Saturday, May 19, 2018

"International Airport" - Now Boring at Gate 121!

Ha ha! Well, to be honest, I'm usually interested in ANY movie, feature or made-for-TV, that was produced prior to about 1990 and involves an airliner in distress filled with "name" passengers. But even as these things go, the 1985 ABC special presentation, International Airport, is pretty dreary. Let's take a (comparatively) brief foray into the TV-Movie Time Tunnel and check it out.
International Airport is actually a pilot for what was intended to be yet another Aaron Spelling produced series in the vein of The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Hotel, in which a dynamic, caring airport manager is shown week-to-week helping passengers and other airport employees with their various issues. It takes its formulaic lead from the 1970 film Airport, though there is no official relation.
Headlining the affair is Gil Gerard, still handsome and charming after having starred in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, which ended in 1981. He'd been appearing in a half-dozen TV-movies and was ready to star in another series (which he did, the year after this, in the the cop/karate kid show Sidekicks, which somehow lasted 23 episodes.) For his part in the disaster genre, Gerard had a supporting role in Airport '77 (1977.)

At his side as head of public relations is Berlinda Tolbert and her hair. Tolbert was just coming off a decade-long run on The Jeffersons and was eager to work in drama rather than another broad sitcom. She seems in perpetual motion in Airport, as if someone was off-camera shouting, "Move it, move it! Let's go!"

While careening through the airport, Gerard runs into an old grad school roomie of his, The Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed. It's an odd pairing, given Reed's eleven year seniority over Gerard. Reed doesn't seem to want to see Gerard at all, but is backed into agreeing to a lunch meeting later.

Reed is seen in his hotel room with a prostitute, but can't get it up. The way he avoided Gerard and then tearfully looks into his room's mirror with an expression of torment, we feel like we've got this situation all figured out...! But do we?

Next we meet George Kennedy (what's an airport movie without him?! He was Golden Globe-nominated for Airport, 1970, and appeared in all three sequels as well.) Here, he's an airline executive who has his eye on a little orphan boy as a means of soothing his and his wife's loss of their own child. The boy is played by Danny Ponce, who had just come off a gig on Knots Landing and would soon become a regular on Valerie (which morphed into The Hogan Family before ending in 1991.)

Meanwhile, Gerard has delivered a graduation speech for the latest class of flight attendants and has drawn the attention (and affection!) of the instructor Robin Greer. She coils her arms around him seductively and it's up to Tolbert to help get him free.

Up in the control tower, Bill Bixby is running things with an iron fist. At first glance, I thought they were going to try to tell us he was blind (!), but it turns out he just felt like wearing sunglasses for his first scene.

That way he could take them off and wave them in the face of his newest recruit, Connie Selleca. It seems he hired a new air traffic controller named "Dana Fredericks" and is stunned to realize that he is actually a she! There is no way to effectively describe the aggressively sexist and inappropriate way he treats her from moment one on... I recall being shocked by in 1985, but today in 2018 it's jaw-dropping.

But wait, someone in the airport hotel has been busy typing... They've concocted a note that reads: "HONOLULU WOULD HAVE BEEN LOVELY. IT WILL BE A TERRIBLE WAY FOR ALL OF US TO DIE. BUT JUSTICE MUST BE DONE. CONWEST 305 WILL NEVER REACH HAWAII."
The letter is left at the information desk, manned by Katherine Moffat. Moffat had been a guest on many TV series and worked on a short-lived series called Boone prior to this. She later provided voices for animation in addition to more guest roles before departing the biz in 1998.

Gerard meets up with Sellecca to discuss her new job. (He already knows her. It's the type of scenario where he seems to know practically everyone who visits this "international" airport.) Hysterically, paranoid Bixby uses binoculars in the tower to watch them, believing them to be in cahoots against him! In actuality, Sellecca, who was then starring on Hotel, and Gerard were married in real life since 1979 with one son together. This represents the only time they ever acted on-screen with one another.

They divorced in 1987 and she later wed pianist/television host John Tesh in 1992, raising eyebrows with her admission that they courted for two years without any premarital sex. They're still together today. After Hotel ended in 1988, she couldn't get another series to last, but she continued to work until about 2012.
No, the gargantuan desk above doesn't belong to MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer. It's that of Gerard's secretary (!) Pat Crowley. She's clearly got nothing pertinent to place on it but decor! Moffat gives Crowley the aforementioned threat letter, which is addressed to Gerard. However, as it's marked "Personal," they both think it's from hot-to-trot Greer, so they don't make a point of getting it into his hands. I always liked Crowley during this period in her career. Right after this movie, she went into a brief stint on Dynasty as Emily Fallmont.

When Crowley finally does give the letter to Gerard, he too thinks it must be from Greer and tosses it aside for later reading pleasure!

Now we're getting a look at flight 305. The plane is piloted by Robert Vaughn of The Towering Inferno (1974), who was just coming off the unsuccessful prime-time soap Emerald Point, N.A.S. His navigator is played by Steven Williams, who'd just had a stint on The Equalizer, but would soon take over (dismissed) Frederic Forrest's spot on 21 Jump Street for nearly 100 episodes.

On board the flight is Kennedy and his wife Susan Oliver. She's been bereft since the death of their young son and he's trying to break it to her that he wants another child. In a true moment of screaming hilarity, fifty-three year-old Oliver replies that she's "a little old" to have another baby!! Kennedy has to tenderly explain that he meant adoption... as if her eggs aren't dried up worse than astronaut food by this point!

Oliver, in a singularly unflattering wig that makes her look like Maj Hagman on her worst day or maybe Pat Klous' grandmother, was an accomplished real-life pilot. As a young lady, she'd survived a 30,000 ft drop during a commercial flight that petrified her. After therapy, though, she overcame her fear and began piloting (surviving a crash in a small craft in 1966) and setting several records as a result.

Other passengers (all in first class - or is it the senior citizen section?) include frequent TV guest star Don Knight, busy character actor Jason Wingreen (who'd recurred on All in the Family and appeared in 1980's Airplane!), the always elegant Vera Miles and stage actor George Grizzard, who did several movies, much TV and later played Rue McClanahan's deceased husband George on The Golden Girls.)

Miles, who is a longstanding favorite of ours for both Psycho (1960) and Back Street (1961) and who still looked great, was making the occasional movie, but mostly stuck to plentiful guest roles on television at this time.  She's still with us today, closing in on ninety, though she hasn't acted since about 1995.

Back in the tower, a severely put-upon Sellecca is comforted by a fellow ATC, Kurtwood Smith! Then near the beginning of his on-screen career, he would eventually score a hit with That '70s Show.

Sellecca, in an era where makeup was heavy to begin with, wore more eyeliner and shadow than practically anyone I can think of outside of our Joan Collins, but - like Collins - it seemed to work for her. I, for one, always thought it would have been perfect had she wed Tom Selleck, so that she could go by Connie Sellecca-Selleck.

The airport's chief security officer Cliff Potts has been forced to pick up little Ponce for running around soliciting shoeshines. Potts, along with the aforementioned Wingreen, has the distinction of having also appeared in the brief 1970 TV series San Francisco International Airport! That one has a pilot with Pernell Roberts, but the series starred Lloyd Bridges.

Gerard is still trying to fend off the lascivious advances of Greer. She tries to nail him down for a dinner date, but he's able to flee by car before committing. Greer went from this to a 22 episode stint on Falcon Crest. When her acting career trickled to a halt in the mid-1990s, she contributed about 1/4th of the dishy dirt found in the trashy bestseller "You'll Never Make Love in This Town Again," with her sister and a couple of prostitutes telling all the tales they could think of about Tinseltown and its voracious male residents.

Gerard, worried over his friend Reed's state of mind, contacts his wife and flies her down to the airport for a reunion. You won't believe who the wife is played by...

...The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Concorde: Airport '79's Susan Blakely in an atrocious wig that looks like it is on loan from Linda Evans' stunt double AFTER a tussle in the art studio, lily pond or some other Dynasty location! Having played Frances Farmer in 1983's reasonably acclaimed Will There Really Be a Morning?, prestige projects sort of dissipated for her while she busied herself in guest roles. Blakely did, however, continue plugging along and still works regularly today (recently appearing twice on This is Us.)

Finally, Gerard opens the threat letter that's been on his desk all day. He's stunned at its contents and asks Crowley, who is also shocked to read it, where it came from.

Thus, a conference with the information desk's Moffat, PR chief Tolbert and security chief is called. These four people (plus Crowley) were the folks who would have served as the regular weekly cast had this been sold as a series. With Gerard so similar to the character James Brolin was enacting on Hotel and the others basically just alternate incarnations of the same types on the other Spelling shows of this nature, it must have just been considered too much of a "good thing" to proceed further with it.

Tolbert has to jettison a group of Asian men she's showing around the airport in order to speak to the press.

Meanwhile, the plane has been requested to turn around, though they have no clue if and when a bomb may go off!  (Or even who, if anyone, on board may be there ready to detonate it!) A search is performed, but turns up nothing.
The passengers, alerted to what's happening, begin to panic somewhat. Things aren't improved when fuel is running low and it is decided that the luggage (which also might contain a bomb) needs to be jettisoned over the Pacific Ocean.

Kennedy, who's been assisting with the search of the plane, rips up the carpet and kicks a (sizeable to be safe!) hole in the floor so that he can hurl himself down to the cargo hold.
He and Williams (in what looks otherwise to be a dead-empty space!!) open the door and shove everyone's Samsonite out into the drink...!

Back at the airport, Bixby has had a meltdown and it's up to Gerard and Sellecca to talk the plane back home. (Bixby, despite his frayed nerves, never got upset enough to transform into The Incredible Hulk, his 1978-1982 series character!) After landing, the "bomber" is taken into custody and really all that's been lost is whatever was in the passengers' suitcases!

Finally, after a long grueling day on the job, Gerard pops over to his standing suite at the hotel for some shuteye, but is accosted once more by Greer! (Sometimes it looks like the highest ticket item in the movie's budget must have been hairspray!) She's leaving town the next day and wants to get her lovemaking in beforehand. But dedicated Gerard is far more interested in the airport...

Lame-O as this is, we still live for projects that would put together such Disaster Movie Club participants as Kennedy, Vaughn, Blakely, Gerard and, apparently Fred Sadoff (who played Linarcos in The Poseidon Adventure, 1972, though somehow I missed spotting him.) And Sellecca even earned her wings, of a sort, when she starred as a pilot in 1990's Miracle Landing, based on a true story, alongside Wayne Rogers and Ana Alicia.
Thanks for flying the friendly skies of Poseidon's Underworld! We'll be back before you know it with more fun.


Al in PDX said...

I thought that dumping some luggage into the ocean was standard operating procedure for airlines ... even without a bomb threat!

Scooter said...

Love your insight into these obscure pilots that never got picked up.

Selleca's presence coupled with your reference to Pat Klous's hair reminded me of their earlier short-lived series, "Flying High". Always been a sucker for a good story about international air hostesses!

Gingerguy said...

I remember almost every tv movie from the 70's into the early 80's but by 1985 I must have been out a lot. This one doesn't ring a bell, reading this reminded me of L.A.X. with Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood.
This is prime Selleca time, I watched Hotel and this is how I remember her makeup and hair. She was gorgeous. She and Gil make a nice couple but I found her tv pairing with James Brolin icky. I guess because he was her boss.
I love Vera Miles too (just watched her slutty turn in Autumn Leaves this past weekend) she looks great in the picture.
Lol on that hooker book! I sort of remember this actress from it. We passed it around in a restaurant I worked in then and laughed our heads off. I never thought of John Ritter the same again.
Very fun read, thanks Poseidon.

D ODay said...

I take it someone forgot gas up the plane before takeoff. That bit about chucking the luggage was stolen from "High and the Mighty", although neither film explains how the chuckers were not sucked out the plane.
And just what was Pop Brady's problem?

Gregory Moore said...

Whenever I think I've "seen 'em all," you surprise me with yet another TOTALLY obscure show/movie. The cast of this one is dizzyingly checkered with late-20th stalwarts. And did you really say "astronaut food"?? Hahh!! Almost made me spill my box of wine!

Poseidon3 said...

Al, my last two flights (to warm climates of course) have involved nothing more than a personal item/back-pack and after years of packing like Joan Crawford, I've found it strangely liberating. And the airline can't misplace or lose my stuff!! :-)

Thank you, Scooter! I'm glad you discerned my "secret" reference to Pat Klous. I recall as a kid wanting to watch "Flying High," but it seemed to be canceled before I ever figured out what time and channel it was on... Mom must have had something she liked to watch opposite it. Ha ha!

Gingerguy, I liked the are they/aren't they chemistry between Selleca and Brolin until they officially became a couple. As is often the case on shows that pair up platonic pals, it sort of dissipated the romantic tension and the relationship as it stood. However, the show was also taking a more dramatic, less effervescent tone at the same time and it seemed to send viewers packing (and not to go to the St. Gregory!)

D ODay, I try not to spoil things in many of my tributes if I can help it (because I know that tons of my readers are going to RUN OUT and watch this ASAP! LOL) But, anyway, here comes a ***SPOILER*** It turns out that Blakely has some sort of terminal illness and is dying. Rather than put Reed through the ordeal with her, she sent him away and told him she wanted a divorce. Gerard helps them come to an understanding and Reed opts to join her in fighting the illness the best they can...

Gregory, I'm glad you liked that one!! I first used it when a female pal of mine - who was late-40s - decided she was going to play The Virgin Mary in her church's Christmas pageant!! LOL I'm also glad I could dig up another lulu from the sands of TV time. It seems as if none of you watched this when it aired! I was there, glued to the television like an idiot. Ha ha!

Skippy Devereaux said...

George Kennedy was not nominated for an Oscar for "Airport". He won Best Supporting Actor for "Cool Hand Luke" in 1967, while Helen Hayes won Best Supporting Actress for "Airport" in 1970.

Poseidon3 said...

Oops! It's fixed. He wuz robbed....!