Airport had enough plot and enough star power in its cast for three feature films, and it only encompassed about half of the complexity or characters found in Arthur Hailey's best-selling potboiler.
Essentially built around 12 harrowing hours at a major Midwestern airport, the film had everything an audience of the period could have wanted -- suspense, romance, drama, and comedy -- all spread across a vast canvas.
Mel Bakersfeld (Burt Lancaster) is the manager of Lincoln Airport, facing a night beset by the worst blizzard in a decade, a wife (Dana Wynter) who announces she wants a divorce, a primary runway blocked by an airliner stuck in a snowdrift, and a governing board ready to fire him.
Bakersfeld's cynical, smooth-talking brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest (Dean Martin), won't let up on his criticism of the management at Lincoln, but he has his own problems as well, mostly in the form of a young stewardess, Gwen Meighen (Jacqueline Bisset), who is pregnant by him and whom he finds he genuinely loves.
Add to that the presence of an old lady stowaway (Helen Hayes) and a mentally disturbed passenger (Van Heflin) carrying a bomb, and there's more than enough plot to keep viewers engrossed for two hours plus.
Airport became one of the top-grossing movies of its era, racking up seven-digit box-office numbers and spawning an entire film genre -- the disaster movie. With Jean Seberg, George Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Barry Nelson, and Maureen Stapleton filling out the rest of the leading roles, there was something for almost everyone in this film.
The movie still has a lot to offer if only as a prime example of Hollywood at its most successfully glitzy, but, if possible, viewers should try and see the letterboxed version of Airport on DVD (released May 2001).
George Seaton, Henry Hathaway
Studio: Universal Pictures
Producer(s): Ross Hunter
Screenplay: George Seaton