AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Airplane!
Director: Jim Abrahams (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Jul 1980
Duration (in mins):  88
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Cast: Robert Hays  (Ted Striker)
  Julie Hagerty  (Elaine [Dickinson])
  Kareem Abdul-Jabaar  ([Roger] Murdock)
 

Summary: When stewardess Elaine Dickinson gets to the airport to board her flight, boyfriend Ted Striker meets her on her way to the gate to salvage their broken relationship. Ted expects to see Elaine when she returns, but she has requested a transfer to Chicago, Illinois, and won’t be back. On the spur of the moment, Ted buys an airplane ticket and boards Elaine’s flight despite wrestling with some flashbacks as a wartime pilot. Before takeoff, Elaine tends to a young female heart transplant patient on a gurney. As Elaine hands out magazines to passengers, she is upset to see Ted, who returns to his seat and reminisces about meeting Elaine with an older woman seated next to him. According to Ted, he was struck by a thunderbolt when he saw Elaine on the dance floor of a seedy bar during the war. It was a scene out of Saturday Night Fever in which the jukebox played “Stayin' Alive” as their bodies gyrated in unison to the disco beat. When Ted returns to the present, the older woman in the next seat has hanged herself after listening to him drone on. Meanwhile, Elaine takes dinner orders from the passengers. When a boy, Joey Hammen, asks if he can see the cockpit, Elaine says she’ll get permission from the captain. In the galley kitchen, Elaine remembers when she and Ted kissed on the beach as the waves broke over them. Soon, Joey visits the cockpit and recognizes that the co-pilot Roger Murdock is really professional basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Murdock denies his celebrity status while Capt. Clarence Oveur makes inappropriate remarks during small talk with Joey. While Ted does his best to convince Elaine to resume their relationship, she points out that nothing will change as long as he lives in the past and Ted has a sudden flash back of when he was recovering from his wounds at an army hospital. Soon, stewardess Randy borrows a guitar from one of the passengers, a nun, and serenades the heart transplant passenger. While Randy sings, she accidentally unplugs the patient’s intravenous line twice and the little girl goes into distress until her mother comes to her aid. Then, several of the passengers become ill and the captain tells Elaine to discreetly find a doctor among the passengers. When Dr. Rumack examines a woman, he pulls three hard boiled eggs from her mouth and tells Elaine that the pilot has to land the plane as soon as possible. In the cockpit, Victor Basta collapses from the mysterious illness followed by Murdock. The captain grabs the controls and rights the plane as it goes into a spin. The doctor observes that all the passengers who ate the fish for dinner are sick. As he describes classic food poisoning symptoms to Elaine, the captain becomes ill and collapses and Elaine inflates the plastic automatic pilot, Otto. While Elaine speaks on the radio to the air traffic control in Chicago, Otto deflates and she must manually inflate it. The doctor informs Elaine that if the sick passengers can’t get to a hospital, they will die. When Elaine asks if anyone on board can fly a plane, panic breaks out. Meanwhile, in Chicago, air traffic dispatcher McCroskey summons Capt. Rex Kramer to the airport to help with the crisis. Ted is the only one on the airplane with any flying experience. However, he pushes the wrong button in the cockpit and sends the plane into a nosedive. When a woman passenger becomes hysterical as a result, passengers hold bats, boxing gloves and guns waiting their turn in the aisle to put her out of her misery. McCroskey tells Kramer it is up to him to guide Ted to land the plane. However, Kramer and Ted were fellow fighter pilots during the war and a grudge exists between them. When Kramer tells Ted to disengage Otto, turbulence rocks the airplane. Otto wraps around Elaine’s chest until she breaks free. Kramer asks Elaine to take over the copilot seat and work the radio. In the cabin, the passengers demand answers. When Dr. Rumack tells them only one pilot is slightly ill while the other two pilots are at the controls, his nose grows like Pinocchio. On the ground, the press surrounds McCroskey and pumps him with questions. McCroskey tells them that a passenger, who is an experienced air force pilot, will land the plane. However, Ted has another war flashback that unnerves him. With his confidence gone, Ted places Otto in the pilot’s seat and leaves the cockpit. Dr. Rumack cheers up Ted with a story about a mortally wounded fighter pilot under his care named George Zip who, in his dying breath, talked about the importance of determination and perseverance even when the odds were bleak. George was a friend of Ted’s and Rumack’s story gives Ted the courage to land the plane. Ted goes back to the cockpit and tells Kramer there’s no time to waste. Elaine tells air traffic control the crew is preparing for their descent. McCroskey instructs all emergency vehicles to go to runway nine. Fire engines, cement trucks and a Budweiser beer delivery truck race across the tarmac. Elaine admires Ted’s sudden take-charge attitude and tells him how proud she is of him. As the plane descends, Kramer tells Ted to watch his speed, he is going too fast. The plane bounces up and down and side-to-side as it approaches the runway, Ted wrestles with the controls, as Kramer instructs him by radio. Ted pulls the brake out of the dashboard and throws it aside. The landing gear squeals against the runway while sweat pours down Ted’s face. Finally, the landing gear breaks off and the plane skids to a stop. The sick passengers are transported to the hospital by ambulance. As Elaine and Ted embrace, Otto winks at Ted and Elaine as he taxis down the runway. Otto takes off in the plane with an inflatable female autopilot at his side.  

Distribution Company: Paramount Pictures
Director: Jim Abrahams (Dir)
  David Zucker (Dir)
  Jerry Zucker (Dir)
  Maurice Vaccarino (Unit prod mgr)
  Arne Schmidt (1st asst dir)
  Ken Collins (2d asst dir)
Producer: Jon Davison (Prod)
  Jim Abrahams (Exec prod)
  David Zucker (Exec prod)
  Jerry Zucker (Exec prod)
  Hunt Lowry (Assoc prod)
Writer: Jim Abrahams (Wrt)
  David Zucker (Wrt)
  Jerry Zucker (Wrt)

Subject Major: Air pilots
  Air traffic controllers
  Airlines
  Airplanes
  Airports
  Food poisoning
  Stewardesses
 
Subject Minor: Bars
  Charity workers
  Courage
  Disasters
  Discotheques
  Firemen
  Fish
  Heart transplants
  Hospitals
  Panic
  Post-traumatic stress disorder
  Public relations
  Reporters
  War injuries

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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