Retro Television Reviews: International Airport (dir by Don Chaffey and Charles S. Dubin)

Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay.  Today’s film is 1985’s International Airport!  It  can be viewed on YouTube!

It’s not easy working at an international airport!

At least, that’s the message of this made-for-television film.  Produced by Aaron Spelling and obviously designed to be a pilot for a weekly television series, International Airport details one day in the life of airport manager David Montgomery (Gil Gerard).  Everyone respects and admires David, from the recently graduated flight attendants who can’t wait for their first day on the job to the hard-working members of the airport security team.  The only person who really has a problem with David is Harvey Jameson (Bill Bixby), the old school flight controller who throws a fit when he learns that a woman, Dana Fredricks (Connie Sellecca), has been assigned to work in the tower.  Harvey claims that women can’t handle the pressure of working the tower and not having a personal life.  He demands to know what Dana’s going to do during that “one week of the month when you’re not feeling well!”  Harvey’s a jerk but, fortunately, he has a nervous breakdown early on in the film and Dana gets to take over the tower.

Meanwhile, David is trying to figure out why an old friend of his, Carl Roberts (played by Retro Television mainstay Robert Reed, with his bad perm and his retired porn star mustache), is at the airport without his wife (Susan Blakely).  David takes it upon himself to save Carl’s troubled marriage because it’s all in a day’s work for the world’s greatest airport manager!

While Carl is dealing with his mid-life crisis, someone else is sending threatening letters to the airport.  One of the letters declares that there’s a bomb on a flight that’s heading for Honolulu.  David and Dana must decide whether to allow Captain Powell (Robert Vaughn) to fly to Hawaii or to order him to return to California.  And Captain Powell must figure out which one of his passengers is the bomber.  Is it Martin Harris (George Grizzard), the sweaty alcoholic who want shut up about losing all of his friends in the war?  Or is it the woman sitting next to Martin Harris, the cool and aloof Elaine Corey (Vera Miles)?

Of course, there are other passengers on the plane.  Rudy (George Kennedy) is a veteran airline mechanic.  Rudy is hoping that he can talk his wife (Susan Oliver) into adopting Pepe (Danny Ponce), an orphan who secretly lives at the airport.  Unfortunately, when Pepe hears that Rudy’s plane might have a bomb on it, he spends so much time praying that he doesn’t realize he’s been spotted by airport security.  Pepe manages to outrun the security forces but he ends up hiding out in a meat freezer and, when the door is slammed shut, it appears that Pepe may no longer be available for adoption.  Will someone hear Pepe praying in time to let him out?  Or, like Frankie Carbone, will he end up frozen stiff?

International Airport was an attempt to reboot the Airport films for television, with the opening credits even mentioning that the film was inspired by the Arthur Hailey novel that started it all.  As well, Gil Gerard, Susan Blakely, and George Kennedy were all veterans of the original Airport franchise.  George Kennedy may be called Rudy in International Airport but it’s easy to see that he’s still supposed to be dependable old Joe Patroni.  Unfortunately, despite the familiar faces in the cast, International Airport itself is a bit bland.  It’s a disaster film on a budget.  While the viewers gets all of the expected melodrama, they don’t get anything as entertaining or amusing as Karen Black flying the plane in Airport 1975 or the scene in Concorde: Airport ’79 where George Kennedy leaned out the cockpit window (while in flight) and fired a gun at an enemy aircraft.  Probably the only thing that was really amusing (either intentionally or unintentionally) about International Airport was the character of Pepe and that was just because young Danny Ponce gave perhaps the worst performance in the history of television.

International Airport did not lead to a television series.  Watching it today, it’s a bit on the dull side but, at the same time, it is kind of nice to see what an airport was like in the days before the TSA.  If nothing else, it’s a time capsule that serves as a record of the days when the world was a bit more innocent.

One response to “Retro Television Reviews: International Airport (dir by Don Chaffey and Charles S. Dubin)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 4/3/23 — 4/9/23 | Through the Shattered Lens

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