While it did start the seventies disaster genre, Airport barely qualifies. The first hour of the film is excruciating soap opera melodrama—airport chief Burt Lancaster is stuck in a loveless marriage with harpy Dana Wynter, so he’s got a flirtation going with widowed Jean Seberg. His sister, played by Barbara Hale, is stuck in a loveless marriage with pilot Dean Martin, who’s carrying on with stewardess Jacqueline Bisset.
Lancaster is only stepping out on Wynter because she’s awful to him… Hale’s great to Martin, but she’s barren, so it’s tacitly agreed he’s expected to step out. Seaton’s script is really direct about that point—it’s Hale’s fault.
Casting Martin as a megalomaniac pilot is an interesting choice. His performance is awful, but it’s appropriate. Once the disaster kicks in, however, he gets a little better.
Lancaster looks disinterested and bored with the film; Seberg is okay, though her role is seriously underwritten. The first half of the film belongs to Helen Hayes, playing a stowaway. She’s the best thing in the film.
Maureen Stapleton’s good (though the script fails her); Whit Bissell probably gives film’s second best performance.
The second half, the disaster part… is actually somewhat worse. It moves faster, but it’s less competent as Seaton make Martin into an angel.
Seaton’s direction is awful. Though the film clearly has a budget, he shoots the interiors like he doesn’t. His Panavision composition is shockingly inept.
Combined with Alfred Newman’s truly atrocious score, Airport is a miserable viewing experience.
Directed by George Seaton; screenplay by Seaton, based on the novel by Arthur Hailey; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by Stuart Gilmore; music by Alfred Newman; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Burt Lancaster (Mel Bakersfeld), Dean Martin (Capt. Vernon Demerest), Jean Seberg (Tanya Livingston), Jacqueline Bisset (Gwen Meighen), George Kennedy (Joe Patroni), Helen Hayes (Ada Quonsett), Van Heflin (D.O. Guerrero), Maureen Stapleton (Inez Guerrero), Barry Nelson (Capt. Anson Harris), Dana Wynter (Cindy Bakersfeld), Lloyd Nolan (Harry Standish), Barbara Hale (Sarah Bakersfeld Demerest), Gary Collins (Cy Jordan), John Findlater (Peter Coakley), Jessie Royce Landis (Mrs. Harriet DuBarry Mossman), Larry Gates (Commissioner Ackerman), Peter Turgeon (Marcus Rathbone), Whit Bissell (Mr. Davidson), Virginia Grey (Mrs. Schultz), Eileen Wesson (Judy Barton) and Paul Picerni (Dr. Compagno).