AIRPLANE was one of my favourite movies growing up as a child. It was a film that our 1980s household owned on VHS, so it was an easy pop-in to the VCR whenever I wanted to giggle. (The other films we owned: Steel Magnolias, Lethal Weapon 2, and Big. I have no idea why we owned these four specific movies.)
This scene from the film always made me laugh and still makes me laugh today:
Interesting enough, as a child I had no context to the spoof of the comedy. That is was making fun of the 1970s AIRPORT franchise, plus other iconic and pulp cultural references of the time. I just liked the comedy. How these actors were performing in a thriller/drama, while the audience was the only ones in on the joke.
Take a look at this scene. No actor is “trying to be funny”. They are just saying the lines that they were given while the tone and direction forces everyone to laugh. I feel that these films must be extremely difficult to direct because the there is such a fine line to tip-e-toe in the tone. They must keep the film grounded in reality to the comedy punchlines are so profound.
Leslie Nielsen, who utters the iconic “Shirley” line, went on to more “parody” fame with The Naked Gun franchise, is a master of the “I am doing comedy by doing drama” acting technique.
I know there are other spoof films out there, but they don’t feel as smart as the AIRPLANE! movies, or the Mel Brooks films that pioneered this type of comedy. Or, perhaps I’m getting old and I don’t get the new films.
All I can say is that I was up in the middle of the night last week as my newborn daughter didn’t feel like sleeping and AIRPLANE was on the television. And I laughed as much as I did when I was 6 years old when I first saw this movie. AIRPLANE holds up and stands the test of time. That’s the bottomline.