different name this time (Rudy instead of Joe), but he’s still the guy who knows every inch of the plane and immediately knows what part of the floor to tear up to get in the aft hold so that the cargo can be dumped. But that’s that the boring part of his character. Much like Reed, Bixby and Sellica, he’s got his own TV movie of the week story to tell!

Rudy is taking his wife Mary to Honolulu for a well deserved vacation. She’s still understandably upset about the death of their only child several years ago, but Rudy has a solution. Remember Pepe? He’s the little kid who lives in the county home because he apparently doesn’t have any parents. Pepe is also the kid who attempts to run an unlicensed shoeshine concession at International Airport and who gets himself locked in a freezer truck while trying to go on the lam from the airport police.

Naturally, Rudy wants to adopt him. And drops this on his wife for the first time while they’re flying to Hawaii. The way she looked at him is one of the two laugh out loud moments in the film (the other is when Carl’s estranged wife tells Montgomery she’s divorcing him because she’s dying) and I don’t think she could’ve given him a worse look if he jumped up on the snack cart and squeezed out a 747-sized turd all over the cocktails and fruit cups.

Everything sorts itself out in satisfying fashion as Mary immediately comes around and demands that Pepe call her “mom” as soon as they make it back to International Airport and she sees him for the first time. Carl and his terminally ill wife work things out and praise Montgomery for being such a nosy bastard about their failing marriage. Bixby’s character is redeemed when he has a nervous breakdown from the pressure of never being able to make a mistake.

Finally, the film’s main character, Montgomery, is much better than Lancaster’s Mel Bakersfeld was in Airport. Where Bakersfeld was constantly bellowing and threatening to stroke out over every crisis that occurred at his airport, Montgomery calmly handled everything, the only clue that there was any pressure being felt was that his tie got loosened at some point. His perfect anchorman-like hair never strayed from its original position on his head. Montgomery is also simply a better man that Bakersfeld was. Bakersfeld had a wife he hated and ignored and kids he was never available for, but being self aware enough about himself and his priorities, Montgomery passes up a sleazy one night stand with the woman in charge of the stewardess school because the airport is his only mistress. Sure, I don’t understand it, but I still respect it!

It’s easy to watch International Airport with its guest stars, multiple stories and problem solving star in the thick of it all and imagine that if the ratings had been gangbusters that we might have seen a weekly series come out of this. Then again, this aired the Saturday night before Memorial Day, 1985 and that’s not exactly a time slot you use to try out something you have a lot of faith in. Still, it’s a must for all of us children of the 80s as the trite TV-friendly stories, the familiar C list actors and Connie Sellica’s clothes, bangs and make up will leave you with a pleasing case of jet lag for that decade.

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