Friday, July 1, 2022

PRE-United: Unsmooth Sailing

Every so often, we do one of these posts about memorable (to me, at least!) costars and their roles. Anyone who's dipped a toe into The Underworld knows that Airport (1970) is a top ten favorite film of mine. One of its many story threads concerns the unraveling marriage of the airport's general manager, played by Burt Lancaster. As a snowstorm has engulfed the place and one of the airliners is threatened by an unbalanced, bomb-wielding passenger, he must also contend with his demanding wife Dana Wynter.


Lancaster is already having a particularly trying night, with picketers over airplane noise, the snowstorm and a jet that's stuck in the snowy ground when Wynter calls to remind him of their engagement that evening. Exasperated, he abruptly ends the call.

He later takes a moment to call her back, after chatting with their daughters for a moment, but now she is seething. "You hung up on me... don't ever do that again."

Her rendition of a compromise is for him to meet her at the event instead of coming home first!

During their argumentative phone conversation, we're shown a variety of vignettes depicting their turbulent marriage.

His boredom at her social-climbing charity events...

...disagreements over his choice of occupation...

...and ruined family dinners as their squabbling affects the children. (Tellingly, though Wynter is ever-unsatisfied with their station in life, a housekeeper is shown behind a swinging door and she is always bedecked in jewelry and Edith Head gowns.)

If he thinks he's off the hook after this second rough phone call, he's got another think coming. Ultimately, she shows up at the airport for another round.

By now the mad bomber scenario has reached a crisis point, but so has his marriage. I remember the first time I saw this movie I could hardly believe how callous and shallow Wynter was in the face of Lancaster's hardships. But women like this do exist, trust me on that one! 

Amazingly enough, though, Wynter is able to bring about some shadings to the role which indicate that she isn't a complete monster. The two wind up in a sad, but less volatile, state than the one in which the evening began. Anyway, he has pert widow Jean Seberg waiting at the next gate for him!

Wynter has her very own tribute here. I loved her voice and her genteel manner. For me, even playing a shrew, she was the picture of elegance in Airport. She's really best known, though, for the exemplary 1956 sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Lancaster was quite the dreamboat in his youth and enjoyed a stellar career as a movie actor. He was something of a role model for me in that back in my 20s when I still wondered about pursuing acting as a real career, he had become a huge star after having made his movie debut at the ripe age of 33!

In a way, one could say that Lancaster and Wynter had appeared together in The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) seven years prior to Airport, but as it turns out, Lancaster's heralded, disguised cameo as a picketing woman wound up not even being he! Director John Huston cheated by showing Lancaster unveiling himself at the end while not actually having done the part in the film proper. (And while Wynter's character was around for the scene in question, they shared no screen time anyway.) Frank Sinatra also didn't film his "cameo" either... just the gimmicky "unveiling" at the end. What shit.

Anyway, one must go further back in time to discover when Lancaster and Wynter were first united on screen. Here we see a typically boisterous Lancaster in the prologue for the 1952 swashbuckler The Crimson Pirate

On board a sailing vessel, a sneering Baron (Leslie Bradley) is entertaining a well-heeled lady-friend played by Wynter in one of her earliest roles.

She is bored to tears by him and his boat. But not for long!

In a flash, Lancaster has dropped in!

He's soon followed, natch, by his li'l partner in crime Nick Cravat.

Wynter thinks she might pull one over on Lancaster and begins to unearth a small pistol covered with a handkerchief.

But he isn't having it...

After wrestling it out of her grasp...

He plants a kiss on the glamorous lady (who's no longer bored, anyway!)

Lancaster show Wynter the business end of his gun.

Bradley gets a taste of it, too.

There's no bloodshed, though. The movie is generally filled with devil-may-care, frolicsome fun.

Lancaster takes over the ship and that's the last he sees of Ms. Wynter (until 18 years later in Airport!)

As I've noted in past posts, Cravat was Lancaster's acrobatic partner back in their days of live performance. He appears in many movies which starred Lancaster and even pops up as a passenger in Airport.  Lancaster never truly lost his New York accent, but Cravat's must have been even thicker because his character here was depicted as mute in order to prevent his true voice from upsetting the verisimilitude!

The two of them frolic around with a notable lack of clothing.

"Whattya think of my basket?"

They even have one sequence in drag! Take THAT Adrian Messenger.

At this stage, pushing 40, Lancaster was nonetheless a bronzed, athletically-impressive god of the silver screen.

Note how in the prologue, filmed after the rest of the movie, his hair was back to it's natural dishwater brown.

In one sequence of Pirate, he had the chance to doll up in period finery and flash that infectious grin.

As Truvy said, "Time marches on..." and the intervening years had taken their cruel toll by 1970. (He probably should have ditched the big hair by this point.)

I greatly preferred the closer-cropped look he was sporting in The Swimmer (1968), a terrific little film, just two years prior.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed this little stream-of consciousness post connecting the dots between these two performers.

And now we're setting sail for the long Independence Day weekend. Till next time, mateys!


Dan said...

He had such incredible presence on screen. I think it’s “Seven Days in May”, there’s a bit where he strides toward the camera in that smooth, catlike walk, in a perfectly tailored military uniform. Sigh... He manages to be both graceful and utterly masculine.
“Airport” is one of the movies I had the good luck to see on my hometown’s long gone big screen. What a great show, still love it. It has no pretense of being anything other than a glitzy, glamorous soap opera in the sky. Loaded with cliches, but who cares?

Chellis610 said...

One correction: Jean Seberg's character Tanya was a widow, not a divorcee! She mentions it to Ada Quonsett (Helen Hayes) in one scene. And yes, this movie is a favorite of mine too: I now have the Blu-ray. Why isn't it on TCM?

Poseidon3 said...

Dan, I agree with you on all counts. My FAVORITE Burt Lancaster moment is when Deborah Kerr opens the door and he's standing there in the rain in his uniform (in "From Here to Eternity," natch!) That face... And I would have LOVED to have seen "Airport" on a big screen. The split-screen effects are lost on any small TV as is the details in the faces of the actors because so often the figures are small and letterboxed. Larger TVs have helped with this. Thanks!

I ought to have known, as this is a big fave film of mine, that they changed Tanya from a divorcee to a widow for the movie, but I was stuck on the book for some reason:

Mel Bakersfeld is the main character around whom the book revolves. He is General Manager of Lincoln International Airport. His problems in his marriage are further exacerbated by his romantically charged friendship with a lovely divorcee from Trans America Airlines, who is their passenger relations manager, Tanya Livingston.

Tanya Livingston is Mel's love interest. She works for Trans America Airlines, and Mel often visits her. She was deserted by her husband, and has a daughter with him.

I will correct it now.

Gingerguy said...

I thought it was Janice Rule at first and you were going to do a Swimmer/Airport combo. She is fabulous and looks bored in any era, but also rich in any era. Beautiful woman. Burt is really impressive at any age and his rear in those patterned tights at 40 would shame a 25 year old. He's definitely the neatest Pirate I have ever seen in a movie and the costume looks like it just came off the sewing machine. Cravat is a little hottie too (I like em off beat). "Airport" is kind of the champagne of disaster movies with stellar cast and big budget. Love Burt and even forgive the big hair :)

Ptolemy1 said...

I LOVE The Swimmer, it's just so existentially strange. Lancaster always fascinated me, he had a lithe lanky way of moving and nobody talked like he did. He's amazing in Elmer Gantry, where he pulls out ALL the stops and eats every single bit of the scenery. And you know what? It works. Thanks.

Forever1267 said...

Lancaster could point his gun at me any ole time!

Airport is so much fun, although I have no idea why the Academy gave Helen Hayes that Oscar. Karen Black and Sally Kellerman were robbed!

joel65913 said...

Hi Poseidon!

I love that final scene between Burt and Dana in his office! It really does give her a chance to show she's not the completely clueless, selfish tone deaf bitch that she's been portrayed as up to that point. It's beautifully played by both with a heavy bittersweet air of resignation at the last that whatever they had is gone but that they agree their children are the most important issue now.

Except for the bleak scenes between Maureen Stapleton and Van Heflin (and Maureen's solo scenes) it's the only part of the film with real dramatic heft.

Dramatic heft or not though I adore the entire movie and watch it at least twice yearly, if not more.

I never noticed Dana in The Crimson Pirate....I must have been distracted by something else!!

Poseidon3 said...

Gingerguy, Dana bore a resemblance to Barbara Rush (both were very elegant!) and Rush had been offered the part of Cindy Bakersfeld in "Airport" before Dana ended up in it. I miss ladies like them in movies. Burt was so virile for the better part of his career, bounding around all over the place. :-)

Ptolemy1, I agree. One thing I heard about "The Swimmer" that sort of dejected me a bit was that Burt had Janice Rule replace Barbara Loden in her role because he felt Loden outdid him in their scene. Maybe it's not true and there was another reason, but that whole sequence was removed and re-shot! Wild... I can never turn that movie off if I come to it on television.

Forever1267, I do adore Helen Hayes and I love her in "Airport," (I love watching Jean Seberg try to handle her and worship the moments with Helen and Jackie going at it!) but... I always felt that Maureen Stapleton's acting was so much more heartfelt and believable. That category has long been unpredictable, it seems. A real wild card with many head-shaking winners over the decades.

joel65913, totally agree about Dana and Burt's final scene. And, as I said above, Maureen was really heart-tugging in her sequences. I cannot go more than a year without watching "Airport." It's just so... everything! LOL Love the look, the music, the stars, the way the plot-lines converge. I never fail to be hypnotized by Jackie and Helen's exchanges. They just seem like two people you'd never see in a movie together, yet there they are going mano-a-mano. :-D

rigs-in-gear said...

I don't know if it's that the print the stills were struck from was faded, but Burt looks to be more accurately "The Tangerine Pirate". So pretty. I always had a soft spot for his role in The Rainmaker. His over-the-top portrayal of Bill Starbuck plays like an audition for The Music Man. Another weary-spinster role for Katherine Hepburn, Burt's con-man promises to end her and the town's drought.

It seemed the aloof, cool Barbara Parkins was being groomed to become the Dana Wynter for a new generation, but never quite took off. Dana was ubiquitous on 60's TV, she guest-starred in every and anything. But to lovers of schlock, like myself, she will always be the star of Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Poseidon3 said...

rigs-in-gear, there was a point where Burt was wearing a red top (or sash or something) which may have had more to do with the title of the movie, but I preferred him shirtless for this post. Ha! Or if you mean his skin, well, you'd have to consult the (very lucky!) body makeup people for that. I totally agree about velvety Parkins being next up to bat in the Dana Wynter ballgame! I love the stark photography of "Snatchers" in which her coloring really stood out. Thank you!