In a feature here on “Random thoughts of 210Darryl” started a couple of Wednesdays ago I’m listing my favorite movies in a few different genres. We’re starting with my top five favorite comedy movies and counting up toward #1. Last week at #4 was The Jerk, and this week at #3 we have Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker’s Airplane!
What makes this film incredibly funny is that most of the well known actors appearing in Airplane! were at the time not considered not comedic actors. Robert Hays was just a TV character actor and Julie Hagerty was a stage actress who had a role in the film All That Jazz that ended up on the cutting room floor. The rest of the main cast of Airplane! were all “serious” actors with little or no comedy training. What sells the film is Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker have their cast playing the entire movie as if it was one of those schlocky thrillers that were popular at the time.
Every actor simply says their lines as if it’s being played as a straight thriller, with only Stephen Stucker (as air traffic controller Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs) purposefully making funny lines. In fact, his parts were not scripted. Stucker was only given the “straight line” before his and was allowed to throw in whatever struck him at the moment. Everything else, while written to be funny, was played totally straight.
There are few movies that have generated so many funny lines that are still repeated more than 30 years after its release. From Barbara Billingsley’s cameo performance where she tells the stewardess “I speak jive” to Leslie Nielsen repeating “and don’t call me Shirley” and Lloyd Bridges admitting “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop (insert drug use)”, there are so many memorable lines that still make people laugh despite hearing them over and over.
Airplane! is about as far from intellectual comedy as you can get, but it’s funny scenes and one-liners make it one of the best comedy movies ever made.
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
Produced by Jon Davison & Howard W. Koch
Written by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography Joseph F. Biroc
Edited by Patrick Kennedy
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates July 2, 1980
Running time 87 minutes
Budget $3.5 million (est.)
Box office $83,453,539