Filmsite Movie Review
Airplane! (1980)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

The next sequence was often excerpted as a memorable clip - a spoof of the disco-era Saturday Night Fever (1977) when Ted remembered how he first met Elaine in a Casablanca-style bar during the war. Striker recollected in a major flashback (introduced by ripples) his first acquaintance with her - when he was wearing a white Navy dress uniform, even though he was in the US Air Force (typically with dark blue uniforms)! [Note: the US military would have disallowed wearing a military uniform in any bar!] His eyes tracked up the long legs of a stripper in a red dress standing on the bar in front of him - surprisingly, she was one of the musicians playing a sultry tune on a trombone!

I was in the Air Force stationed in Drambuie, off the Barbary Coast. I used to hang out at the Magumba bar. It was a rough place - the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It's worse than Detroit. The mood in the place was downright ugly. You wouldn't walk in there unless you knew how to use your fists. You could count on a fight breaking out almost every night.

[Note: Drambuie was a type of Scottish liqueur, not a geographical location. Other Striker geographic recollections were also extremely suspect. The Barbary Coast is located on the Mediterranean coastline off Northern Africa, but Striker refers to the pirate-cutthroats in the bar from Bombay to Calcutta, on the west and east coasts of India!]

(Naturally, a fist-fight brawl broke out during a card game between two pig-tailed uniformed Girl Scouts (Sandra Lee Gimpel and Paula Marie Moody). They crashed tables and chairs, and when the juke box was destroyed by one of them tossed head-first into it, Bee Gee's Saturday Night Fever music started to play - a sped-up version of "Stayin' Alive," and bar-goers began to dance under a disco ball.)

I didn't go there that night to fall in love, I just dropped in for a couple of drinks. But, suddenly there she was. I was captivated, entranced. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I had to ask the guy next to me to pinch me, to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I was afraid to approach her, but that night, fate was on my side.

(The muscular tattooed guy asked to pinch Ted backed away, thinking it was a homosexual advance. Elaine's dancing partner was knifed in the back, and as he erratically gestured toward his back, Elaine mistakenly thought he was demonstrating a new dance move, and she copied him - as he collapsed and died. Ted saw his opportunity - he tossed away his white Air Force cap that boomeranged back and hit the bartender. He went up to Elaine, tossed away his white coat - that also boomeranged - revealing his John Travolta-like white vest/pants dance garb underneath. Both began to disco together as a cheering crowd gathered around. He tossed her high up into the air and caught her, and the two performed other impossible, gravity-defying dance moves on the smoky floor. Ted even performed the Russian squat dance (the Kazatsky). By the end of the night after the bar had completely emptied, Ted and Elaine were slow-dancing as a janitor swept the floor - and the two Girl Scouts were still feuding.)

We laughed, we talked, we danced I never wanted it to end. I guess I still don't. But, enough about me, I hope this hasn't been boring for you. Its just that whenever I talk about Elaine, I get so carried away, I lose all track of time.

After the lengthy exposition, Striker looked over at his elderly, long-suffering, bored seat-mate, the Hanging Lady - who had killed herself by hanging. Elaine asked Joey's family, Mr. Jim Hammen (Nicholas Pryor) and Mrs. Hammen (Lee Bryant) about their choice for the in-flight dinner entree - either steak or fish. Joey ordered the steak and his parents ordered fish. A well-dressed, very mature Young Boy (David Hollander) carrying a tray offered an equally-mature Young Girl (Michelle Stacy) coffee, and then asked if she wanted cream - she replied: "I take it my men." [Note: This was a parody of a short scene in Crash Landing (1958).]

After switching seats, Ted was now next to a different male passenger, as Elaine recalled another flashback - Ted's passionate kiss with her on the beach while covered in kelp - a non-romantic spoof of From Here to Eternity (1953). She remembered being happy, but was disappointed when he told her his orders were to ship out the next day - for a 'classified' mission - the bombing of storage depots at Daiquiri at 18:00 hours, coming from the North under the enemy's radar.

By this time, Elaine was able to allow permission for Joey to visit the cockpit, where pedophilic Captain Oveur was commanding the plane.

[Note: Peter Graves' character reflected his earlier NBC-TV series role in the 'western' Fury (1955-1960), as Jim Newton, the recently-widowed manager of the Broken Wheel Ranch in California. He was the adoptive father of a young orphaned boy named Joey Clark Newton (Bobby Diamond). In the TV show, Jim would often ask his son: "Joey, have you ever... ?"]

Captain Oveur delivered a number of deadpanned, sexually-prurient, inappropriate and provocative lines to the young boy, among others:

"Have you ever been in a cockpit before?"
"You ever seen a grown man naked?"
"Joey, did you ever hang around a gymnasium?"

The next sequence was young Joey's questioning of co-pilot Roger Murdock - claiming he was really Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar - and Joey said his dad thought Kareem was lazy on the court: "My dad says you don't work hard enough on defense. And he says that lots of times, you don't even run down court. And that you don't really try except during the playoffs." Murdock broke character and grabbed Joey:

The hell I don't! LISTEN, KID! I've been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I'm out there busting my buns every night! Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes!

Oveur interrupted with another questionable inquiry - a reference to Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960):

"Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"

Ted and Elaine spoke further about remembering the earlier days of their relationship (Elaine: "Mostly, I remember the nights when we were together. I remember how you used to hold me and how I used to sit on your face and wiggle, and afterwards how we'd watch 'til the sun came up"). Upset, she ran off as Ted experienced another frightening flashback.

After crashing his bomber plane, Ted was convalescing in a US ARMY PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL (the sign indicated payment could be made by VISA or MasterCard, Pentathol was available, and one of the white-coated doctors had an STP sticker on his back, as he told another patient: "This won't hurt much"). Elaine was visiting Ted, who was oil-painting in bed - a nightmarish picture of a Rambo-like machine-gun wielding soldier jumping from an exploding Jeep with an upside-down infant baby held in one hand. Suffering from shell-shock and guilt, he recalled the trauma: "Because of my mistake, six men didn't return from that raid" - Elaine reminded him of his inaccurate count: "Seven. Lieutenant Zip died this morning." The camera revealed that Ted's painting was based on a live-subject model-Contortionist (Bill Porter) standing in an awkward stance with an explosion backdrop, who was tired and asked to be relieved: "How about a break, I'm getting tired."

Elaine suggested that they settle down to domestic life: "I have found a wonderful apartment for us. It has a brick fireplace and a cute little bedroom with mirrors on the ceiling and...," but Ted (and other comrades in the hospital) were "still fighting the war." Ted told how Lieutenant Hurwitz in a nearby hospital bed thought he was Ethel Merman (Herself) - and there was a brief cameo by the real-life actress/singer (crooning: "You'll be swell. You'll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate. Startin' here. Startin' now. Honey, everything's coming up roses" - her signature theme song from the 1959 Broadway hit Gypsy). Ted summarized: "War is hell!" - as the flashback ended.

Back on board the plane, pretty air stewardess Randy (Lorna Patterson) served coffee to the Hammens. When the husband uncharacteristically took a cup, the wife became suspicious: "Jim never has a second cup at home" (a parody of a 1972 Yuban Coffee commercial - "It's rich coffee worth a second cup"). Then, Randy approached the Nun to presumably ask for a prayer for the sick girl, but instead asked to borrow the Nun's guitar. As she moved down the center aisle to the front of the plane, she banged it into many passengers' heads. In a direct parody of Airport 1975 (1974) - in the scene where Helen Reddy portrayed guitar-strumming Sister Ruth playing the song Best Friend for teenaged kidney transplant patient Janice Abbott (Linda Blair of The Exorcist (1973)) - she strummed and sang Peter Yarrow's River of Jordan to entertain the young ailing patient Lisa. Other passengers perked up to the music (including the happy and smiling flight crew) and began clapping in unison, including an Upside-Down Man (Larry Blake) who emerged from the ceiling and the two Hare Krishna devotees. Randy kept continually knocking out Lisa's I-V drip with the guitar neck.

In the cabin, Ted spoke of his post-war years to his new seat-mate Japanese General (James Hong) with another flashback to his experience in the Peace Corps with Elaine:

Elaine and I joined the Peace Corps. We were assigned to an isolated tribe: the Malumbos. They'd never seen Americans before. It was really a challenge during the year introducing them to our western culture. At first they didn't know what to think of us, but soon we gained their trust.

At first, Ted taught the bewildered tribal leader a soul-brother handshake and a two-handed slap before getting punched. "To better prepare and store foods for the up-and-coming monsoon months," Elaine was selling Supperware (not Tupperware) plastic storage container products to the female African natives that would be "ideal for storing leftovers to help stretch your food dollar. This two-quart Sealz-Em Right container will keep hot dog buns fresh for days"). Meanwhile, Ted introduced the male natives to the sport of basketball (although he needn't have - they were naturally gifted and talented players already):

I started them on simple calisthenics and slowly worked them up to rudimentary game skills. And finally, advanced competitive theory. I was patient with them and they were eager to learn. they seemed to enjoy themselves. It was probably due to the advanced American techniques that we were able to bridge the generations of isolation and communicate so successfully with Mulambos.

However, Elaine was anxious to return home, causing Ted to have doubts about their relationship. He poured himself a Gatorade drink and dumped it onto his face - an example of his atypical "drinking problem." As Ted meandered on and on, his Japanese General seatmate committed hari-kiri (or seppuku). A number of passengers were beginning to feel the acute effects of food-poisoning from the fish dinner (Joey's mother complained: "I haven't felt this awful since we saw that Ronald Reagan film" - Ronald Reagan was governor of California, not yet President). When her husband vomited into an air-sickness bag, she again editorialized in her head like she had done with the second cup of coffee comment: "Jim never vomits at home."

Captain Oveur instructed Elaine to find a doctor on board - and then asked Joey (a reference to the recent film Midnight Express (1978)):

Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?

A doctor was obviously identified on board - a stethoscope was prominently hanging from his ears - Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen). When he began examining Joey's mother, he kept being handed a pair of scissors by an unidentified off-screen hand. After he extracted three chicken eggs from her mouth, he cracked the third one and a bird emerged and flew away. He privately advised Elaine - with clever word play (the first of "What is it?" jokes) regarding syntax:

Rumack: You'd better tell the Captain we've got to land as soon as we can. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital.
Elaine: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now.

In the cockpit, navigator Victor Basta passed out from food poisoning. Dr. Rumack urged Captain Oveur to declare an emergency landing as soon as possible to help the ailing passengers, but the Captain was unsure due to foggy weather conditions: "I can't tell." Misinterpreting his response, Rumack tried to persuade him with the 'doctor confidentiality' clause: "You can tell me, I'm a doctor." The dense doctor also thought the Captain said he couldn't take "a guess" about landing for two hours, until the Captain clarified: "No, no, no. I mean we can't land for another two hours." The plane was violently rocked by lightning, and co-pilot Roger Murdock also succumbed to food poisoning (as he was dragged from his seat, his goggles, Lakers basketball uniform shorts and sneakers were revealed underneath). Rumack surmised that the bad fish dinner choice was possibly the cause of the numerous violent sicknesses involving vomiting, unconsciousness, severe gas and upset stomachs:

I'm not sure. I haven't seen anything like this since the Anita Bryant concert.
[Note: In the late 1970s, American singer and political activist Anita Bryant was an outspoken crusader against gay rights.]

To calm the passengers, Captain Oveur announced a travelogue to the passengers (at night?): "A few points of interest we are now flying over Hoover Dam and a little later on, we'll pass just to the south of the Grand Canyon," but then signaled to Chicago that he demanded a "priority approach and landing." Rumack predicted: "Every passenger on this flight who had fish for dinner will become violently ill in the next half hour" - including all three crew members in the cockpit. Dr. Rumack described the food-poisoning illness, as Captain Oveur experienced all of the symptoms:

Extremely serious. It starts with a slight fever and dryness of the throat. When the virus penetrates the red blood cells, the victim becomes dizzy, begins to experience an itchy rash, then the poison goes to work on the central nervous system, severe muscle spasms followed by the inevitable drooling. At this point, the entire digestive system collapses accompanied by uncontrollable flatulence. Until finally, the poor bastard is reduced to a quivering wasted piece of jelly.

As he lost consciousness, Captain Oveur fell over the controls, and the plane took a deep dive:

  • a plate of jello quivered
  • the braless, full breasts of a white T-shirted female passenger (uncredited Francesca "Kitten" Natividad) bounced back and forth out of control, in close-up
  • a woman, credited as the Make-Up Lady (Charlotte Zucker, the Zuckers' mother) misapplied her lipstick make-up on her face
  • the "Fasten Seat Belt" and "No Copulation" signs were illuminated for all rows

Elaine activated the "Automatic Pilot" - an inflatable blow-up, swivel-headed doll in a pilot suit named Otto (credited as HIMSELF) in Roger's seat, and then radioed about the distressed airliner to harried Chicago air traffic controller Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges).

[Note: Lloyd Bridges' character reflected his earlier TV series role as Jim Conrad, the manager of the SFO International Airport in the NBC-TV show San Francisco International Airport (1970-1971).]

McCroskey barked commands to many air-controller associates, including conjoined Siamese twins joined at the side, Stan and Terry, who were told - improbably - to race in opposite directions (to the tower and airfield). Impaired and drug-addicted, McCroskey began his litany of complaints (the beginning of a running-gag refrain):

It looks like I picked the wrong week/day to quit smoking / drinking / amphetamines / sniffing glue...

As he thought to himself: "I want the best available man on this, a man who knows that plane inside and out and won't crack under pressure," a zany, passing assistant named Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs (Stephen Stucker) recommended: "How about Mister Rogers?" With that insight, McCroskey ordered contact with commercial hotshot pilot Captain Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), Striker's former commanding officer.

In the pilot's seat in the cockpit, Elaine reported on the plane's air speed and altitude, and feared the plane was dropping, because auto-pilot Otto was deflating! During the infamous "fellatio" scene, Elaine was given directions by McCroskey to reinflate Otto by blowing air into a nozzle in his belt buckle:

Don't panic. On the belt line of the automatic pilot, there's a hollow tube. Now that is the manual inflation nozzle. Take it out and blow on it.

Back in the cabin, while examining a female patient (in stirrups and holding up a vaginal speculum), OB-GYN Dr. Rumack rushed to the cockpit and was shocked to see Elaine orally servicing Otto - a literal 'blow job'. Otto suddenly sported a huge satisfied grin - and both were seen smoking cigarettes post-sex.

Following Dr. Rumack's advice to see if there was anyone on board who could land the plane, Elaine asked for a pilot over the PA - as the unconscious Captain was dragged down the aisle:

There's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you'll enjoy the rest of your flight. By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?

Suddenly, pandemonium and chaos erupted on-board. A set of jiggling naked breasts from a topless female passenger briefly passed into view. Passengers dueled and fought with each other, including a Hare Krishna's attack on the Singing Nun.

A car pulled up to the residence of Captain Kramer, where well-dressed nerdy trainee Paul Carey (Craig Berenson) from the airlines rang the doorbell, and Mrs. Kramer (Barbara Stuart) answered. The Kramer's dog Shep attacked, wrestled and mauled Paul in the living room, as Kramer was summoned to be directed to the airport. As Kramer put on his coat and hat - reflected in a full-length mirror, he expressed anger at lax airline food inspection policies: "Airport management, the FAA and the airlines. They're all cheats and liars." In a mind-bending moment, as Kramer departed from his home ("Alright, let's get outta here"), he literally stepped through the mirror that had now become a doorway - a clever trick shot.

On the plane, Ted's seatmate had been replaced with a Man from India (Jesse Emmett) wearing a turban, who had become suicidal listening to Ted. He doused himself with gasoline and held a lit match, as Randy alerted Ted to the plane's dire issues - another "What is it?" joke about confused and ambiguous syntax:

Randy: There's been a little problem in the cockpit!
Ted: The cockpit? What is it?
Randy: It's the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit.

After Ted left his seat, the relieved Indian man blew out his match, but accidentally immolated himself anyway - the third instance of a suicide by a seat-mate.

The next lines of dialogue (clever puns) were some of the most oft-quoted of the film, when Dr. Rumack in the cockpit interrogated Ted about his ability to fly:

Dr. Rumack: Can you fly this plane and land it?
Ted: Surely, you can't be serious!
Dr. Rumack: I am serious, and don't call me 'Shirley'!

Ted was determined to be the only one able to fly and land the crippled plane, although he hadn't flown in six years and his experience in the Air Force had only been with single-engine fighter planes. He concluded: "It's an entirely different kind of flying, altogether." Misinterpreting him, both Randy and Dr. Rumack replied - in unison (altogether!): "It's an entirely different kind of flying!" Ted glanced at the cockpit control panel - a VERY long POV tracking shot to the right over an endless set of gauges, dials, blinking lights, switches, and buttons.

The plane was approximately half of the way to Chicago. In the Chicago air traffic control room, McCroskey received a call from his wife and harshly ordered:

I want the kids in bed by nine, the dog fed, the yard watered and the gate locked. And get a note to the milkman - NO MORE CHEESE!

McCroskey stood behind his desk in front of his own self-portrait - an exact duplicate of his posed stance with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. As Captain Kramer drove with Paul to the airport, he theorized on the plane's chances ("100-to-1") as he deliberately clipped a bicyclist on the road. He appeared to hold the steering wheel straight, although the rear-view showed that he was haphazardly driving down a very winding road. The fake back projection behind the car was improbable and included a western-styled Indian raid on horseback.

As Ted surveyed the controls of the airplane from the cockpit, he treated the dashboard as a washing-machine cycle:

Let's see: Altitude: 24,000 feet. Level flight. Speed: 520 knots. Course: Zero-niner-zero. Trim and mixture: Wash, Soak, Rinse, Spin.

Striker was obviously incompetent in the cockpit. As Dr. Rumack stressed to Elaine: "Mr. Striker is the only hope we've got," even the plastic or ceramic Jesus statue on the dashboard covered its eyes in fear. Striker played with various switches and dials: "Those are the flaps, this is the thrust, this must turn on the landing lights," and sent the plane into a temporary deep nose-dive, and he declared MAYDAY. Johnny confusedly responded: "Why, that's the Russian New Year! We can have a parade and serve hot hors d'oeuvres..."

The plane shifted to the left and passengers were thrown from their seats - as the warning light flashed - with phonetic English:


Although the plane leveled off, Mrs. Hammen became hysterical ("I've got to get outta here"). Stewardess Randy and other passengers took turns to queue up and shake her, slap her, and strike her with various implements (boxing gloves, a giant wrench, a gun, a baseball bat, a whip, etc.).

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