My all time favorite comedy movie is Airplane starring Leslie Nielsen. I can watch it over and over and still laugh like crazy. But who knew that Airplane was actually based on a serious movie called Zero Hour?
I’m a fan of old movies and every week I check out the broadcast schedule of Turner Movie Classics and see if there’s anything worth DVRing. I’m also an airplane nut so when I saw a movie called Zero Hour from 1957 scheduled to run involving a passenger having to land a plane, I set my recorder.
Yesterday my wife and I played the movie back and we were blown away. Absolutely gobsmacked, as they say in England. Zero Hour was Airplane only in a serious form starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden.
The plot was identical although insted of a 707 in Airplane the plane in Zero Hour was an old DC-4. Passengers were given a choice of fish or meat for dinner. Everybody who ate fish became gravely ill including both the pilot and co-pilot leaving nobody to fly the plane.
Ted Stryker (they spelled his name Striker in Airplane) was on board trying to patch up differences with his wife Ellen. Because of a bad experience as a fighter pilot in World War II, he experienced nasty flashbacks that caused him to be unable to hold a job for any length of time and she was threatening to dump him.
Don’t you know that Ted’s little boy on the plane was named—you guessed it—Joey! Joey got the cockpit tour just like in Airplane although they didn’t ask him if he had ever been in a Turkish prison! Nor did they ask Joey if he had ever seen a grown man naked or whether he liked gladiator movies!
On Zero Hour the plane was flying from Winnipeg to Vancouver in Canada. Due to the sickness on the DC-4 they hoped to land in Calgary or Edmonton to get medical care for ill passengers but everything was fogged in. With the cockpit crew knocked out due to the food poisoning, the flight attendant quietly asked each passenger if they could fly a plane. When she got to Stryker, he said he had flown fighters during World War II but nothing like a large transport but he agreed to give it a shot.
On the ground a guy who flew with Stryker in World War II and really didn’t like Stryker helped to talk him down. At one point in the tower the line came up: “I guess I picked a bad week to give up smoking.” Sound familiar? Right out of Airplane!
Remember the twit (Johnny) in Airplane who pranced around getting coffee and doing menial chores? Well there was a similiar guy on Zero Hour in the tower but his role was just a couple of walk throughs on the old movie.
Who could forget the mutiple slap of a woman who was hysterically out of control on Airplane as person after person slapped her. Well on Zero Hour, they actually had a mini-version where two people took turns. Writers for Airplane obviously saw the bit and found a way to expand it and make it very funny.
Ted Stryker gets the plane on final approach to Vancouver when the doctor on the plane appears at the cockpit door and wishes them well. Just like in Airplane!
The plane lands safely although the landing gear shears off.
Who knew that Airplane was actually a parody of an old and serious movie? It was incredible to see how writers for Airplane took what they saw on Zero Hour and enhanced it and turned it into a brilliant comedy.