Not content to merely have another mid-air collision, the producers of Airport ’77 really decided to pile it on this go-round. NOT ONLY do we get a multi-million dollar art theft, we also get skyjackers, the Bermuda Triangle, a submerged airplane, and Dracula! (Okay, not really Dracula, but Christopher Lee, who played Dracula seven times in Hammer’s horror series.) For all of that, it’s still the best of the Airport sequels.
Here’s the plot: Jimmy Stewart invites a lot of guests aboard his nifty new plane, which also happens to be loaded with a LOT of priceless artwork, to come to what used to be his family home and is now going to be a museum. He’s not on the plane himself, because he’s handling the press for the museum and the plane. It turns out that art thieves have infiltrated the flight crew, and their plan is to hijack the plane, use gas to knock everyone out, land on a deserted airstrip somewhere in the Caribbean, transfer the art to another plane, and be halfway to Brazil before the people on Jimmy’s plane wake up. Of course, things go awry, and the plane ends up on the ocean floor, 600 miles off course, running out of oxygen and slowly filling up with water.
The rest of the film has to do with the rescue efforts of the Navy and a whole lot of other people, including George Kennedy as Joe Patroni! Yup, he’s back again for his third go-round, showing up exactly halfway through the movie to work his patented Patroni problem-solving magic. This time, Joe’s apparently gotten an even better promotion than the one he’d gotten in Airport 1975, but we’re left in the dark as to what it might be. The only utterance we get in explanation is his first line of dialogue: “I like this liaison between my company and the Navy.” That’s it. If this were your first Airport film, you’d be pretty lost if asked to explain exactly who Joe Patroni is. He does seem to know everybody, though. He calls Jimmy Stewart’s character, one of the richest men in the world, by his first name and throws his arm around his shoulders as if they’ve been friends forever. I think I’d like to buy a rubber wristband that says “WWJPD?”
The guest star list this time out is a step up from the one for Airport 1975. We’ve got the aforementioned Stewart, Kennedy, and Lee, along with Jack Lemmon, Lee Grant, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Kathleen Quinlan, Brenda Vaccaro, Darren McGavin, Robert Foxworth, Gil Gerard, and the ever-annoying Tom Sullivan. Because of the success of Airport 1975, apparently the producers felt that they needed another saccharine song that would have no chance of getting an Oscar nomination—thus Tom’s inclusion in the film. He sings “Beauty is in the Eyes of the Beholder,” the lyrics of which I now quote:
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder
And that’s what I want to do.
Hold you in my life forever,
And just keep on loving you.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder
So take a special look and see,
And just possibly,
You’ll see the beauty that’s in me.
–composed and sung by Tom Sullivan X
I have major problems with the lyrics of the first verse. Exactly what is Tom referring to in the second line? In what way does it connect to the first line? It’s utterly incomprehensible. As if the lyrics weren’t bad enough on their own, Tom also sings this song in a register that allows him to communicate with dolphins and bats. And I don’t know about you, but it always creeps me out to hear blind singers singing songs about seeing, and eyes, and stuff like that.
In the final analysis, as much as I wanted it to be, Airport ’77 isn’t the miserable failure that either of the other two Airport sequels is. It’s certainly not as bad as you’d think a movie from the director of The Bat People and The Dirt Gang would be.
I would most certainly be remiss if I didn’t include the trailer for the film, courtesy of YouTube (as always):