At the fourth TCMFF in 2013, I joined a motley crew of my Old Movie Weirdo friends at the historic TCL Chinese Theater for a raucous, Saturday night screening of AIRPLANE! (1980). In front of a packed house, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recreated his role as co-pilot Roger Murdock for a video introduction of writer/directors Jim Abrahams and David Zucker and star Robert Hays, who sat down with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz for a pre-screening interview.
Mankiewicz called AIRPLANE! “the funniest movie I have ever seen,” which is high praise to offer an ’80s movie at a “classic film festival.” But the audience seemed to agree, laughing in unison at the slapstick sight gags and witty puns that have now become part of the pop culture lexicon. And if you don’t believe me, just try saying “Don’t call me Shirley” to anybody you know. It always works – even if they’ve never actually seen the film.
AIRPLANE! is both a spoof of the ridiculous 1970s disaster genre and the 1957 suspense film ZERO HOUR (which also features a screenplay by Airport author Arthur Hailey that’s often quoted word for word). Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, an ex-fighter pilot (from an unnamed, stock footage war) with a “drinking problem,” and Julie Haggerty is his flight attendant ex-girlfriend. When Striker finds himself aboard a plane in which the crew has fallen victim to food poisoning, he must fight his personal demons to get the passengers to safety (with the hilarious help of Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack, and Lloyd Bridges, who picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.)
Comedy is subjective, but I think pretty much anyone who loves movies would agree that AIRPLANE! is inventive, smart and timelessly funny. And, I think all of us in attendance at Grauman’s that night would agree there’s no better way to see a classic than on the big screen, in a room filled with people who love it or are excited to be experiencing it for the first time.
Happily, movie fans in the Nashville area will get a chance to do just that, when AIRPLANE! screens on Saturday, April 18 at the Belcourt Theatre as part of the second annual Wild West Comedy Festival. And ever better: co-writer/directors David Zucker and Jerry Zucker will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.
From April 14 through April 19, the Wild West Comedy Festival will present dozens of events at Nashville-area venues, including the Ryman Auditorium, former home of the Grand Ole Opry. (The Belcourt, which began life as a silent movie theater in 1925, was also home to Opry broadcasts from 1934 through 1936). Other highlights include a screening of FOOTLOOSE (1984) “interrupted” by comic Doug Benson and performances by Jeff Garlin from HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nick Kroll from Comedy Central’s The Kroll Show, and Hannibal Buress (best know to Broad City fans as Ilana’s hook-up buddy/dentist Lincoln).
You can check out the Wild West Comedy Festival schedule here. And you can look forward to my coverage of the sixth annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which kicks off March 26. (Hopefully the pilot on my flight to LAX won’t eat the fish.)