Christmas Gift Flying Movies: Redux

Were there any decent flying movies made after 1960?

In last year’s Christmas blog, we mentioned Tora, Tora, Tora, which hit the theaters in 1970 – and is still worth a viewing, especially if you like great flying sequences and a reasonably accurate retelling of an historic and tragic event (when does that happen in LaLaLand?). It’s a plus if you really love bad dialogue, formulaic actingn and one-dimensional characters, but what can you expect from an EPIC?

Dr Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, may well be Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. I write that not only because it was filmed in glorious black and white way back in 1964, but also because it’s such a tightly directed, amazingly well-acted, beautifully scripted work of art. It was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture; Best Director (Kubrick); Best Actor (Peter Sellers) and Best Screenplay Adaptation (Kubrick, Peter George and Terry Southern) and deserved far more.

Sellers plays three characters: the eponymous former Nazi scientist; the President of the United States, Merkin Muffley; and the British Aide to Burpelson Air Force Base’s Commander, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake. George C. Scott became famous, or infamous, for his animated portrayal of General ‘Buck’ Turgidson. Sterling Hayden was magnificent as the paranoid, psychotic Burpelson Commander, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. Keenan Wynn had a funny turn as Army Colonel ‘Bat’ Guano. Slim Pickens had an hysterical ride as the B-52 Commander, Major T.J. ‘King’ Kong. English character actor, Peter Bull, was delightful as the Russian Ambassador to the US, Alexi de Sadesky. And a very young James Earl Jones played Air Force Lieutenant Lothar Zogg.

The scenes set inside Major Kong’s B-52 seem as real as I can imagine, probably because Kubrick was a fanatic for detail and did massive research. Those scenes set inside the United States’ “War Room” were so “realistic” that, after his inauguration, Ronald Reagan asked to see his “War Room”.
The movie is a black comedy that poses two questions. What if fluoridation of water was a giant Communist plot designed to poison our “precious bodily fluids”? And what if an American Air Force Base Commander decided that the only way to combat said Communist plot was to start a nuclear war with Russia?

The American Film Institute ranked it #3 on AFI’s 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time, and #26 on AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. If you haven’t ever seen it – even if you hate black and white – get thee to thine computer and order it now. It is magnificent filmmaking.

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines is Ken Annakin’s 1965 paen to early aviation, recreating “the historic 1910 London-Paris air race”. While there was an actual air race in 1910, it was flown between London and Manchester, and I couldn’t find reference to a “London to Paris air race.” What the hell, it’s a movie about early airplanes – some of which were actually built for the movie and, incredibly, some of which actually flew.

Stuart Whitman plays a broke American aviator who brings his “Curtiss” biplane to England to participate in the world’s greatest air race. His primary competition comes from James Fox’s Brit air officer, Richard Mays, and Alberto Sordi’s, Count Emilio Ponticelli. Fox and Whitman also compete for the affections of Patricia Rawnsley, played by Sarah Miles. Miles is the daughter of the air race’s sponsor, publisher Lord Rawnsley, played by British character actor, Robert Morley (who played Katherine Hepburn’s minister brother in The African Queen).

Brit funnyman, Terry-Thomas, plays the unscrupulous Sir Percy Ware-Armitage who sabotages competitors’ aircraft. Jean-Pierre Cassell plays the French aviator, Pierre Dubois, who has numerous liasons with the French, German, Swedish, Belgian, Bulgarian, and British tootsies, all played by producer Daryl F Zanuck’s real-life mistress Irina Demick. Gert Frobe (who played Goldfinger in the 3rd James Bond film of the same name) is Colonel Manfred Von Hollstein, who learns to fly by the manual, as all German Officers would have done.
There are numerous bit parts for actors such as American comedian Red Skelton, Brit comic Benny Hill, English theatrical royalty, Dame Flora Robson (Elizabeth, the first, in The Sea Hawk) and in a small role as a Scottsman, Gordon Jackson (the butler, Hudson, in Upstairs, Downstairs) who spends a lot of time drinking.

20 airplanes were actually built for the film and 6 of them actually flew. There are newsreel shots of numerous early flying machines that add authenticity – and loads of derisive laughter opportunities. The acting is sincere, the flying visuals are spectacular, and the story is, well, Hollywood. But it’s a joyous flying movie that deserves your attention – and it was even shot in color. Buy or rent it soon.

A personal favorite of mine is Airplane!, Paramount’s 1980 disaster movie parody that takes nothing seriously. Forget the visuals – I’ve built better looking model airplanes – and the movie’s Boeing 707 makes propeller engine noises. The film is irreverent, rude and hysterically funny.
Everyone in the cast has a goof on everyone else in the cast. Former pilot Robert Hays has a drinking problem. Current Air Traffic Controller Lloyd Bridges has a drug problem. Julie Haggerty has a man problem (and really likes blow-up dolls). Robert Stack has violence issues. Leslie Nielsen is a doctor who finds patients everywhere. Peter Graves would like to “gladiator movies”. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t play basketball. Barbara Billingsley (straight-laced, former Mom to Jerry Mathers in Leave It To Beaver) don’t take no jive. Howard Jarvis keeps waiting, and waiting and waiting. And over-the-top Stephen Stucker steals everyone scene he’s in.

The plot? Who cares. Okay, the crew in the flight deck on a cross country flight succumbs to bad fish and there’s no one to fly the plane, except cab driver Robert Hays who hasn’t flown since he was responsible for a buddy’s death back in the war. (Which war? Who cares.) Do they make it, or don’t they? It doesn’t really matter because the journey is way too much fun. The American Film Institute ranked it the 10th funniest American film of all time.
If you don’t like non-politically correct movies, you’ll hate this film. But if you love Monty Python’s Flying Circus, this film be your meat. Buy it.

Airport – there’s 4 of them, the first is the best, and you really needn’t bother with the remaining 3. The first one was released in 1970. Not the first airplane disaster movie – 1954’s The High and the Mighty started the genre – but, for the time, it was exciting.
The plot is the same as all disaster movies: something bad happens (or is about to happen; or could happen; or should happen) and we sit on the edge of our seats hoping against hope that everyone will survive.

The script is formulaic and it has even good actors struggling to believe their lines: Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Helen Hayes (who steals scenes like the pro she was), Jean Seberg, Van Heflin, Dana Wynter and Maureen Stapleton. The not-so-good actors are a scream – especially if you love bad acting. Dean Martin – a really good singer who should have stuck to his talent – is the Senior Captain and spits his lines out like they’ve got a nasty taste. Jacqueline Bisset was always much better in a bathing suit than fully clothed. Barry Nelson, Barbara Hale and Gary Collins all try their best.
It ain’t about good dialogue, or good acting or directing, it’s all about the disaster. Will they or won’t they get home?

Okay, so I’m running out of time as 2018 has a little more than 12 hours left before it expires (praise Haysoos). Below are some of the other films from after 1960 that you may enjoy giving as a flying Christmas gift:

Top Gun – 1986
Battle of Britain – 1969
The Great Waldo Pepper – 1975
The Blue Max – 1966
The Aviator – 1985 (Christoper Reeve)
The Aviator – 2004 (Leonardo DiCaprio)
1941 – 1979
Air America – 1990
The Flight of the Phoenix – 1965
Flyboys – 2006
Pearl Harbor – 2001

I may comment on these later, or I may scoop them together and do this again next December. We’ll see. Hope you’ve had a Happy Christmas and I wish you all Hao’ole Makahiki Hou.

Posted in Whimsy