March 9, 2010

The Story Behind AIRPLANE!

I think my favorite cable channel of all-time has to be TCM.  Not only are they commercial free (except for promos for TCM), but they show great movies, uncut and in their original screen formats.   

Over the weekend, TCM had a theme of air disaster movies....definitely not part of its "31 Days of Oscar" program.  Anyway, the double feature I caught was 1980's AIRPLANE! and the movie that it was based on, ZERO HOUR! (also with an exclamation point), a movie from the 1957.  I always saw AIRPLANE! as a spoof of 70s air disaster movies. While it definitely references those films, the basic storyline is lifted from this proto-disaster flick, written by Arthur Hailey who, as it turns out, penned AIRPORT and had a hand in all the subsequent AIRPORT movies.  

In ZERO HOUR! a former WWII pilot with a fear of flying is the only person who can land a commercial plane when the crew gets food poisoning.  That, of course, is the basic plot of AIRPLANE! except in the Zucker's movie, it's not taken seriously at all.  I loved watching the original AIRPLANE! for the umpteennth time .  The girl scout fight in the "Drambuie" nightclub is still hysterical.  As is Mrs. Cleaver speaking jive. And Maureen McCormick as a nun.   A fun fact about Kareem Abdul-Jabar's appearance in the's a direct homage to ZERO HOUR! which cast a pro football player by the name of Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch.   

Finally, ZERO HOUR! was actually remade in 1971 as a TV movie, TERROR IN THE SKY starring Roddy McDowell and written by that air disaster workhorse, Arthur Hailey.  He died in 2004 but left behind the legacy of his own genre....not to mention all the jokes he unwittingly inspired.

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