For, June 27, 2014

Yes, it will be on the big screen, and don't call me Shirley.

"Airplane!" (1980) struck me as very funny when I reviewed it for the Desert News in July 1980, but at the time I had no idea that over the years it would become funnier.

Like "Young Frankenstein" (1974) and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975), which preceded it, "Airplane!" is one of those movies that just grabs you with its silliness and forces you to laugh. And like those films, it also has so many memorable lines that are so hilarious, fans can practically recite the entire film.


— As the plane prepares for takeoff, an elderly passenger asks Ted Striker, the tense man in the next seat (Robert Hays), "Nervous?" "Yes," he replies. "First time," she asks tenderly. "No," he says, "I've been nervous lots of times."

— A doctor (Leslie Nielsen) asks Striker, "Can you fly this plane, and land it?" Striker responds, "Surely you can't be serious." The doctor answers, "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."

— The doctor says to the head flight attendant (Julie Hagerty), "This woman has to be gotten to a hospital!" "A hospital?" she says, "what is it?" The doctor responds, "It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now."

And way too many more to list here. And the visual gags come equally fast and furious.


      The cast of 'Airplane! when the crew is told to fly on instruments.

The meager plot (stolen from a 1950s wartime action picture, "Zero Hour!) is about food poisoning disabling the crew so a pilot with PTSD must land the plane. But it's really just an excuse to fill the screen with non-stop spoofery. Some of the gags don't stick, but a remarkable number do. (Despite the PG rating, there are also a number of vulgar sexual and crass body-function gags, but nothing like 21st century comedies.)

One of the things that made "Airplane!" such a hit in 1980 (No. 4 at the box office that year) was the use of well-known serious B-movie actors — Leslie Nielsen, Jeff Bridges, Robert Stack, Peter Graves — playing it straight but spouting ridiculous dialogue. These days, that aspect is probably going to be lost on younger audiences, since Bridges and especially Nielsen went on to have comedy careers in many other off-the-wall farces.


       Lloyd Bridges, center right, and Robert Stack in 'Airplane!'

You can see it at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City on at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, July 4 and 5, and at noon on Sunday, July 6.