Henry Alitto was back this week to kick off his third pair of films, and as usual he showed some classic cartoons as shorts.
The first was Rock-a-Bye-Bear, a 1952 cartoon directed by Tex Avery for MGM, featuring a cranky hibernating bear who demands silence from his watchdog – but ultimately ends up being so soundly asleep that his watchdog’s efforts at remaining silent turn out to be in vain.
The second cartoon (which won’t embed – apologies) is Deputy Droopy, a 1955 cartoon also directed by Tex Avery, also for MGM. Henry warned us that the plots were similar. And by similar, he meant almost exactly the same. The setup is a bit different – Deputy Droopy is guarding a safe, and at any noise the Sheriff will come bursting in, so two criminals intent on stealing what is in the safe have to be very quiet…until it turns out the Sheriff’s hearing aid battery has gone out. The blatant re-use of the gags from Rock-a-Bye-Bear would have amounted to felony plagiarism, if it weren’t for the fact that the two cartoons were done by the same people. At any rate, it was lazy.
Some folks who weren’t lazy were Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, who wrote and directed this week’s feature, the 1980 comedy classic Airplane! I say they weren’t lazy because they packed in about as many jokes into a 90 minute movie as can possibly fit. The story, for what it’s worth, goes something like this:
Ted Stryker, a former military pilot whose decisions resulted in the deaths of six men over Macho Grande during the war (“Seven…Lieutenant Zip died this morning”) has just been dumped by his stewardess girlfriend Elaine because he can’t get over the past. In desperation, he rushes to the airport and buys a ticket on Elaine’s flight, which happens to be going from L.A. to Chicago (which is a large city on the coast of Lake Michigan, but that’s not important right now).
The flight crew includes Captain Clarence Oveur (“Tower’s radio clearance, over!” “That’s Clarence Oveur, over!”), the most likeable pedophile in film history, along with co-pilot Roger Murdoch and navigator Victor Basta (“Roger, Roger! What’s our vector, Victor?”).
Incidentally, Roger Murdoch looks quite a bit like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But if this movie is going to spoof disaster flicks, then a disaster is going to have to happen, and so a disaster we get: the Salmon Mousse! Or, rather, just the in-flight fish dinner. Everybody who eats the fish gets violently ill – and that includes all three members of the cockpit crew.
Dr. Rumack, who happens to be on board, begins tending the passengers while the plane is put on autopilot and the stewardesses try to figure out what to do.
It turns out that the only person with any flight experience whatsoever who did not have the fish is good old Ted Stryker, whose experience during the war was with single engine fighters, not four-engine passenger jets. Elaine opposes Ted being asked to land the plane, but there’s not really any other choice.
But Ted needs to be talked down by somebody who knows that plane inside and out, and that someone just happens to be Captain Rex Kramer, who was his commanding officer over Macho Grande. Tension! Ted even momentarily abandons his post (leaving us comedy viewers in doubt as to whether the plane will be safely landed!) until he learns that Dr. Rumack was attending at Lt. George Zip’s death. ” ‘Doc,’ he said,” he said, ” ‘some time when the crew is up against it, and the breaks are beating the boys, tell them to get out there and give it all they got and win just one for the Zipper. I don’t know where I’ll be then, Doc,’ he said,” he said, ” ‘but I won’t smell too good, that’s for sure.’ ” And that, well that’s good enough to get Stryker back in that cockpit to make the worst landing in the history of that airfield. The End. I just wanted to say “Good Luck”. We’re all counting on you back here.
And that’s…about that. There’s not much more to it. If you want to bask in the jokes, why not just watch the movie?
That said, the saddest thing about Airplane! is that several of the most memorable jokes from Airplane! are actually from Airplane II. Not saying Airplane II is a better movie, just that I miss a few of the gags from that one. So watch that one, too.
I imagine it’s a function of when I grew up, but the early-mid 1980s spawned some of the films that I’d consider the funniest comedies ever. Airplane! Top Secret! Three Amigos! (Anything else ending in an exclamation point!) Airplane II. Ghostbusters. Real Genius. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Johnny Dangerously. A Christmas Story. Spaceballs. The list just goes on. Sure, I can laugh at comedies from other eras, but those really hit me in the wheelhouse. There’s no moral here. Stop reading. The synopsis is over. Are you still reading?