Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jerry Jameson|
|Produced by||Jennings Lang
Inspired by the film Airport, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey
Olivia de Havilland
|Music by||John Cacavas (score)
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop
|Edited by||Robert Watts
J. Terry Williams
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||March 11, 1977|
|Running time||113 min.|
Airport '77 is a 1977 disaster film and third movie in the Airport franchise. The film stars a number of veteran actors, including Jack Lemmon, James Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Christopher Lee and Olivia de Havilland. Like its predecessors, Airport '77 was a box office hit earning $30 million, making the film the 19th highest-grossing picture of 1977. It was nominated for two Academy Awards and was directed by Jerry Jameson.
A privately owned luxury Boeing 747-100, Stevens' Flight 23 (call sign two-three Sierra) complete with piano bar, office, and bedroom, is used to fly invited guests to an estate in Palm Beach, Florida owned by wealthy philanthropist Philip Stevens (James Stewart). Valuable artwork from Stevens's private collection is also on board the jetliner, to be eventually displayed in his new museum. Such a collection motivates a group of thieves led by co-pilot Bob Chambers (Robert Foxworth) to hijack the aircraft in the hopes of landing it on an abandoned airfield on St. George Island.
Once Captain Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) leaves the cockpit and is knocked unconscious, the hijackers' plans go into motion. A sleeping gas is released into the cabin and the passengers lose consciousness. Knocking out the flight engineer, Chambers puts the plan in motion, and Stevens' Flight 23 "disappears" into the Bermuda Triangle. Descending to virtual wave-top altitude, Flight 23 heads into a fog bank, reducing visibility to less than a mile. Minutes later, a large offshore drilling platform emerges from the haze, Flight 23 heading straight for it at close to 600 knots.
Chambers pulls back on the yoke in a banking left turn but the engine number 4 clips the derrick, causing the engine to catch fire. Chambers immediately hits the fire extinguishing button and flames are momentarily extinguished. However, because the aircraft is at such a low altitude, the sudden loss of airspeed threatens to stall the airplane. As the engine reignites, Chambers is forced to use another fire-suppression bottle. But by this time, the aircraft stall alarm goes off and the aircraft's tail hits the water. All the passengers wake up, and most start to scream and panic. Chambers is able to pull up, but soon the plane's right wing hits the water again, and the plane lifts into the air for another moment, then hitting the water again. Because of the impact being so hard, the plane becomes grounded in the ocean. Eventually, the plane begins to slip beneath the waves.
The ocean bottom is fortunately above the crush-depth of the fuselage. Many of the passengers are injured, some seriously. Two of the would-be thieves are killed in the initial crash. Banker (Monte Markham) is in the hold securing the art for the transfer when a cargo container causes a breach of the outer skin, crushing and drowning him. The second fatality is Wilson (Michael Pataki), who is killed when he is slammed into the flight panel on impact.
Since the aircraft was off course, search and rescue efforts are focused in the wrong area. Involved in these efforts are Phillip Stevens and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy, who appears in all Airport movies). The only way to signal rescue efforts to the proper region is to get a signal buoy to the surface in a small dinghy. Captain Gallagher and diver Martin Wallace (Christopher Lee) enter the main cargo in the attempt, but an unexpected triggering of the hatch crushes Wallace. Gallagher, out of oxygen provided by the reserve mask, makes it to the surface, and activates the beacon after he climbs into the dinghy. Getting a fix on the new signal, an S-3 Viking overflies the crash site, confirming the location of Flight 23.
The navy then dispatches a sub-recovery ship, the USS Cayuga (LST-1186) along with the destroyer USS Agerholm (DD-826) and a flotilla of other vessels. The aircraft is ringed with balloons and once inflated, the aircraft rises from the bottom of the seafloor. Just before the plane breaks surface, one of the balloons breaks loose, prompting the Navy captain to reduce the air pressure of the remaining balloons, thus keeping the plane just beneath the waves. At that moment, one of the doors in the cargo hold bursts open, causing the plane to flood. The cascade of sea water sweeps through the passengers; First Officer Chambers is killed when he is pinned under a sofa. The deluge also sweeps away Wallace's widow (Lee Grant), who drowns just as the Navy captain orders more air pressure into the balloons, finally raising the plane successfully. Once on the surface, the passengers are evacuated. With the survivors on their way to waiting ships, Captain Gallagher and Stevens' assistant, Eve (Brenda Vaccaro) are the last to evacuate from the aircraft as it slips under the waves for the last time.
- Jack Lemmon as Capt. Don Gallagher
- Lee Grant as Karen Wallace
- Brenda Vaccaro as Eve Clayton
- Joseph Cotten as Nicholas St. Downs III
- Olivia de Havilland as Emily Livingston
- James Stewart as Philip Stevens
- Darren McGavin as Stan Buchek
- Christopher Lee as Martin Wallace
- Robert Foxworth as Chambers
- George Kennedy as Joe Patroni
- Kathleen Quinlan as Julie
- Tom Sullivan as Steve
- Monte Markham as Banker
- Gil Gerard as Frank Powers
- James Booth as Ralph Crawford
- Monica Lewis as Anne
- Maidie Norman as Dorothy
- Pamela Bellwood as Lisa Stevens
- Arlene Golonka as Mrs. Stern
- M. Emmet Walsh as Dr. Williams
- Anthony Battagila as Benjy
- Michael Pataki as Wilson
- Best Art Direction (George C. Webb, Mickey S. Michaels)
- Best Costume Design (Edith Head and Burton Miller)
As was common with Universal Pictures films at the time like Earthquake and Two-Minute Warning, a television version of the film was prepared with a great deal of new footage, in order to air Airport '77 as two separate two-hour installments (with commercials). Unlike those films, which had new material shot with new actors adding unrelated subplots, Airport '77 added an hour of material shot during production with the film's stars. Numerous scenes were added and extended, and flashbacks were shot for most of the characters to show their lives back home, which they contemplated as the plane rested at the bottom of the ocean. The extended version aired on television many times, but has never been released on commercial video/DVD.
The added scenes included:
- An introductory scene shows hijackers Banker and Wilson stealing the knockout gas used from a U.S. government facility. The opening credits are shown over this scene.
- A scene shows flight attendant training in a cabin mock-up where the crew practice an evacuation using an escape slide. Shortly after, Anne introduces the crew to Joe Patroni.
- A scene shows a conversation between Anne and Joe Patroni.
- A scene shows Gallagher and Chambers training in a flight simulator
- Joe Patroni and his son (who previously appeared in Airport 1975) are shown at the Stevens hangar at Dulles airport earlier in the film.
- A few additional moments of conversation between Wilson and Chambers are shown after the 747 hits the oil rig.
- Eve and Gallagher discover that the plane's navigator is dead. (This better explains why Lisa Stevens freaks out in the film.)
- Eve reveals that she is pregnant to Gallagher.
- When Joe Patroni learns of the crash, he cancels plans to see Joe Jr. graduate, and this leaves his son upset.
- Lisa Stevens (in the first of four flashbacks) remembers her estrangement from her father. She and Ralph Crawford discuss her relationship with her father.
- Steve, the blind pianist, gets injured and Julie takes care of him. While getting him a glass of water, Julie remembers a dinner date (in the second of four flashbacks) she and Steve had before the flight. She revealed to him that night that she helped him get the job as the pianist. They celebrate his job, and the audience sees that the two are in love. (In the theatrical cut, none of this is seen.)
- Bonnie's mother Jane (in the third flashback) remembers their home life. The entire Stern family is seen, including Jane's husband and Bonnie's father. (He is never seen in the theatrical cut.) He asks Jane about the Stevens flight one evening when they are all in the backyard, grilling dinner. Jane is apprehensive about it, but her husband calms her fears; after this, she agreed to go.
- In the final flashback, Karen Wallace thinks back to the happier times of her marriage to Martin, who is about to go with Gallagher to the surface. She brings a picnic basket to Martin, who is going on one of his underwater expeditions. This scene shows that they both did love each other, before Martin devoted more of his time to his work and Karen began an affair with an associate of Martin's.
- After Martin dies, his body is shown floating out of the cargo hold, and is visible to the passengers (including Karen) through the windows.
- As Gallagher and the scuba team plan to raise the plane, they discover the mutilated body of Banker as they make preparations.
- The whole scene of the plane being raised is extended.
- After the plane is raised, Gerald Lucas attempts to get out first, but is stopped.
- There is some more dialogue between Philip Stevens and Eddie aboard the USS Cayuga. Stevens hands Eddie a piece of paper, which reveals Eddie's wife has given birth to twin girls. Stevens hands Eddie a cigar to celebrate the occasion.
Theme Park Attraction
From late 1977 until the early 80's the Universal Studios Tour in California featured the "Airport '77" Screen Test Theater as part of the tour. Several sets were recreated and members of the audience were chosen to play various parts. The audience would watch as these scenes were filmed. Key scenes such as the hi-jacking, crash and rescue were recreated and the footage was then incorporated into a brief digest-version of the film and screened for the audience on monitors. Each show's mini-film was made available to audience members to purchase on 8mm and videotape.
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