Airport (1970)

Airport (1970)

“It just so happens we’re in a hell of a mess.”

An airport manager (Burt Lancaster) whose wife (Dana Wynter) is unhappy about his workaholic lifestyle is working overtime yet again alongside his beautiful colleague (Jean Seberg) when he hears about an airplane stuck on a snowy runway. Meanwhile, an unhinged passenger (Van Heflin) with a bomb boards a flight helmed by Lancaster’s brother-in-law (Dean Martin), who despite being married to Lancaster’s sister (Barbara Hale) is having an affair with a stewardess (Jacqueline Bisset). Heflin’s distraught wife (Maureen Stapleton) tries to warn authorities about her husband, but they are distracted by an elderly stowaway (Helen Hayes) who has eluded their detection once again. Will a fearless airplane mechanic (George Kennedy) be able to help save the day when the situation goes completely haywire?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Barbara Hale Films
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Dean Martin Films
  • Disaster Flicks
  • Ensemble Cast
  • George Kennedy Films
  • Helen Hayes Films
  • Jacqueline Bisset Films
  • Jean Seberg Films
  • Marital Problems
  • Van Heflin Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “lavish Ross Hunter-George Seaton financial blockbuster” — “part Grand Hotel, part The High and the Mighty” — “contains stereotypical characters, as well as a familiar plot and cliches by the mouthful, yet it manages to be as entertaining as Arthur Hailey’s novel, and surprisingly suspenseful, too.” He synopsizes the storyline thus:

“While everyone on a recently departed plan and back at the airport tries to sort out their personal problems, things become tense when a bomb explodes on the plane, causing great damage. Will the crippled plane make it back to the airport? Will George Kennedy be able to clear a runway for an attempted landing?

Will anyone in the all-star cast admit they recognize some of the other stars?”

He adds that this “polished ‘commercial’ Hollywood film… might have been really something if Irwin Allen, rather than Seaton, had been director,” pointing out that “surely a hurricane and airport fire would have been thrown in for good measure.”

I’m glad Peary has an overall positive attitude towards this seminal disaster flick — which spawned not only three (inferior) sequels but a direct spoof — since I was pleasantly surprised by it myself. Indeed, I’m tempted to coin a new term — “competence p**n” — given how mercifully competent everyone in this wild adventure is: other than the known loose cannon (Heflin) and one buffoonish troublemaker on the plane (who eventually gets slapped by a priest!):

… each character does their level best to make sure the situation turns out okay. When have we seen such collective competence? Dear goodness, in the age of COVID-19 and all manner of other ecological, national, and global catastrophes, I could watch this type of scenario playing out — and being handled oh, so competently — all day long!

I care not a whit about the fact that sly Hayes (who won an Oscar for her supporting role here) continues eluding “the authorities”:

… or about the shenanigans inevitably going on between the men and their wives and mistresses; in fact, good on Lancaster for deciding that saving lives is more important than accompanying his wife on yet another pointless charity function.

Playing “spot the star” during this flick will have your head spinning; I’ll admit I didn’t even recognize Jean Seberg until I looked at the credits afterwards (she apparently wasn’t happy about her casting in this film, and that makes sense).

Heflin is especially good (and appropriately vulnerable) in his final role:

… and Stapleton is hugely empathetic as his wife.

This one remains worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine performances by the ensemble cast
  • Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography (including nifty use of split-screen effects)

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance as an Oscar-winning and trend-setting disaster flick.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


2 thoughts on “Airport (1970)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    A classic that is easily the best of its series and a well-oiled Hollywood product, expertly crafted. A tad overlong perhaps but certainly must see for FFs.

  2. Not must-see.

    The main problem with this generally sluggish film is its almost-equally sluggish screenplay. It’s a long haul to the finish line. There’s an ok line of dialogue or two every now and then – and, of course, a definite ‘jolt’ in the proceedings in the last half-hour. The rest is popcorn-driven soap opera, of one kind or another. (This kind ends up with a HUGE hole in its bathroom and yet somehow the plane and its people can still stay in the air. … Ok.)

    All that said, my ‘fave’ storyline (the one I find the most compelling) is the one with Stapleton and Heflin. But I *much* prefer ‘Airplane!’

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