‘Airplane!’ exposes difference between the sexes

By Emmet Meara, Special to the News
Posted Aug. 28, 2010, at 1:54 a.m.

Women. They just don’t understand.

Men can watch “The Godfather” (I and II, but never III) and “Goodfellas” as many times as Spike TV wants to broadcast them.

Women say, “You know every line in that movie and you’ve seen it 100 times. How can you sit and watch this again?” We say, in perfect timing with the movie, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

There are only a few select movies that have this attraction. Such as “Airplane!”

It may be hard for “Airplane!” fans to believe it, but the classic spoof is now 30 years old. I have seen it 100 times and if it is on tonight, I will watch it.

For those who just arrived from Bulgaria, “Airplane!” is a ridiculous spoof of the disaster movies popular in the 1980s. It is totally stupid, yes, but I have been quoting the movie ever since I first saw it, when my mother-in-law left the room in disgust. Who could blame her?

It was the brainchild of Milwaukee brothers David and Jerry Zucker and pal Jim Abrahams. “Airplane!” made $83 million on its first release in 1980 (on an outlay of $3.5 million), and launched an entire comedy franchise, from the “Police Squad” TV shows to the “Naked Gun” movies and changed 1950s romantic lead Leslie Nielsen into a comic hero.

The basic plot is that bad fish served at 25,000 feet poisons the crew and passengers. Even the pilot (the brilliant Peter Graves) becomes violently ill. It falls to cowardly Ted Striker (a failed pilot played by Robert Hays) to land the plane and save the day. I adore Julie Hagerty who plays stewardess Elaine Dickinson because she is the spitting image of Blue Eyes.

This movie is so good that the wooden (and 7-foot-tall) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets a few laughs. Even Beaver’s television mother, Barbara Billingsley, gets a few giggles as a jive-talking interpreter. Naturally, the passenger manifest includes a little old lady, a guitar playing nun and a critically ill little girl.

Sample joke:

Can you fly this plane and land it?

Surely you can’t be serious.

I am serious … and don’t call me Shirley.

This has become a sexual acid test, much like The Three Stooges. Men laugh at that line until they have tears rolling down their cheeks and quote it at every opportunity. Women cross their arms and say, “That’s not funny.”

The movie became a success in the casting stage, I believe. I have no idea why the celebrated Graves would take such a role, which included some highly inappropriate questions to a very young male passenger. Likewise, Nielsen as the doctor, super-serious Lloyd Bridges as the ground control officer (“I picked a heck of a day to stop taking amphetamines”) and Robert Stack as Capt. Rex Kramer all are roaring successes.

I lean on Roger Ebert for all things Hollywood.

He said “Airplane!” is “a comedy in the great tradition of high school skits, the Sid Caesar TV show, MAD magazine and the dog-eared screenplays people’s nephews write in lieu of earning their college diplomas. It is sophomoric, obvious, predictable, corny and quite often very funny. And the reason it’s funny is frequently because it’s sophomoric, predictable, corny, etc.

“This sort of humor went out with Milton Berle, Jerry Lewis and knock-knock jokes. That’s why it’s so funny. Movie comedies these days are so hung up on being contemporary, radical, outspoken and cynically satirical that they sometimes forget to be funny,” Ebert said.

Ebert admits that none of this really adds up to great comic artistry, but the movie “compensates for its lack of original comic invention by its utter willingness to steal, beg, borrow and rewrite from anywhere.”

The movie steals bits from 1970’s “Airport” and 1974’s “Airport 1975,” “Zero Hour!” from 1957, even “Saturday Night Fever.”

Sample joke II:

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.

A hospital? What is it?

It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

I don’t care who you are … that’s funny. And don’t call me Shirley.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/08/28/living/lsquoairplanersquo-exposes-difference-between-the-sexes/ printed on August 1, 2014