When I think of the 1970s, I think of a depressing decade that got better as the culture, entertainment and fashion improved. We went from hippy culture and bell bottoms to flares in the early and mid 1970s to tight, designer, dark wash denim jeans and disco by the late 1970s, with all sorts of horrible things in between.
Airplane 1980 shows you a lot of this in a ninety minute film. It is a satire about a very strange decade and captures many of the cultural details. The movie itself has to do with food poisoning on an airliner that affects all three of the flight crew leaving no one to fly the plane except for a passenger who was a combat pilot in some made up war. It suggests never eating airplane food and thanking God (unless you’re and atheist) for food courts at airports.
The movie has references to Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller, early on. There’s a disco scene involving Robert Hayes and Julie Hagerty. Leisure suits, flare pants and bell bottoms are in evidence. A women suffering from food poisoning says that she’s hasn’t felt this bad since she saw that Ronald Reagan movie. A women in her seventies serves as a translator for two African-American men who apparently only speak jive (which would be called Ebonics today).
Of course there is the great Cohen brothers humor of people doing really dumb things because someone gets the wrong idea about something. Someone asks a ground crew member signaling the pilot of a plane to its gate with his light wands where the fork lift is. Without thinking, the crew says, “Over there,” and points to the side with his wands. The pilot of the taxiing plane follows the direction of the wands and crashes the plane into the gate.
The humor of the Cohen brothers, expressed in Airplane is spontaneous which is my style of humor. Part of it is based on taking everything that people say absolutely literally. Dr. Womack (Leslie Nielson) says to Ted Striker (Robert Hayes) that if they don’t land this plane soon several passengers will die from food poisoning. Striker says, “Surely, you can’t be serious.” Womack replies, “I am serious and don’t call me Shirley.”
Airplane 1980 is a, sort of, spinoff of more serious airplane disaster movies of the 1970s, starting in 1970 with Airport. Parts of each of these movies appear in Airplane 1980. The end result is hysterical.