With three successful entries in their Airport franchise, Universal Studios finally crashed and burned with the fourth installment, The Concorde: Airport ’79. It’s a fact that the Airport movies were never critical darlings, often called relentlessly ridiculous if not out-and-out silly at times, but they were all successful at the box office to varying degrees. This was not the case with Airport ’79.
The main plot of The Concorde: Airport ’79 deals with arms manufacturer Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), who has been dealing illegally with foreign governments during the Cold War, and his efforts to cover up these crimes by killing television reporter Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has come into possession of documents proving his company’s involvement. Now, this at first looks to be an interesting storyline for a movie, and certainly a plausible scenario, but then we spend two minutes with Maggie, the dumbest most gullible reporter on the face of the Earth, and our ability to suspend disbelief is broken. Not only is a man claiming he has proof that Harrison has been dealing arms to communist countries, but he is murdered right in front of her — she only escapes with her own life because of the sheer incompetence of the assassin — and yet, after numerous attempts to destroy the plane she is on, Maggie is still talked down from going to her network bosses with the story, by Harrison himself. And why would she listen to the man accused of selling weapons to North Korea, and who may have ordered the murder of a whistleblower?
That Maggie runs to cry on the shoulder of the man who most likely ordered her murder completely divorces our ability to feel any sympathy for her; I don’t care how deeply in love you are, there is a thing called “survival instinct” that should be kicking in right about now. He gives her some bullshit excuse that these accusations are nonsense, that it’s probably some blackmail scheme to take down his company, and she agrees to hold off reporting on the story. This of course allows him to have a henchman reprogram his company’s new Buzzard surface-to-air missile to blow up the Concorde that she is taking to Paris.
Now, I may not be a genius businessman but having your own test drone fly off course and blow up a plane full of international passengers — the Concorde is on a goodwill flight to the Moscow Olympics — doesn’t seem like a wise business decision. Even if you manage to escape criminal prosecution for the “accidental” death of over a hundred people, your company would most likely be sued into oblivion, so why not just have another hitman meet her in Paris? As murder plots go, blowing up a Concorde to kill just one person, is just one step up from Snakes on a Plane.
And what noble flight crew manages to pull off such incredible aerial feats? Well returning for the fourth and final time is Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), who along with Capt. Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) and flight engineer Peter O’Neill (David Warner) manage to keep the Concorde flying in the face of insurmountable odds. And aside from the dangers of killer drones, we also must suffer the blatant sexism of this franchise, as it hits new lows with this installment; for example, we get Chief Stewardess Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel) commenting, “You pilots are such… men” when the flight crew are all chatting during their coffee break, and Patroni responds, “They don’t call it the cockpit for nothing, honey.” Practically every moment with George Kennedy in this movie is cringe-inducing, especially the sex scene that follows Metrand setting Patroni up on a blind date with a prostitute, and it’s all downhill from there.
The Concorde: Airport ’79 is a disaster in every aspect of the word, there is not one aspect of the screenplay that makes a lick of sense, and characters behave and respond in ways that are inexplicable to anyone with even a small degree of sanity. Ludicrous moments after ludicrous moments are piled on as if the producers believed that inundating the audience with so much stupidity could beat them into submission. Not only does the Concorde survive a killer drone attack, but it also survives an attack by an F-4 Phantom II fighter jet, and then later suffers sabotage that results in the plane’s cargo hatch opening, causing explosive decompression and a forced crash landing. This may seem absurd at first, but let’s break down this film’s plot into basic points, to see just how insane this movie actually is, because as you will come to understand, “absurd” barely covers what we get in this film.
Disaster Break Down:
• Harrison hires a killer to murder a whistleblower who could expose his illegal arms deal, and the killer for some reason waits until the man has entered Maggie’s house before shooting the poor bastard.
• Harrison orders his flunky to reprogram his company’s killer drone to take down the Concorde, despite the repercussion this would have on his company if this plan succeeded.
• Patroni is able to outmaneuver a drone by doing stunts that the Concorde is simply not capable of performing, but luckily the drone is taken out by a pair of F-15 fighter jets, who manage to reach the threatened Concorde in record time.
• With the failure of the drone attack, Harrison orders hired mercenaries in an F-4 Phantom to shoot down the Concorde. This is certainly a rational next step.
• Patroni sticks his arm out of the cockpit window to shoot off flares, to divert the F-4 Phantom’s heat-seeking missiles away from the Concorde’s engines, despite the fact that the heat of the Concorde’s engines greatly exceeds that of a flare, and this somehow works.
• With its engines damaged, the Concorde plummets to the ocean below, yet it manages to ignite one of the engines at the last second so that it can pull up in the nick of time.
• The more maneuverable enemy fighter for some reason cannot pull up in time and it crashes into the sea.
• The Concorde performs an emergency landing that requires experimental nets to slow the plane down. This is because, during the attack, its reverse thrusters and hydraulic brakes had been damaged.
• The head of the airline, Eli Sands (Eddie Albert), who was aboard the plane with his latest trophy wife (Sybil Danning), vows the plane will be fixed and ready to continue to Moscow the very next day. This is beyond preposterous, as after taking that kind of damage it’d be lucky to be flight-worthy in a month, if ever. All those crazy maneuvers would have seriously compromised the structural integrity of the Concorde.
• Maggie has dinner with Harrison because she still hasn’t clued into the fact that her boyfriend has been trying to kill her. Dumbest reporter ever.
• One of the repair crew members is a paid saboteur, and he rigs one of the cargo hatches to open mid-flight, and this tactic is chosen because a bomb isn’t a sure thing.
• Turns out explosive decompression is also not a sure thing, as the Concorde manages to safely crash land in Austria.
• Maggie survives to finally report on her story, and we get a quick shot of Harrison exiting the picture.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Airport movie if it wasn’t exploding at the seams with gratuitous characters, ones that serve no purpose other than to pad the film’s run-time, and Airport ’79 is certainly no exception; as the film’s “subplot” is about the Concorde’s goodwill trip to the Moscow Olympics, we are introduced to reporter Robert Palmer (John Davidson), who is having a secret love affair with Russian gymnast Alicia Rogov (Andrea Marcovicci), then there is the big bear of a Russian coach named Markov (Avery Schreiber) and his deaf daughter (Stacy Heather Tolkin), next is a beleaguered mother (Cicely Tyson), whose son desperately needs a heart transplant — sadly there are no singing nuns to comfort her — and then for comic relief we have Charo as a woman trying to smuggle her dog aboard, and how could we forget Martha Raye as the passenger with serious bladder problems, and finally Jimmie Walker as a stoned jazz saxophonist, who won’t let anything harsh his mellow.
To say that Concorde: Airport ’79 is a bad movie goes without saying, but it does fall into the category of being “so bad it’s good” as the level of absurdities that roll out every couple of minutes is truly staggering, with special visual effects that give new meaning to the word special. Then there is George Kennedy, who after being nothing but a glorified cameo in Airport ’77 is finally given center stage here, and he dives into this role with a sexist abandon that will leave you gobsmacked. This is a movie that has to be seen to be believed — my review could never truly do this film justice — and though it did bomb at the box office, it did pave the way for Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers to release their disaster spoof Airplane! the very next year, so that’s kind of nice.
Note: The film received such derisive laughter upon release that Universal Pictures decided to market it as a comedy, with the tagline: “Fasten your seatbelts, the thrills are terrific. . .and so are the laughs!” Nice try guys, but no one’s buying.
The Concorde... Airport '79
Concorde: Airport ’79 is a laughably bad entry in franchise that was already pushing at the seams of plausibility, but the sheer levels of bad writing found here, along with terrible optical effects and over-acting, earns this final entry a place on the Mount Rushmore of bad disaster movies.