Monday, December 28, 2009

"The Concorde" Takes a Dive

In the beginning, there was Airport, an A-list, ultra-slick adaptation of a best-selling book and nominated for multiple Oscars (including Best Picture!) Then came Airport 1975 with too much humor (intentional and unintentional) and Karen Black flying a damaged 747. Airport '77 had a private plane sinking beneath the ocean while rich passengers dropped like flies.

In an inane attempt to continue the exploitation of the original, and superior, film (as well as cash in on the notoriety of the then-new Concorde, the fastest commercial plane ever), The Concorde: Airport ‘79 (was it necessary to alter the scheme of the films' titles every time?!) came along and ended the series. A year later, Airplane! would slam the coffin lid and seal it for good with it's hysterical sending up of the many clich├ęs of the air-disaster genre. Thanks to the merciless idiocy of this film, it was almost redundant to parody the scenarios! Though I can't be certain, this also may have been the last of the "box films," which prominently sold the all-star casts in a row of boxes on the movie's poster.

Here, Robert Wagner (sometimes wearing the ugliest eyeglasses ever manufactured) is a high-powered industrialist who's been selling arms to enemies of the U.S. When his TV reporter mistress Susan Blakely is informed of this, he tries to have her killed. After she boards the Concorde en route to Moscow, he (ludicrously) decides to pull out every stop in the book to demolish the aircraft, even though it is full of Olympians, TV journalists, music legends, human organs and little old ladies who can't stay out of the bathroom!

The entire film is both stagnant and simultaneously uproarious at the same time. The director, writer, editor and the actors can't seem to get ANYTHING right! (See Blakely's ridiculously unconvincing newscast in which she never once looks into the camera, is situated in a cavernous, yet undecorated newsroom and in which clips from events AS THEY ARE HAPPENING IN REAL TIME parade across the screen as though they are parts of an edited news story.) The movie also contains some of the most abominable blue-screen and model special effects ever to be seen in a major studio film.

The cast of is huge and full of names, though most of them are given, literally, nothing to do but embarrass themselves. A dour Wagner looks very tired and hardly bothers to vary his facial expressions. Blakely works hard but is defeated by the stupidity of the character and the script. George Kennedy (the one actor who was in all four films) is promoted to Captain this time after previously being seen as a mechanic and an administrative employee, but is reduced to cracking crude sexual jokes and (in the film's most celebratedly lunatic scene) cracking open the cockpit window in mid-flight and shooting off a flare! The flare in question is supposed to distract a heat-seeking missile, as if it could possibly be thrown off the course of a roaring supersonic jet by an activated distress signal. At one point, Ingmar Bergman protegee Bibi Andersson is lowered into having to do a love scene with the crass, burly man.

Fairly haggard former screen-god Alain Delon, as another pilot, tries to beat preposterous dialogue like, "Your hair is my French fries" in his affair with sex kitten stewardess Sylvia Kristel (whose calf-length uniform has a split up to her thigh! Previous costumer Edith Head wisely took a hike this time out and it shows.) Delon is never lit well enough to accent his once-amazing looks and Kristel, who was trying to attempt a film that didn’t feature her in the nude, can’t seem to effectively deliver even the most benign dialogue.

Other oddities include Mercedes McCambridge spouting a dreadful Russian accent and flouncing around in curtain-like tops as an overprotective gymnastics (!) coach, Jimmie Walker as a pot-smoking saxophone player, Monica Lewis as a jazz legend (!) who feels she may be losing it (we can vouch that she has even though Jennings Lang, the producer of this film and her husband, may think differently!), Dorito’s advertising stooge and comedic performer Avery Schreiber as a Russian coach with a deaf daughter (at least she doesn't have to hear Lewis singing!) and Polident spokeswoman Martha Raye as a grandma with a bladder control problem (What? Did June Allyson turn the part down?) Raye has the honor of having her last film contain scenes of her stuck in an airplane john which is coming apart and dousing her with water and who knows what else.

Special mention must be given to the sidesplittingly fretful appearance of Cicely Tyson as a mother escorting a frozen heart, along with doctor Nicholas Coster, to her dying son. (Since when do parents go off and collect organs while their kid is expiring somewhere else? For that matter, since when do the doctors go and get them??) In an apparent attempt to disappear from this rancid film, she hides her face under every imaginable object. Already buried under what must be Victoria Principal's fright wig from Earthquake, she uses hankies, a clutch purse, blankets, ANYTHING to obscure her face from being seen, eventually turning away from the camera entirely! (Kathryn Grayson admitted to doing this in her final film The Vagabond King. She loathed her costar and hated the Paramount production values as compared to her former studio MGM and truly attempted to hide her face from the camera so as not to be spotted in her own movie!)

The endless, Fantasy Island-esque Concorde cast list also contains Eddie Albert as the airline owner and Sybil Danning as his trophy wife. Albert is charming and Danning gives one of the best performances in the film because she isn’t excruciatingly annoying as most of the rest are! Charo has a cameo as a pushy passenger attempting to stowaway a Chihuahua. John Davidson plays a sports reporter with the hots for Olympian Andrea Marcovicci, who gets another special mention.

Unbelievably, she plays a twenty-four year-old gymnast (!) going for her third gold medal, which is crazy enough except that she was thirty-one in real life! Just one more nutty aspect of this thoroughly retarded film. She and Davidson have a “cute” seduction scene that takes place in a training room whirlpool as McCambridge hovers nearby. Apparently, this sequence was so stunning that it warranted a vomitous six-part publicity photo detailing every stage of it for the viewer… Some asshole even numbered the photos as if no one could tell what order the blessed event took place in!

Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of all is the fact that the plane goes through several traumas, spinning violently and nearly crashing as it is pursued by the missiles, yet, after a layover in Paris, virtually every single passenger GETS BACK ON! The fun then continues as the plane is outfitted to start coming apart at the seams in midair. (All this rather than just shooting Blakely while she was off the vessel in Paris.) At least this part offers more laughs as dippy passengers groove out to a transistor radio (!) while the carpet is ripping at their feet and Albert discovers that he “has the best seat in the house.”

As if things weren't bad enough, the 1980 Olympics that were pushed so heavily in this movie wound up being boycotted that year by the U.S., so the whole film was outdated before it was even released anyway! Eventually, the makers realized the unintentional comedy of their screen excrement and started marketing it as such!

The genre was beaten dead by now and by trying to throw everyone and everything but the kitchen-sink into the movie, it became preposterous. The passengers twirl upside down continuously in what seems like an amusement park attraction while 743,852 pieces of paper and debris fly around them. It was probably more than a decade before anyone took a film about an airline crash seriously (that being 1993’s Alive.)


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