Friday, May 31, 2013

Airplane! (1980)

Q: What's slower than a speeding bullet, and able to hit tall buildings at a single bound?
A: Airplane!

Ted Striker has a dilemma: Though they've been separated, he still has a craving for the love of his life, Elaine.  So much so, in fact, that he insists on following her onto a plane on which she works as a stewardess.  That ends up being a bit of a mistake because not only has he had a bad experience on a plane, but passengers are getting sick from food poisoning including the crew... which includes the captain!

In what is still considered one of the best film comedies of all time, "Airplane!"'s cast includes such stars as Robert Hays (Ted Stryker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine), Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack), Robert Stack (Rex Kramer), Peter Graves (Captain Clarence Oveur), Lloyd Bridges (Steve McCroskey), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Roger Murdock), Lorna Patterson (Randy), and Otto (Himself).  Other cameos consist of Barbara Billingsley (Jive Lady), Ethel Merman (Lieutenant Hurwitz), and Windy (Horse in the bed).

It boggles the mind and is hard to believe, but "Airplane!" was directed by three people: Jim Abrahams (this being his directorial debut), and David and Jerry Zucker.  All three of them wrote the screenplay as well.  Nominated for six awards including a BAFTA award for Best Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Picture in the Musical/Comedy category, it did win a Writers Guild of America (Screen) award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium and an award landing itself in the National Film Registry from the National Film Preservation Board.

Still, probably the most rewarding trophies it has ever achieved and continues to achieve to this day are the hurting stomaches of people of all ages all over the world which ache because they've laughed so much during this film.

Having been budgeted and estimated $3.5 million to make, "Airplane!" made its premiere on July 2, 1980 and went on to rake in a phenomenal gross of more than $83.4 million.  It did so well, in fact, that the first two days of the film's gross covered its entire production budget.

Here are some more fun tidbits of behind-the-scenes trivia for you to enjoy...

1.  The film was specially geared to spoof the "Airport" series, but chiefly spoofs "Airport 1975," where Karen Black is a stewardess forced to pilot a plane after both pilots are incapacitated, Linda Blair is a girl needing a kidney transplant, and Helen Reddy plays a singing nun.

2.  The first draft for the movie was written in 1974. Even then, Robert Stack was first choice for the part of Rex Kramer.

3.  The character "Dr. Rumack" was named after a neighbor of the Zuckers', Dr. Barry Rumack, who is now a noted toxicology expert.   

4.  Universal threatened to sue when they found out that the directors were trying to get Helen Reddy to repeat her role as the singing nun from "Airport 1975." George Kennedy from the original Airport movies was also being courted for the film but thought better of running afoul of Universal.

5.  To get the film green-lighted by Paramount, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker pitched it as "'Animal House' on a plane" - which, of course, was far from the truth, but the only way they could get the studio execs to understand it was a zany comedy.

6.  The three directors had a full-on fight on their hands with the Directors' Guild who initially refused to allow for a three director credit.

7.  The entire production took just over a month. Robert Hays was doing the television show "Angie" at the same time.

8.  David Letterman screen-tested for the role of Ted Striker.

9.  Singer/songwriter Barry Manilow was considered for the role of Ted Stryker before Robert Hays was hired.   

10.  Film debut of Julie Hagerty.

11.  The doctor role was Leslie Nielsen's first comedic part. He later said he was delighted to get the offer, fearing that he was getting too old for anything but "elderly grandfather" parts.   

12.  According to his autobiography, Christopher Lee turned down the role of Dr Rumack.

13.  In a 2008 interview on the Today Show, Peter Graves said he was initially insulted and offended by the script for "Airplane!", but was convinced by friends and colleagues to do the movie.  In that same interview on the same show, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told the story of being on a European flight and asked to sit in an empty seat in the cockpit during takeoff so the crew could say they flew with Roger Murdoch.

14.  Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker chose actors such as Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, and Leslie Nielsen because of their reputation for playing no-nonsense characters. Until this film, these actors had not done comedy, so their "straight-arrow" personas and line delivery made the satire in the movie all the more poignant and funny. Bridges was initially reluctant to take his role in the movie, but his sons persuaded him to do it.

15.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's role was originally to be played by Pete Rose, but he was playing baseball at the time of the filming, so the part went to Kareem. He was offered $30,000 to appear in the film, but he asked for $35,000 to buy an oriental rug.

16.  The "Jaws" spoof in the beginning of the film was made of layers of cotton on a piece of plywood with a hidden wire track for the airplane to "fly" around.

17.  The argument between the two P.A. voice-overs about an abortion comes from "a cheap, dime-store novel" according to the trivia track of the DVD version. That "novel" is actually Arthur Hailey's "Airport" (which inspired the movie "Airport").  Also...

18.  For the argument between announcers concerning the white and red zones at the airport, the producers hired the same voice artists who had made the real-world announcements at Los Angeles International Airport. At the real airport, the white zone is for loading and unloading of passengers only, and there's no stopping in the red zone (except for transit buses). They were also married to each other in real life.   

19.  The directors for "Airplane!" made their cameo appearances in it: Jim Abrahams as the second religious zealot who is pushed aside by Rex Kramer upon his arrival in the Chicago Airport terminal.  Jerry Zucker and David Zucker appear as the ground crew at the beginning of the film (they're the ones that direct the plane into the window of the terminal).

20.  For the famous scene of the 747 crashing through the large windows inside the terminal, producer Jon Davidson mentions (in the DVD extras) that after the movie, he received numerous letters from various pilots telling him that they have come very close to re-enacting that very scene in real life, with some pilots admitting that they've come so close as to touch the glass with the noses of their airplanes.   

21.  The Mustang used in the scene where Rex is being brought to the airport was owned by Robert Hays. He got paid $35 a day for its use and they used it for two days.

22.  Most of the jive talk between the two black passengers was improvised by the actors, as the ZAZ team weren't sufficiently "conversant" in black street language.  In the Italian version, the talk between the two black passengers was dubbed in Neapolitan dialect.  In the German version, the talk between the two black passengers was dubbed in heavy Bavarian dialect (with subtitles in standard German).

23.  Stephen Stucker ad-libbed all of his lines as Johnny.

24.  When Captain Oveur asks the young boy if he'd ever seen the inside of a cockpit before, it's not the original line which was ultimately deemed to be too risqué. (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker originally wanted the line to be "Have you ever seen a grown man's c**k?")  (And, no... I don't mean "cook.")

25.  Ethel Merman insisted on bringing her own hairdresser to set.  She could only be on set after noon as it took all morning to set her hair.

26.  "Stayin' Alive" was sped up for the dance scene of the film. Permission from The Bee Gees had to be obtained to speed it up.
27.  Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty rehearsed their "Stayin' Alive" dance routine for a month before filming it.   
28.  Despite featuring a spoof of the beach scene of "From Here to Eternity," none of the three directors had actually seen the original film.
29.  In the scene where the husband turns on the air for his sick wife, you see in the background a man wearing a large beard, it was supposed to fly off in the wind, but the adhesive they used wouldn't let the beard come loose. The man can be seen moving his face back and forth and scrunching his face trying to help it come off.
30.  A disco station in the film is called WZAZ, a reference to filmmakers David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker. The same initials appear on one of the microphones in the scene with the reporters in the control tower.
31.  In their own languages, the Italian title of the movie is "The Craziest Plane In The World."  The film's title in Argentina was "And where is the pilot?"  The film's title in Germany was "The Incredible Trip in a Crazy Airplane."  The title in Brazil is "Tighten your seat belts... The pilot is gone!"  In Spain the title was "Land As You Can."  In Norway, the title of this movie is "Help! We're flying!"  The French title of the movie translates to "Is there a pilot on the plane?"  And the Polish title of the movie is "Is the pilot flying with us?"
32.  Co-writer/director David Zucker said that years after the movie's release, Woody Allen came up to him at a New York Knicks game and told Zucker how much he loved the movie. Zucker said that, since he and the movie's other writer-directors were heavily influenced by Allen's early comedies, Zucker was very touched.
33.  The directing trio passed on the opportunity of making "Airplane II: The Sequel" as they felt that they'd exhausted every airport gag with this film.
34.  Three serious actors who made their comedy debuts in this movie - Peter Graves, Barbara Billingsley and Leslie Nielsen - all died in 2010, the film's 30th anniversary year.
35.  Otto, the automatic pilot, ultimately disintegrated after spending several years in Jerry Zucker's garage. (May he/it Rest In Peace.)

36.  Final film of Ethel Merman.  (May she Rest In Peace, too.)
Without further hestitance, enjoy some of these pictures from the film that remind us of the hilarious moments throughout...

Reporter: What kind of plane is it? Johnny: Oh, it's a big pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the windows and wheels and it looks like a big Tylenol.

No comments:

Post a Comment