Cast and Crew: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley
What It’s About: When the entire flight crew of a jumbo jet falls victim to food poisoning, the passengers’ fates rest with finding someone who can fly a plane-and who hasn’t had fish for dinner. Unfortunately for the passengers, that man is Ted Striker (Robert Hays), who has never gotten over his mistake during “the war” that cost the lives of many in his squadron. Can Striker’s stewardess ex-girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty), passenger Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) and air traffic controllers Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) and Steve McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges) talk Striker through landing the plane? Will you be able to make it through the film without laughing?
Why Watch it Today?: Airplane! is one of the all time great comedies, using slapstick, puns, word play and sight gags, all thrown at the audience non-stop, but what it does best is mercilessly parody disaster films-and not just the then vogue for big budget over the top films loaded with “guest stars.” No, the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker writing/directing team also reaches back to 1957’s Zero Hour!, a clunker of a disaster melodrama, and lets that film’s characters and plot parody themselves. One key to making this work is the casting of 1950s B-movie stars who make up the supporting cast, playing it deadly serious and letting the dialogue sell itself. While Leslie Nielsen’s Dr. Rumack is much beloved, quoted, and credited with making the movie, Robert Stack, who was born today in 1919, is equally great as the overbearing, macho, take charge Rex Kramer.