Filmsite Movie Review
Airplane! (1980)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

After arriving inside the Chicago airport terminal, hotshot pilot Rex Kramer struck and pushed away a number of religious zealots (including a Flower Child, a Reverend Moon devotee, a Jews for Jesus believer, a Jehovah's Witness, a Buddhist, a representative for Jerry's Kids, a Scientology member, and an anti-Nuclear Power activist, etc. Note that one zealot came back three times with different pitches.). At the self-service Baggage Claim area, low-budget cheap-seat passengers (who rode in the plane's baggage compartment with the luggage) were rotating around on the baggage carousel after their flight, with others were still descending on a conveyor belt.

Wearing two sets of dark sun glasses, the "shady" Kramer entered the air-controller offices. A controller was overheard on the phone bad-mouthing Striker: "This guy has no flying experience at'all. He's a menace to himself and everything else in the air. Yes, birds too."

As Kramer was speaking with McCroskey, he impressively removed his dark shades one by one. Kramer revealed that he had actually flown with Striker during the war when he was "a top notch squadron leader a long time ago." Suddenly, a native-American spear hit the wall behind him - a carry-over gag from the back projection behind his car! But now, things were different and there were greater risks involved in rescuing the airliner. McCroskey informed him: "So help me, you'll have to talk him right down to the ground," as a watermelon graphically illustrated the point and smashed onto a desk behind him.

McCroskey asked for Kramer's navigational assistance. McCroskey took a gulp from a small flask:

It looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.

Kramer was unsure he could talk Striker down, and accidentally offered his true opinion - with the radio still on: "S--T! This is a God damned waste of time, there's no way he can land that plane." However, he began to work with Striker, although both mutally hated each other: "Alright. Striker, listen and you listen close. Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes." As Kramer tossed his lit cigarette butt out an open window, McCroskey anticipated what would happen and covered his ears - there was an explosion.

When Striker unlocked the automatic pilot, he momentarily lost control of the plane as Otto went flying into the air - and grabbed Elaine's breasts from behind. She was instructed to sit in the co-pilot's seat to work the radio and dutifully repeat every command, while Striker flew the plane.

Back in the cabin, Dr. Rumack was reassuring passengers, although his deceitful words: "There's no reason to panic" caused his nose to grow exponentially - a reference to Pinocchio (1940). Striker repeated one of the dashboard's flashing warning lights: "It's running A LITTLE HOT." An ominous vulture, implying doom, sat on the back of Striker's pilot chair. When Kramer asked about the weather, Elaine responded simply: "Rain - and a little ice" - and the dashboard Jesus accordingly had opened a small umbrella.

A middle-aged white passenger known as "Jive Lady" (Barbara Billingsley, June Cleaver from the 1950's sitcom Leave It to Beaver) offered to help Randy ("Oh, stewardess, I speak jive") - to translate the incomprehensible jive talk (subtitled) of the two black Jive Dudes - but her words also required translations:

Jive Lady: Cut me some slack, Jack! Chump don' want no help, chump don't GET da help!
Jive Dude: Say 'e can't hang, say seven up!
Jive Lady: Jive-ass dude don't got no brains anyhow! Shiiiiit.

When the weather bulletin report was received from the wire in Chicago, McCroskey asked Johnny: "What do you make outta this?", who replied with origami shapes: "Why I could make a hat, or a brooch, a pterodactyl..." Captain Oveur's wife (Lee Terri) answered a call from Air Controller Macias (Herb Voland) about the trouble on her husband's flight. She agreed to rush to the airport - and was seen sleeping in bed with a horse (Windy) - an obtuse and depraved reference to bestiality, and to The Godfather (1972).

In the cockpit, Ted kept repeating or echoing himself: "Concentrate...Hello...Echo... (Manny) Motto." A passenger turned on the air-flow at his seat and caused a wind-storm in the cabin. [Note: This visual gag failed, since the bearded man across the aisle was unaffected by the blast of air - his facial growth was supposed to fly off his face.] After Ted asked Kramer to check the plane's "radar range" in relation to Chicago, Gunderson (Jonathan Banks) looked in an Amana-brand microwave and replied: "It's about two more minutes, Chief." Kramer reacted frustratingly: "That's impossible, they're on instruments." The cockpit had been transformed into a 4-person musical jazz ensemble, with Elaine on clarinet, Rumack on bass, Randy on saxophone, and Striker on trumpet. McCroskey again added:

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit amphetamines.

In the office, McCroskey requested coffee from Johnny ("How about some more coffee?"), but Johnny missed the point - he thought he was being offered coffee and responded: "NO Thanks!" He then met a group of pushy reporters (Len Mooy, John O'Leary, Maurice Hill, and Benjie Bancroft) with lots of questions and microphones (one of which was a melting chocolate ice-cream cone or "micro-cone"), who wanted a statement. When asked what kind of plane it was, Johnny responded: "Oh, it's a big, pretty white plane with red stripes, curtains in the window and wheels, and it looks like a big Tylenol." One of the reporters told the rest of them: "OK, boys, let's get some pictures," and they stripped the wall bare of photographs. Spinning newspaper headlines were breaking:

  • The Chicago Times: "Disaster Looms for Airline Passengers"
  • The National Inquirer: "BOY TRAPPED IN REFRIGERATOR EATS OWN FOOT" (a smaller headline: "Meteorite Lands Near Baby")

[Note: The fact that the duration of the plot-line of the story was only about 4-5 hours in the pre-Internet cyber-world, the flight time from Los Angeles to Chicago, it was remarkable that news headlines and TV news-reports were released and available so quickly.]

Various TV news reports were heard around the world about the impending crisis - also introduced by a spinning television::

  • US TV Newscaster (Michael Laurence): "This bulletin just handed to me - Stricken Airliner Approaches Chicago."
  • Japanese Newscaster (Hatsuo Uda): (in Japanese)
  • Ancient Tribal Polynesian Newscaster: (sounding an SOS beat on a hollowed-out drum) (Notice his body shift when a second camera went live)
  • Point/Counterpoint on popular TV news show 60 Minutes by faux conservative-minded James Kirkpatrick (William Tregoe) to liberal-minded Shana Alexander (off-screen): "Shana, they bought their tickets. They knew what they were getting into. I say let 'em crash."

A male plane passenger took a swig of whiskey from a flask and offered some to a nearby prudish lady passenger (Nora Meerbaum), who vehemently refused, although she then proceeded to snort lines of cocaine powder off a glass plate. The Singing Nun with her guitar was singing Aretha Franklin's 1967 hit song written by Otis Redding, Respect to the two Jive blacks: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Take out TCP, Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me...A little respect" - as one of them vomited. Stewardess Randy sobbed to Dr. Rumack that she was afraid of dying - unmarried at age 26. A married passenger rubbed in the hurt further: "At least I have a husband."

At the controls, Ted was again flashbacking on his war days when his plane shot at targets, and he imagined numerous crashes seen in historical stock footage of early flying failures:

  • shots of dog-fighting WWI bi-planes crashing
  • instances of pre-Wright Brothers experimental flights:
    • human-powered and bike-powered winged inventions
    • the 7-winged, 1923 Gerhardt Cycleplane

Number 4 Engine flamed out, and Ted realized he hadn't checked the oil pressure: "When Kramer hears about this, the s--t's gonna hit the fan" (literally it did in the control tower offices!). When McCroskey told Kramer to ease off on chastising pilot Striker, the wacky-minded Johnny piped up with an amusing aside: "It happened to Barbara Stanwick!" - a reference to a few failed TV pilots attempted by Barbara Stanwyck, until her popular TV show The Big Valley (1965). On the phone, Johnny then mimicked one of the dramatic show's lines: "Nick! Heath! Jarrod! There's a fire in the barn!" (a reference to three characters: Nick (Peter Breck), Heath (Lee Majors), and Jarrod (Richard Long)).

Under duress and stress, Ted was ready to desert the pilot's cockpit chair ("I don't have what it takes") and replace himself with Otto, the autopilot - he left Elaine alone in the cockpit. In Chicago, with the fog growing thicker, Johnny jiggled overweight air traffic controller Leon's belly-fat as he joked: "And Leon's getting laaaaarrrrger." Back on the plane, to cheer Ted up (with the Notre Dame Victory March on the soundtrack), Dr. Rumack recollected (and reinterpreted) the famous dialogue in Knute Rockne: All American (1940) - the "Win One For the Gipper" speech - a monologue delivered by Rockne's most famous player George Gipp (Ronald Reagan), a real-life football star:

Well, I don't have anything to say, you've done the best you could. You really have, the best you could. You can't expect to win 'em all. But, I want to tell you something I've kept to myself through these years. I was in the war myself, Medical Corps. I was on late duty one night when they brought in a badly wounded pilot from one of the raids. He could barely talk. He looked at me and said: 'The odds were against us up there, but we went in anyway. I'm glad the Captain made the right decision.' The pilot's name was George Zip...The last thing he said to me: 'Doc,' he said: 'Some time when the crew is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to get out there and give it all they got and win just one for the Zipper. I don't know where I'll be then, Doc,' he said, 'but I won't smell too good, that's for sure.'

Ted had a change of heart: "Excuse me, Doc, I got a plane to land (football stadium cheers)." And contrary to Kramer's advice about landing in the fog, Striker insisted on landing immediately, and then delivered a reversed aphorism: "I guess the foot's on the other hand now, isn't it, Kramer?" Kramer agreed with Striker's decisive action:

It's his ship now, his command. He's in charge, he's the boss, the head man, the top dog, the big cheese, the head honcho..

Kramer and McCroskey were given the latest Chicago Times newspaper with the headline: "PASSENGERS CERTAIN TO DIE." McCroskey's eye caught another heading: "Airline Negligent." Johnny looked at the back page instead: "There's a sale at Penney's!" Three of the controllers were ordered to the airport's tower: Neubauer (Kenneth Tobey), Macias, and Johnny ("Me John! Big Tree!"). As Johnny ran off, he called out: "The tower, the tower, Rapunzel, Rapunzel!" The endangered plane's in-flight movie was of a fiery crashing plane. In the tower, the scene was played out as the opening coin-toss at a football game, where two opposing sides (of three players or Captains) were confusingly introduced by a referee (wearing black and white stripes):

  • Captain McCroskey shook hands with Captain Roberts
  • Captain Kramer shook hands with Captain Colosimo
  • Captain Hinshaw shook hands with Captain Gatz
  • Captain Kramer shook hands with Captain Gatz
  • Captain Hinshaw shook hands with Captain Roberts

Kramer advised one of the other Captains as he itched his ear: "Get that finger out of your ear! You don't know where that finger's been!" (the finger had just touched Captain Kramer during the handshakes). When a visibly upset Mrs. Linda Oveur arrived, McCroskey warned her: "Your husband and the others are alive, but unconscious" - followed by another joke from Johnny about the current US President: "Just like Gerald Ford." Johnny looked at Linda's outfit in horror:

Where did you get that dress? It's awful, and those shoes, and that coat, geeeeezzzz.

Meanwhile, some of the other controllers were playing a classic state-of-the-art video game at the time - Atari's 1978 Basketball - on one of the radar monitors. Kramer ordered all lights poured directly onto the airfield - and a dump truck unloaded table lamps onto the runway. Then, he commanded that all vehicles and equipment position themselves - and multiple vehicles raced by (a fire-truck, an ambulance, and a police car), followed by a Budweiser truck, an Alhambra water cooler truck, a cement mixer, and a tractor). He also asked an Air Israel plane (adorned with a purple beard, yarmulke (skull-cap), and tallit (prayer shawl)) to clear the area.

In preparation for the emergency landing, Randy instructed the passengers to remove their life-jackets from under their seats. She demonstrated pulling the cord - revealing that her life-jacket was an inflatable duckie. As the plane descended, it clipped the radio transmitter tower of Chicago's disco station WZAZ, that had just broadcast: "Where disco lives forever." Striker insisted on landing immediately instead of circling with two hours of excess fuel. Striker cautioned for Randy to leave the cockpit to avoid injury: "You'd better leave, sweetheart. You might get hurt up here" - after she left, a loud scream was heard and sound-effects implied she tripped and items tumbled onto her.

Elaine confided her pride in Ted for his steadfast bravery. Contrary to another controller's suggestion, Kramer stubbornly decided to not turn on the airport's search lights during the plane's final approach: "No, that's just what they'll be expecting us to do."

[Note: Kramer's line was typical of what crime fighter Eliot Ness (Stack's role on the popular ABC-TV crime show The Untouchables (1959-1963)) would have said.]

After entering the cockpit, Rumack encouraged Elaine and Ted: "I just want to tell you both good luck. We're all counting on you." Kramer delivered last-minute instructions for Striker's landing, as Mrs. Oveur nervously and inappropriately touched his shoulder and arm, and rubbed his chest:

You should be able to see the runway at 300 feet. Aim the touch down a third of the way along. There's a slight crosswind from the right, so be ready for it. Land too fast, use your emergency brakes. Red handle's right in front of you. If that doesn't stop you (long pause) - if that doesn't stop you, cut the four ignition switches over the co-pilot's head. Do you see us now? You should be able to see the field now. (A spotted Dalmatian on an old-time fire engine/truck barked at the approaching plane)

McCroskey gave his final regret - before sniffing glue and passing out:

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

Kramer cautioned about the plane's too-rapid approach, and both Ted and Elaine confirmed:

Ted: I know, I know.
Elaine: (into the radio) He knows, he knows.

One of the controllers filled a laundry basket with a load of wash from one of the monitors. Randy instructed the passengers to assume crash positions (not pre-crash but post-crash!), as the plane was wildly moving from 625 to 1,300 feet in altitude (one of the controllers remarked about Ted's wild flying: "What an asshole!"). Joking around, Johnny unplugged the main runway lights for a moment, then remarked to the camera with an aside: "Just kidding." The glue-impaired McCroskey feared the plane would crash into the tower ("He's coming right at us"), and jumped headfirst through the outer window to his death. Striker's steering controls broke loose in his two fists, but he was able to ease the plane onto the runway. However, he sheared off the landing gear during braking (by pulling the red handle), as rivers of profuse sweat poured off his face. A second time, Dr. Rumack entered with encouragement: "I just want to tell you both good luck, we're all counting on you."

The terminal's PA system was unable to properly alert those waiting at the arrival gate for disembarking passengers. [Note: Before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, non-ticketed individuals were allowed into the airport terminal to meet passengers at their gate.] As the skidding plane careened by, those awaiting the plane were kept running from gate to gate:

Flight 2-0-9 now arriving Gate 8, Gate 9, Gate 10...Gate 13, Gate 14, Gate 15...Gate 23...24, 25

Johnny screamed into two telephones at once as he spun around, with a reference to The Wizard of Oz (1939):

Auntie Em, Uncle Henry, Toto! It's a twister, it's a twister.

A mob of five reporters charged toward a bank of pay telephones to call in their stories, and knocked over the entire structure. After the safe landing, Dr. Rumack again entered the cockpit to encourage Ted and Elaine a third time: "I just want to tell you both -- good luck, we're all counting on you." Via the cockpit radio, Captain Kramer congratulated Striker:

Ted that was probably the lousiest landing in the history of this airport, but some of us here, particularly me, would like to buy you a drink and shake your hand - and Ted, I just want you to know that when the going got rough...

Passengers were evacuated via an emergency slide as Randy cheerfully bid them goodbye: "Have a nice day. Thank you for flying Trans-American," while the young heart transplant patient Lisa was loaded into a rescue ambulance. Shortly later, the emergency vehicle crashed off-screen - a hub-cap rolled back into view. Although Ted had left the cockpit with Elaine, Kramer kept talking into the radio - to himself:

Loneliness, that's the bottom line. I was never happy as a child. Christmas, Ted, what does that mean to you? To me, it was a living hell. Do you know what it's like to fall in the mud and get kicked, in the head, with an iron boot? Of course you don't. No one does. That never happens. I'm sorry Ted, that's a dumb question. Skip that....Municipal bonds Ted. I'm talking double A rating, the best investment in America.

On the runway near the plane, Ted and Elaine engaged in a very long kiss now that their relationship had been salvaged. They watched with startled expressions when Otto saluted them from the cockpit and piloted the wheel-less plane to launch another take-off. He winked at them when a female counterpart inflated in the co-pilot's seat.

After video credits of the main characters, a number of textual credits in the concluding sequence were cringe-noteworthy, among others:

  • Gripology ... Pete Papanickolas
  • Generally In Charge of a Lot of Things ... Mike Finnell
  • Author of A Tale of Two Cities ... Charles Dickens
  • Worst Boy ... Adolf Hitler

A post-credits comment was made by the mostly-forgotten, long-suffering cab passenger still waiting for the return of taxi-driver Striker on the LAX airport curb, after accumulating hundreds of dollars in cab fare (seen earlier in a close-up of the meter):

Well, I'll give him another 20 minutes, but that's it.

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