Film Review – AIRPORT (1970)

AIRPORT (1970, USA, 137m, PG) ***
Drama, Thriller
dist. Universal Pictures; pr co. Universal Pictures / Ross Hunter Productions; d. George Seaton; w. George Seaton (based on the novel by Arthur Hailey); pr. Ross Hunter; ph. Ernest Laszlo (Technicolor | 2.20:1); m. Alfred Newman; ed. Stuart Gilmore; ad. E. Preston Ames, Alexander Golitzen.
cast: Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfeld), Dean Martin (Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (D.O. Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Demerest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan), John Findlater (Peter Coakley), Jessie Royce Landis (Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman), Larry Gates (Commissioner Ackerman), Peter Turgeon (Marcus Rathbone), Whit Bissell (Mr. Davidson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Schultz), Eileen Wesson (Judy Barton).
The cycle of 1970s all-star, big-budget disaster movies began with this adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s best-selling novel. Lancaster plays the general manager of a Chicago-area airport, who must contend with a massive snowstorm and other issues, both work-related and personal, while the troubled Heflin threatens to blow up an airliner on a flight to Rome piloted by Martin. The first half of the film sets up the characters and their domestic situations and is deliberately paced by Seaton, who uses various split-screen techniques, skilfully edited by Gilmore, to help with pacing. His script is wordy, and dialogue is sometimes stilted as he often feels the need to explain airport protocol through character discussion. Lancaster is imposing and Martin plays the material deadly straight. Kennedy’s confident trouble-shooter, Joe Patroni, would go on to appear in all three sequels. The rest of the cast give solid if often earnest, performances and Hayes won an Oscar for her eccentric stowaway. The tension, aided by Newman’s vigorous score, builds in the final third as Heflin is discovered and the threat to the flight becomes real. The film inexplicably received ten Oscar nominations, but only Hayes picked up an award. Hailey was reportedly paid $500,000 for the screen rights. Henry Hathaway directed some of the outdoor winter scenes uncredited covering for a sick Seaton. This was the final film of both Heflin and Landis. Shot in 70 mm Todd-AO. Followed by three sequels: AIRPORT 1975 (1974), AIRPORT ‘77 (1977), and THE CONCORDE…AIRPORT ’79 (1979).
AA: Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Helen Hayes).
AAN: Best Picture; Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maureen Stapleton); Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (George Seaton); Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo); Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Alexander Golitzen, E. Preston Ames, Jack D. Moore, Mickey S. Michaels); Best Costume Design (Edith Head); Best Sound (Ronald Pierce, David H. Moriarty); Best Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore) and Best Music, Original Score (Alfred Newman).