Airplane! (Paramount Presents)

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Paramount;
Comedy;
$29.99 Blu-ray, $16.99 Steelbook;
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Even though it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary, Airplane! Is one of those movies that just seems timeless. The comedy remains as funny as it ever has, despite the multiple viewings many viewers will have had of the film by now.

The story involves a passenger plane from Los Angeles to Chicago falling under trouble after the flight crew and many of the passengers fall ill due to food poisoning. The only other pilot on board is Ted (Robert Hays), the veteran of an unspecified war dealing with PTSD, and who is only on the plane to try to win back former flame Elaine (Julie Hagerty), one of the flight attendants.

Aside from countless sight gags, puns and deadpan recitations of absurd dialogue, the film’s great strength it spoofs the entire genre of disaster movies, rather than relying on specific pop culture references (though there are a few that will seem outdated, they are easy enough to move past considering the rapid pace of the gags).

But Airplane! also holds up thanks to its endearing characters and the memorable performances behind them. In addition to Hays and Hagerty, there’s Lloyd Bridges as the chief flight controller trying to keep the situation under control, to Peter Graves as the pilot hoping to impress young boys in his cockpit, to Robert Stack as the cocky pilot brought in to talk Ted through landing the plane. Then there’s Leslie Nielsen, former dramatic leading man whose late-in-life reputation for slapstick comedy roles kicked off with his pitch perfect performance as the dead serious doctor trying to treat all the passengers for food poisoning.

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The writing-directing team of Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker took special care to ensure that the touchstone gags were funny in their own right, not simply relying on audiences to recognize a reference to something that was popular at the time, as so many parodies of the past 10 years have done.

At the same time, film historians have had a field day picking apart the primary inspirations for the film. For the most part, Airplane! Is a remake of the 1957 air-flight disaster drama Zero Hour!, re-creating so many scenes and lifting so much dialogue verbatim from that film that the filmmakers ended up buying the rights to the original film’s screenplay. But the film also borrows heavily from 1970’s Airport and its increasingly preposterous sequels, even down to specific camera angles.

Interestingly, the original novel on which Airport was based was written by Arthur Hailey, who also co-wrote the Zero Hour! Screenplay. Maybe he should have received an honorary co-writing credit on Airplane! as well.

Ultimately, of course, Airplane! proved so effective at spoofing its source material that it’s likely to have a longer lasting legacy than any of the movies its aping. In fact, those older movies are now almost impossible to take seriously anymore without bringing Airplane! to mind.

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For its new 40th anniversary Blu-ray re-release, Paramount has cleaned up the film with a new 4K scan that makes the colors pop and brings out more textures and details than earlier HD releases.

However, the studio has continued its frustrating trend of eliminating legacy material for its new “premium” edition Blu-ray line. For those who don’t have the movie on Blu-ray yet, it’s an easy pick-up. But fans of the movie who want all the available extras aren’t going to want to switch out their older copies any time soon.

The only extra carried over from the 2011 Blu-ray is the audio commentary with producer Jon Davison, Abrahams and the Zuckers. The new Blu-ray does add an isolated track of Elmer Bernstein’s standout musical score (from this film to Ghostbusters and others in the 1980s, the veteran composer had picked up quite a reputation for scoring comedies).

Both these audio options are found not in the extras section, but in the audio setup section.

The two newly produced featurettes debuting with this Blu-ray are pretty good. The first is a nine-minute “Filmmaker Focus” mixing interviews with Abrahams and the Zuckers with clips from the movie as they recount the production. The other is a 35-minute Q&A with the directors filmed at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood at an event held Jan. 10, 2020.

Missing from earlier releases are the trailer, a trivia track and the “Long Haul” version that offered prompts during the film for viewers to access deleted scenes, interviews and other bonus content. Surely some of these could have been repackaged as standalone extras.

Compounding the confusion is why Paramount would include a digital code with a less-expensive Steelbook edition containing the same disc, but omit the digital copy from the version with the standard Presents packaging that includes a slipcover with fold-out movie poster. It’s almost like a dare to not to buy the Presents titles.

Great Day in the Morning

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive
Warner;
Western;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Stars Virginia Mayo, Robert Stack, Ruth Roman, Raymond Burr, Alex Nicol.

By the year Great Day in the Morning was released, owner Howard Hughes had finished ruining RKO Pictures to the point where he now could sell it — thus enabling him to pursue worthier pursuits like, say, seeking out the right size of Kleenex-Box loafers that folklore says that he would sport in his lair from time to time. The new 1955 purchasers had been the General Tire and Rubber Company, which wasn’t quite the final word in Dream Factory glamour, so I suppose it was something of a miracle that a movie as respectable as 1956’s Great Day in the Morning made it into theaters during this final period before almost immediate studio extinction.

As its year’s Westerns go, this pre-Civil War love triangle is hardly The Searchers (which opened 10 days later) or 7 Men from Now; it’s not even an impressive second-tier achievement like Delmer Daves’s Jubal, which still remains formidable enough to have rated Criterion treatment. But as an assignment for director Jacques Tourneur, who rarely was given break-the-bank budgets, it merits the “mid sleeper” accolade if you can get over the once de rigueur Indian shoot-out that opens the action and then a Confederate point of view. We’re basically talking something the Tourneur level of, say, Anne of the Indies, Circle of Danger and Wichita — all of them movies I like to a relaxing degree yet ones that wouldn’t get anyone to say, “Let’s go the mat defending them.”

Still, if you like electric color schemes photographed for the wide screen — here the process was the initially short-lived Superscope, which much later evolved into todays’ Super 35 — prepare to indulge. This opportunity doesn’t arrive, though, until after some exposition that finds a Confederate loner (Robert Stack) smelling the aroma of elusive gold in 1861 Colorado. Until some angry Native Americans interrupt the journey, he’s working his way toward what turns out to be Denver, though a Denver strikingly humble in appearance. One cannot conceivably imagine the John Elway of merely a century-plus later lobbing forward-pass bombs — and in a stadium where beers probably cost even more than what Morning’s shifty saloon owner (Raymond Burr, once again corpulent  enough to earn his character’s name: “Jumbo”) is charging to thirsty prospectors.

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Stack is rescued unexpectedly by a blonde looker (Virginia Mayo) traveling with protective males, his life saved thanks to a shot fired by Leo Gordon (in glorified cretin mode) who immediately regrets his act upon learning that the apolitical Stack nonetheless harkens from North Carolina. Gordon is a “former” sergeant in the Union army, and one can only imagine just how transgression turned him into the past tense, though the other bodyguard (Alex Nicol, smitten with Mayo) is more agreeable. Her goal in Denver, by the way, is to open a women’s store full of intimate wear to service the two women in town who wouldn’t be mistaken for Marjorie Main or Minerva Urecal.

Actually, the only other obvious town looker besides Mayo herself is saloon associate Ruth Roman — she of an amazing turquoise dress that is so dramatic a visage that some fan of this Warner Archive Blu-ray posted a representative still (and in the correct aspect ratio) on my Facebook newsfeed page. Roman takes one look at Bob’s bare chest, determines that boss Burr isn’t the way to go and rigs a poker game to enable Stack to take over the joint. Burr was at the tail end of a villainous tenure that served him (and the movies) so well from about 1947-56 — about a year-and-a-half away from premiering in somewhat slimmed-down fashion as TV’s “Perry Mason.” You can effortlessly envision the CBS purchase order to whatever the Costco of the day was, ordering him 800,000 water pills.

Colorado, thus far noncommittal, is full of both Yankees and Rebels, but the situation won’t last long, and Stack needs to get what he can get from a ton of now-dead claims before more Northern military arrives and makes away with all territorial spoils this side of Mayo’s lingerie. The last situation plays out in ways that result in perhaps predictable fatalities, especially when Stack finds life in one of the deceased mines; as a result, the original burned-out prospector, working side-by-side, balks at paying Stack an agreed-to 50% share for having received a grubstake for a second try. This all makes it tough on the local priest (Regis Toomey), who has to maintain peace between factions — kind of like the way that that clergyman did between invading aliens and earthlings in George Pal’s version of The War of the Worlds. Of course, you may recall that he ends up being melted by death rays.

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Adapted from a Robert Hardy Andrews novel that had been kicking around a few years, the screenplay by Lesser Samuels (hey, I thought he was blacklisted in the ’50s) has some pretty fair dialogue (occasional zingers included) for a borderline A-picture from the era. Morning is a type of picture that has always interested me: One where the parties involved tried to go an extra half-mile when one cared or was looking (certainly not General Tire and Rubber). Of course, this one had more resources than others in its situation had: Tourneur, who had cult favorites Nightfall and Curse of the Demon coming up next; Colorado locations around Silverton; 2:1 framing for theaters that wished to show it that way; Technicolor (not the discontinued three-strip kind but at least with stable IB printing, which was more than Warner Bros. could boast at the time, The Searchers aside); and that Ruth Roman dress, of which I can’t say enough or more, other than to add that Roman is pretty good in the role.

To use his oft-employed highly expressive Trump adjective, I wasn’t “nice” to Roman recently by taking a mild swipe. I still think she leaned toward the overwrought, and Hitchcock himself is said to have been perturbed that Warner forced her on him for Strangers on a Train. Here, though, she’s less icy than usual while co-offering an undeniable workable contrast in personality against the more outgoing Mayo. The movie’s key problem is that a key character gets killed off a little too early (no spoilers), and we’re forced to root when Stack locates his inner Confederate for the big action conclusion. The last probably plays better with regions where even fast-food joints serve juleps than it does with a lot of 2019-ers, myself included.

Still, it’s gratifying that Warner Archive has elected to give a picture this relatively obscure the full treatment, including four much earlier Tourneur MGM short subjects as well. However, it’s worth mentioning that at the time, Morning was popular enough to get held over for a second week at one of my hometown’s downtown theaters (co-feature was Bill Williams in Wire Tapper, which couldn’t have done much for the gate). This wasn’t all that common at the time unless the picture was a commercial blockbuster — which leads me to note that two of the other competing theaters weren’t running Bowery Boys movies but the Burt-Tony-Gina Trapeze and some minor piece of change called The King and I. This all correctly indicates that audiences really used to love their Westerns once they veered away from the coasts.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Glorifying the American Girl’ and ‘Great Day in the Morning’