To put it simply, AIRPLANE! is one of the funniest movies ever made. A 1980 comedy from the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, the film spoofed disaster movies of the ‘70s and helped introduce the world to Leslie Nielsen’s previously undiscovered sense of humor. For the first half of his career, Nielsen had been known as a dramatic actor – often playing the villain in films. In AIRPLANE!, though, Nielsen was able to show off his masterful skill of deadpan humor and launch himself into a career as the godfather of spoof.
While spoof has become a dirty word as of late, thanks to “films” such as EPIC MOVIE, DATE MOVE and MEET THE SPARTANS, with AIRPLANE! Abrahams and the Zucker brothers showed that you could be both silly and smart when lampooning films. Since its release, AIRPLANE! has become a fan-favorite comedy – with lines from the film becoming deeply entrenched in popular culture. Frequently topping “Best Of” lists for comedies, AIRPLANE!'s place in pop culture history has been chiseled into stone. But have you seen ZERO HOUR!, the 1957 film that directly inspired some of AIRPLANE!’s funniest gags.
With a script by novelist Arthur Hailey, ZERO HOUR! starred Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden. The similarities between AIRPLANE! and ZERO HOUR! are so pronounced, the filmmakers behind AIRPLANE! actually had to buy the rights to ZERO HOUR!
Dana Andrews stars as Ted Stryker (sound familiar?), a veteran whose squadron was killed due to a mistake on Stryker’s part. While on a commercial flight on his way to save his crumbling marriage, Stryker must step up to the plate when the plane's crew is stricken ill due to bad fish. Much of AIRPLANE!'s dialogue was actually taken verbatim from ZERO HOUR! – only played as comedy. It’s amazing what a little tongue-in-cheek ribbing can do for a self-serious script.
ZERO HOUR! is available on DVD from Warner Brothers but you can see AIRPLANE! on the big screen this Wednesday at Market Square Park as part of our Rolling Roadshow series. We’re screening the classic comedy under the night sky so grab a blanket or some chairs, pack a few snacks and make your way to historic Market Square Park for a free screening of one of the funniest movies ever filmed. Looks like you picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.