Tag Archives: James Stewart

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

flight of the phoenix 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Fighting the desert elements.

A cargo plane flying to Benghazi and piloted by Frank Towns (James Stewart) is forced to make a crash landing in the middle of the Sahara desert when a freak sand storm shuts down the plane’s engines. Of the 14 men on board two are killed instantly when several oil drums break loose during the crash which also injures a third. The rest of the men find themselves stranded in the searing heat with only dates as their food and a 2 week supply of water. The radio communication was destroyed during the crash and they are too far off their main route for anyone to find them. One of the passengers, Heinrich Dorfmann (Hardy Kruger) who works as a plane designer believes he has a way to take what’s left of the wreckage and build it into a new plane, which will then be able to fly the men out of there. Initially everyone else is skeptical, but eventually they begin working during the night to put it together while continuing to fight the elements and themselves in the process.

What makes this film stand out from the rest of the epic adventures is the fact that there is no good guy versus bad guy here. Every one of the individuals has their own unique character flaws and must learn to overcome them and their egos in order to work together as a team. The characterizations are realistic and multi-faceted making their conflicts believable from start to finish and helping to create a story that is gripping on both an adventure level and a psychological one.

Stewart is outstanding in the lead and I enjoyed seeing him play a part that is cynical and savvy and with less of the humble, country boy charm that he is known for. Kruger is solid in support and watching his confrontations with Stewart and then their eventual respect for each is the film’s main highlight. Richard Attenborough is also good as the sort-of moderator between the two and I also enjoyed Peter Finch as the brave and honorable Captain as well as Ronald Fraser as his sergeant who doesn’t quite share his same courage or sense of duty.

I was disappointed to some extent that it wasn’t filmed on-location in the Sahara and instead in Arizona and California although the desert locales look authentic enough even though eventually after two hours it becomes monotonous visually. Director Robert Aldrich keeps things believable including having the men visibly slow down physically as the days wear on as well as growing beards, which is something that sometimes gets overlooked in other stranded dramas although I was still confused why the Finch character formed a goatee instead of a full beard.

The climactic sequence is both nerve-wracking and exhilarating particularly the scene where Stewart tries to start the plane with only 7 cartridges remaining and with each one failing. Whether the logistics of this could actually occur is a big question, but it still remains grand entertainment.

flight of the phoenix 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1965

Runtime: 2Hours 22Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)

mr hobbs takes a vacation

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Calamity filled family vacation.

Roger Hobbs (James Stewart) is a slightly cantankerous man in his 50’s who is tired of family vacations as he finds them to be more stress than they are worth. He loves his family, but hates going on trips with them. He dictates a letter to his secretary that is to be opened by his wife (Maureen O’Hara) upon his death detailing his many grievances of one particular trip that they took to a beach-side house that ended up being one catastrophe after another and through flashbacks the viewer relives them along with him.

Stewart is a real blast and the best thing about the movie. He doesn’t have that wide-eyed country boy charm like in some of past roles, but instead is a world-weary cynical man whose constant flow of acerbic comments and observations are quite funny. O’Hara is beautiful and engaging as his wife and helps as a sort of anchor between him and the rest of the family although I thought she looked much too young to be playing a grandmother. 60’s teen-heartthrob singer Fabian can also be seen as Joe a young man who takes a liking to one of Hobbs’ daughters. I liked the beatnik beard that he grows, but the part where he breaks out into a duet with his date in a film that is otherwise not a musical is very weird.

The actual beach house is a crazy sight and looks creepier than the Psycho house and sits literally right on the sandy beach and looking vulnerable to getting flooded during high tide. Beachgoers sit and sunbathe all around it and I would have thought many of them might walk into the house, or peer through the windows, but that angle does not get played up. Some of the myriad mechanical issues that Hobbs has with the building are the film’s funniest moments especially his difficulty getting the water pump going. The film should’ve continued to focus on this story thread all the way till the end, but doesn’t, which is a weakness.

While the movie is cute and pleasing it is also contrived and unoriginal. Many of the scenarios that they have could have easily occurred had they stayed home and the whole vacation concept seems to get lost. The writing and humor are better suited for television and the plot is threadbare. In a lot of ways this could better be described as an ordinary family sitcom with several different episodes strung together.

The visit that they have with a boring couple (John McGiver, Marie Wilson) near the end doesn’t work at all and should’ve been cut as a two hour running time is too long for this type of film to begin with. The scene where Hobbs get stuck in the bathroom with the tipsy and nude visiting wife elicits a few chuckles, but the bird spotting trek that he takes with the husband becomes too much of a pointless tangent. The scene also has a glaring goof because the two men decide to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to start their trek but when they first get outside the sun is already high in the sky and looking like it is the middle of the afternoon.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 15, 1962

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Henry Koster

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video