Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Tag: George Kennedy

Starting At the End: Part Two "Leaving On a Jet Plane"

What better way is there to get into a franchise than through its final film? They must have perfected the series by that point, right? Right?!?!?

The Concorde… Airport ‘79



The first North American owned Concorde jet is disembarking on its maiden flight, flying to Moscow with a stopover in Paris. Among the diverse group of passengers is beautiful news anchorwoman, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has recently obtained proof that her defense contractor lover, Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), knowingly sold weapons to enemy nations. Harrison tries to shoot down the jet by sabotaging a test of his new smart missile system, but thanks to the deft piloting of Captains Paul Mertrand (Alain Delon) and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), his plan fails. They also manage to outmaneuver the fighter plane he sends after them, although the attack does force them to undergo a tense emergency landing in Paris. Determined to stop Whelan, Harrison hires a member of the plane’s mechanical crew to insert a timer that will open the storage cabin door and cause the plane to break apart through explosive decompression, but—once again—Mertrand and Patroni save the day and “thread the needle” by landing the Concorde in the middle of the Swiss Alps. At the scene of the emergency landing, Whelan reports on TV that she has important breaking news she’s going to share with the world as soon as she reaches Moscow, causing Harrison to take out a pistol and end his own life.

Pertinent Details

Comes After: Airport (1970), Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport ’77 (1977).

Was Not Followed By: Although the TV movie Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land was released as Airport ’85 in the Philippines (and was directed by ‘77’s Jerry Jameson) it wasn’t actually an official entry in the series, just a really entertaining rip off.

Returning Players: George Kennedy—the only actor to appear in all four Airport films—returns as Joe Patroni. Monica Lewis, the wife of Jennings Lang—who produced the three sequels, but not the original—also appeared in ’77, but as a different character.

Most Surprising Credit: The film was written by Eric Roth, who would go on to win an Oscar for his script for Forrest Gump, and be nominated three other times for his work on The Insider, Munich and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

You know what I miss? Movie posters like the ones up above. The actual images are pretty bland, but I love the rows of pictures on the bottom. Even as a young kid I came to appreciate that this was a marketing technique only ever employed by terrible movies. You especially knew something was up when the lineup of famous faces featured people who weren’t all that famous or whose golden years had long since passed.

Just take a look at the first one and see who you recognize. You’re on this site, so you’re probably an obsessive like me and know most of them (bonus points if you recognized the woman who played the demonic voice of Regan in The Exorcist), but I suspect most folks over the age of 30 could only pick out one or two and even then as the guy from Austin Powers, the other guy from reruns of Green Acres, and the old woman from those 80s Polident commercials.

This marks a noticeable decline from the other films, whose rows of famous faces feature a few true cinematic legends, including Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Dean Martin. True, none of them would have considered these films a high point in their careers, but they were all smart enough to stay the fuck away from what would turn out to be the series’ final flight.

Clearly the reason for this lies in Concorde’s low budget. Despite featuring some okay-for-the-era special effects, the majority of the film resembles a bland TV movie and is obviously making due with the best it can afford. That it chose to try and sell itself on its collection of TV stars, foreigners, old folks, Cicely Tyson and two pretty ladies (one of whom was the star of the softcore Emmanuelle franchise), indicates the kind of desperation that makes bad film lovers salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

It’s a promise the film delivers on with enjoyable grace. The Concorde… Airport ’79 is a great bad movie—the kind that never once approaches competent storytelling or filmmaking, but still manages to be rousingly entertaining from start to finish. I credit a lot of this to Roth’s amazingly uneven screenplay, which is filled with some truly epic plot-holes and logical fuck ups, but still manages to be populated with characters who never seem truly real, but are utterly charming nonetheless.

I liked this entire collection of broad stereotypes, including the aging Russian gymnast in love with the handsome American sportscaster, the cartoonish Russian coach with the deaf 6 year-old daughter, the old barn-storming owner of the airline who’s lucky enough to be married to Sybil Danning, and pretty much everyone else--especially Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, who comes across like a genuinely great guy.

It actually helps that they never seem like real people, since that would only highlight how little sense the film’s plot makes when you stop and think about it. This way you can just roll along and accept the stupidity without any tedious verisimilitude ruining the fun.

But now that I mention it, I should talk a little bit about how dumb the film’s story really is. You can tell the plot is going to take a beating right from the start when we see Blakely give a national news report that consists entirely of stories about a) the Concorde’s maiden flight, b) the new missile invented by her boyfriend, and c) the soviet gymnast who’s going to just happen to be on the flight. It’s the kind of shameless exposition dump that immediately places the narrative in a world we know doesn’t exist.

But that’s nothing compared to Wagner’s solution to his dilemma. While being accused of treason is probably the worst thing that could happen to his company, it’s very closely followed by having his multi-billion dollar missile system screw up during a launch test and accidentally kill hundreds of innocent people. In fact, in terms of pure negative publicity, I’m willing to call it a draw.

Less egregious, but still hilarious, is that after the missile fails to work, he gets in his private plane in order to fly to Paris and basically arrives there at the same time the Concorde does. This, despite the fact that he’s chasing after a supersonic fucking jet that had a head start!

We also have to ignore that literally the next day after they are almost blown out of the sky and endure a terrifying landing, none of the passengers have any problem getting in the exact same plane to fly to Moscow the next day. Plus, instead of just killing Blakely when he sees her during the layover, Wagner instead has a mechanic sabotage the jet, because apparently he really does want to kill a planeload of innocent people instead of the one person giving him trouble. What a jerk!

I don’t know enough about science and aeronautics to cast doubts on the action scenes, like the one where Kennedy manages to set one of the fighter jet’s missile off course by firing a flare gun out his window, but I will say that no matter how theoretically plausible they may be, the execution of these scenes do render them appealingly unrealistic.

But none of this matters, since I enjoyed every second of this foolishness. As easy as it is to understand why this effort killed the Airport franchise, I really wish they’d gone on and made a few more.

Chances of my watching other films in the franchise: 100%. I especially can’t wait to see 1975, where cross-eyed stewardess Karen Black has to land the plane all by herself!

Final Franchise Entry Rating: Four George Kennedy’s out of Four

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom: Part Two in a Series

An amusing exercise in which we pour salt on the wounds of those who temporarily achieved Hollywood glory, but were little prepared to keep it.

Just like Michael J. Pollard, last week’s inaugural victim of Hollywood caprice, George Kennedy is a true character actor. Beyond that though, all comparisons come to an immediate end. If Pollard was odd and quirky, Kennedy was solid and stalwart—a real man with a real face, real hairpiece, and real body.

The same year Pollard was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Bonnie and Clyde, Kennedy won for Cool Hand Luke. In it he played Dragline, a prison tough guy who initially gives Paul Newman’s titular character a hard time, until Luke’s unbreakable spirit inspires his respect and admiration. It was his biggest role in a 10-year career that started when he was hired to be a technical advisor on The Phil Silvers Show (aka Sgt. Bilko), which led to him becoming an extra, which led to his getting the occasional line, which led to bit parts in other TV shows and then eventually movies.

Despite his Oscar, Hollywood was reluctant to elevate him to leading man status. When it did it was in Guns of the Magnificent Seven, the third film in the franchise, and the first to not star any of the original Seven. Notable only for putting him onscreen with his cinematic brother-from-another-mother Joe Don Baker, Guns did little to turn Kennedy into a true star.

The 70s saw him starring in a short-lived, forgotten TV series (Sarge), all four entries in the laughable Airport franchise (making him the series' only consistent character), Earthquake, and another just as short-lived, just as forgotten TV series (The Blue Knight), but it was the 80s where things started getting rough. His B-Movie career actually started promisingly with 1981s Just Before Dawn, perhaps the best slasher film of the period not made by John Carpenter, but the same could not be said for Wacko, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Bolero or Delta Force. Kennedy’s lowest point, though, came in 1988, courtesy of the same directorial genius who gave us this:


I am, of course, talking about:


Unavailable on DVD, Demonwarp is a movie I only saw once on late night TV sometime in the early 90s, yet it has never ceased to haunt my dreams. Directed by Emmett Alston, the film is a bizarre mish-mash of sub-genres, seemingly created by the careless fusion of several unrelated screenplays. It first appears to be a Bigfoot movie, albeit one made to feel like a slasher film (Alston had previously made New Years Evil) before transforming into a cult/alien conspiracy thriller in which a topless screaming Michelle Bauer is sacrificed on an altar to a century old extra-terrestrial/god.

That one scene with Bauer has never left my mind, but it pales in significance to another she appears in earlier in the movie. In it, she and a similarly busty friend (of the blonde variety) are introduced into the film out of nowhere and without context as two tanning enthusiasts who have come to the forest to bask in the sun’s golden rays. To do this requires they unburden themselves of their tops, which they do quickly and efficiently. But, unfortunately, the baring of their breasts attracts the Bigfoot creature who shows his distaste for their exhibitionism by graphically removing the blonde’s head from her body. Bauer screams, is captured by the creature, and then disappears from the narrative until it’s time to sacrifice her on the slab—making this another feature in which she spends more time onscreen naked than otherwise.

Kennedy’s role as the father of one of the moronic teenage characters is negligible and unnecessary, but enough to get his face featured on the poster and top-billed in the credits. It’s the dictionary definition of a paycheque performance.

Fortunately for Kennedy that same year he co-starred in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! a Zucker-Abrams-Zucker movie based on their very short-lived TV show. It and its two sequels brought him back into the limelight and probably remain the films for which he is best known (at least among my generation). When the franchise ended in 1994 he worked as consistently as any actor of retirement age should be expected to. He’s still at it today, at the considerable age of 86.

Chances are Kennedy had no idea he’d have such a tumultuous career 51 years earlier when he was 35 and guest-starring on a TV western called Sugerfoot. It would be the only time he worked with another future Oscar winner, who was a regular on the show for the third of its four seasons. She too would know the highest highs and the lowest lows, but unlike Kennedy, she has never experienced any significant late-career success.

Next Time On

From the Bottom to the Top to the Bottom

Louise Fletcher