Airport 1975 is a synecdoche for everything. The whole of the human experience is contained within its 106 minutes.
A fearless gaze into the abyss of mortality for a cross section of society? Yes. A terrifying look at how the technology upon which we depend can simply fail? Big time. A ruthless examination of internalized misogyny? Oh god, poor Karen Black!
The first sequel to Airport, Airport 1975 was originally pitched as a TV movie. And it shows. (Also worth a look is Carol Burnett’s hilarious parody.) In brief, this is its plot:
A red eye flight from D.C. to L.A. is sidetracked over the Rocky Mountains because of ground conditions in L.A. Just then, Dana Andrews has a heart attack while flying his commuter plane, and crashes into the red eye’s cockpit. One pilot is sucked out! Pilot Erik Estrada (who spent as much time hitting on the stewardesses as they spent wondering about his wife) is dead! And the main pilot is blind.
Speaking of blind, guess who had to fly the plane? Cross-eyed Karen Black! But she’s just a stew; how can she navigate such complicated parts of a plane’s cockpit as the “auto pilot” button? Ground control has the answer in the country’s best flight instructor: Charlton Heston. But, see, Heston and Black are in a relationship and it’s on the rocks! After hearing the way he talks to her, we don’t doubt it.
At a certain point, someone says, “Well, hell. We can’t talk a woman through flying around all those mountains. Better get an army helicopter and drop a pilot through the hole in the plane to take care of this. That seems easier.” And they do. (Spoiler alert: The guy dies.) But instead of saying, “Okay, okay, maybe Karen Black can handle this,” Charlton Heston straps himself in and clambers through the air into that hole. Karen Black is so relieved! As he settles himself in the captain’s chair, he turns to her and says, “Okay, honey, now get back out there and calm down the passengers.” And she does so happily.
Other things that happen: Gloria Swanson plays herself, dictating her memoirs and reflecting on her life (she wrote all her own dialogue). Linda Blair, as a little girl on her way to a kidney transplant, is comforted by singing nun Helen Reddy. Myrna Loy plays a tidy alcoholic. Mr. Roper and Jerry Stiller are traveling without their wives.
But look. When Karen Black gets out there to tell the passengers that a man is now in control, so they’re all saved, they all cheer and applaud her. And it’s so unexpected to her that I actually cried, ladies and gentlemen. And then teared up again the next day, recounting it over lunch. Sometimes a gal just wants to be appreciated, you know?