Ostensibly a spoof of the Airport movies (right down to the sick-girl-and-guitar scene from Airport 1975), Airplane! is actually a virtual scene-for-scene remake of a 1957 air-disaster thriller called Zero Hour!, in which a panicky passenger must take over for the food-poisoned cockpit crew. (Like Airport, Zero Hour! was written by Arthur Hailey.)
As the filmmakers (Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker) cleverly realized, there’s a very thin line between pulp drama like Zero Hour! and campy outright parody, which is why so many members of the Airplane! cast are veterans of the square-jawed school of heroic acting (Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen) who are playing it straight and absolutely deadpan.
To make a spoof this thorough, you really have to love the material you’re lampooning, and it’s clear here that the ZAZ team loved both those old-fashioned, streamlined thrillers and the contemporary star-studded disaster movies, paying homage to both even as they sent them up mercilessly.
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