40 Years Passed Since This Classic Movie Was Released

“Surely you can’t be serious.”

“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

“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.”

40 Years Passed Since This Classic Movie Was Released

You likely already know to which movie this article refers based on the aforementioned quotes: Airplane! was released to theaters on Wednesday, July 2, 1980 — and no one at that time definitively knew that one day, this quirky movie filled with puns and slathered with copious amounts of quick-witted fast-paced slapstick humor would become a classic in every sense of the word.

Although obvious that Airplane! was a spoof of the spate of airline disaster movies which had been released over the years prior to 1980, what many people apparently did not know at the time of its release was that it was actually a parody of the 1957 dramatic film Zero Hour!, which starred Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.

This video gives a comparison of the scenes from both Zero Hour! and Airplane!

One of the elements which caused what is now considered to be one of the funniest movies of all time — which was originally called The Late Show and then Flying High! — to be so successful was its cast. Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, and Robert Stack were all known as serious veteran actors prior to being cast in a film of purely comedy; and their deadpan seriousness ironically enriched the movie with a depth that many previous comedies had not achieved; while two unknown actors at the time — Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty — were cast in the lead roles…

…and the trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker wrote the script for the movie after repeatedly watching Zero Hour! — not knowing at that time that it would forever change their lives.

Summary

The success of Airplane! opened the doors to other roles for the actors who were cast in the movie — but arguably none more so that the career of Leslie Nielsen, who perfected the genre of a serious actor doing comedy.

The 1982 television series Police Squad! — in color, mind you — was too far ahead of its time to be successful when it was cancelled after only six episodes were broadcast on network television; but it spawned the series of three The Naked Gun films a few years later. I consider the first of those three movies — The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! — to be one of my favorite comedies of all time; and that likely would not have happened had it not been for Airplane!

I believe that the following paragraph from this article — which was written by Chris Nashawaty for Esquire and delves more into the history of the movie — sums it up nicely:

Forty years later, Airplane! now resides in some very classy company on the Library of Congress Film Registry. Something that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who can quote large stretches of the film’s indelible dialogue. It also manages to hold up amazingly well — certainly a lot better than most comedies from the Carter and Reagan era. The reason for that longevity may be because, aside from still being ridiculously funny, it’s the rare Hollywood comedy that doesn’t rely on quickly-dated pop culture references for its humor. It’s both of its time and of no time. More than anything, it’s a satire of a certain style of acting — a wooden earnestness that will always come with a bullseye pinned on its back. After all, as long as there are actors—whether they’re A-list stars or bit players—who take themselves too seriously, puncturing and deflating them will never go out of style. Like Airplane! itself, it’s timeless.

Thank you for the laughs, Airplane!

Photographic illustration ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “40 Years Passed Since This Classic Movie Was Released”

  1. Barry Graham says:

    This is my favorite movie. I once met Leslie Nielsen, when I was staying in the hotel in LA where he and many other celebrities were attending an event in 1991. They walked out of the room as I was passing. He and the others were very friendly and let me take photos. This was my closest brush with celebrities until I discovered my father’s 2nd cousin is a famous one hit wonder singer, whose song I knew before I found out we are cousins!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You cannot post a comment like that and not reveal the song or who was the singer, Barry Graham.

      That is so cruel…

      …and I am glad you had the opportunity to meet Leslie Nielsen.

      1. Barry Graham says:

        Remember Spirit in the Sky?

        1. Brian Cohen says:

          You are related to Norman Greenbaum, Barry Graham?!?

          I always thought that song was cool — especially as it was sung by a man who is from an Orthodox Jewish family, considering the lyrics in that song.

          Here he is, live in concert last year only a few hours away from where I am based:

  2. John Sousa says:

    I wonder if Al Jarvis is still waiting in the back of the cab?

  3. Kitt says:

    Small world! i live in Santa Rosa California; Norman used to hang Out at the local bar a few blocks from my house. The bar changed owners and ambience a few years ago so I have no idea what happens to Norman.

    1. Barry Graham says:

      He’s still around! I speak to him from time to time. Brian Cohen, do want me to see if he’ll do an interview? I know it has nothing to do with travel!

  4. Kitt says:

    So Barry, do you live in sta Rosa?

    1. Barry Graham says:

      No I do not. I am actually from England but live on the East Coast. My great grandmother’s sister moved here 100 years or so ago which is how I have an American singer as a cousin!

  5. Kitt says:

    Well then. I guess we won’t be having a drink with a mask social distancing at the local bar.

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