Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 30, 2006)
For those of us who were kids in the Seventies, the retirement of the Concorde a few years back was a sad day. That plane represented the ultimate in air travel, a concept reinforced when Phil Collins flew it so he could play both London and Philadelphia during Live Aid. Air travel used to be glamorous and exciting, but as planes have slowly turned into flying buses, those impressions have faded, and the demise of the Concorde represented another nail in the coffin.
On a happier note, 1979’s The Concorde… Airport ‘79 acted as the final nail in the coffin of Airport flicks. The series started in 1970 with the highly successful Airport but showed diminished returns with 1974’s Airport 1975 and 1977’s Airport ‘77. I expect that someone will revive the franchise someday, but until then, Concorde stands as the final iteration.
And it’s either the best or the worst of the series, depending on your perspective. In this flick, Federation World Airlines purchases a Concorde to become the first US firm to run supersonic flights. Not everyone likes this, though, and an environmental group tries to foil their plans. FWA still intends to send off a goodwill flight from DC to Moscow, though.
We meet two planned passengers on that jaunt, DC newscasters Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) and Robert Palmer (John Davidson). Palmer’s having a fling with another passenger, medal-winning Soviet gymnast Alicia Rogov (Andrea Marcovicci), while Maggie’s having an affair with married corporate tycoon Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner). He leads Harrison Industries, a company that creates a drone missle called the “Buzzard”. Harrison intends to sell the missile to the military and increase his fortune.
All’s not clean at Harrison Industries, however, as Maggie learns when she gets a visit from Carl Parker (Macon McCalman), the company’s assistant sales director. He tells her that his boss illegally sold arms to US enemies over the years. This declaration results in his death, as someone shoots him while he speaks to Maggie at her house. She flees and escapes a similar fate. The naïve Maggie tells Harrison, who denies all charges though we learn they’re true. More interested in money than love, Harrison reprograms the Buzzard so it’ll shoot down Maggie’s Concorde flight.
In the meantime, we meet the aircraft’s crew. This group includes pilots Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) and Paul Metrand (Alain Delon) along with flight attendant Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel). Among the passengers, we encounter: Elaine (Cicely Tyson), a mother flying over with a heart for transplant into her son; FWA president Eli Sande (Eddie Albert); and jazz singer Gretchen Wilson (Monica Lewis) and her sax player Boisie (Jimmie Walker).
Maggie gets documents that prove Harrison’s deceit, and she tells him this. He convinces her not to let anyone else know until she arrives in Paris and the two can chat face-to-face. She agrees since she doesn’t know Harrison plans to kill her and everyone else aboard the Concorde. The rest of the movie follows his attempts to destroy the jet and Maggie along with it.
One strength of the Airport sequels came from their casts. Airport 1975 featured Charlton Heston, Karen Black, Myrna Loy, Gloria Swanson and Dana Andrews. Airport ‘77 includes Jack Lemmon, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Christopher Lee and James Stewart.
So who do we get in Concorde? Charo, Jimmie Walker, and John Davidson! To be fair, some talented folks appear here, and the other films had their share of duds – Helen Reddy, anyone? Nonetheless, Concorde lacks the sense of Old Hollywood glamour that at least added a minor sparkle to the other movies.
And what in the world is George Kennedy doing here again? Once more he plays vagabond airline man Patroni, on his fourth job in four movies. At least in the past his role stayed similar, as he always worked in the technical support area. Here we must accept him as the pilot of the Concorde. Granted, the first film mentions his qualifications as a pilot, but it’s a big stretch for us to accept his jump to the helm of the Concorde here.
The presence of Patroni for a fourth time isn’t the only aspect of Concorde that forces radical suspension of disbelief. Indeed, the entire movie is one long excursion into the Bizarro World. Each sequel gets farther and farther from reality, though none of the others indulge in the excesses of Concorde.
Let’s see… a reporter gets information about corporate scandal so she first tells the accused himself? Harrison also has an awfully open affair with Maggie given his public profile. Wouldn’t a married man who cheats on his wife want to be a little more circumspect? And Harrison doesn’t think that matters will be made worse when his missile goes off-target and destroys the Concorde? Sure, his traitorous behavior is bad, but I suppose a slick legal team could probably do a lot to keep him out of jail. When his product goes so absurdly awry and blows up the world’s most famous plane, I have to imagine that’ll be awfully bad for business.
I can almost excuse these inane elements and others like Patroni’s presence. However, the fact that the plane escapes a couple attacks to land in Paris but takes off again the next day seems absolutely, inexcusably insane. We get a token “the show must go on” explanation, but it’s completely unbelievable that the plane would go through all that and then treat affairs in a “business as usual” manner less than 24 hours later.
And the passengers go through with it! When they leave Paris and head to Moscow, all are present and accounted for except Elaine; she remains in Paris since that was her original destination. Not only do all the characters continue on their journey, but also they act like it’s Mardi Gras! They laugh and joke like nothing ever happened. It’s hard enough to believe that the flight would have left the ground in the first place; it becomes all the more absurd that no one behaves as though anything traumatic ever occurred.
What kind of reporter is Maggie, anyway? If a drone from my lover’s company tries to kill me, I might suspect my lover is involved somehow. I certainly would contact the police and wouldn’t immediately consult my lover about the situation.
Due to the film’s French production backing, lovers come up more frequently in Concorde than in any other Airport movie. Sure, the original flick featured an affair between Dean Martin and a pregnant Jacqueline Bisset, while 1975 tossed out lots of cheesy flirting, but never has sex been placed so firmly in the forefront. Concorde sure goes for a low-rent European feel with its drippy emphasis on sex and romance. We also get lots of smutty remarks, all of which feel odd in an Airport film. The movie even features a scene in which tubby old George Kennedy gets laid! I definitely could have lived without that.
Actually, I could have lived without all of The Concorde… Airport ‘79. The visual effects were terrible and wholly unconvincing. I couldn’t have cared less if any of the characters lived or died. Heck, I kind of hoped they’d all perish, especially when the movie goes for a weird Charo cameo. Add to that one of the oddest endings of any film I’ve seen and you have a disaster of a disaster flick.
The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-
The Concorde… Airport ‘79 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A mix of problems made this an average transfer.
Sharpness varied. Some shots looked accurate and distinctive, but much of the film exhibited a hazy, gauzy appearance. The movie generally seemed a bit flat. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed only minimal edge enhancement. Source flaws were more prevalent. I saw sporadic examples of specks, grit, marks and nicks. Unsurprisingly, effects shots looked the worst, as they presented lots of the aforementioned issues along with notable grain. Those weren’t the only flawed parts of the flick, though, as many segments demonstrated concerns.
Colors were adequate and that’s about it. The movie had a bland appearance that never came across with much vivacity. The hues weren’t terrible, but they lacked much presence. Blacks seemed fine, as they showed good definition, but shadows were somewhat dense and dim. There was enough positive on display to earn a “C”; I couldn’t muster any more enthusiasm for the transfer than that, though.
The monaural soundtrack of The Concorde… Airport ‘79 merited a similar lack of fervor. Speech was a bit reedy but remained intelligible and lacked edginess. Effects occasionally betrayed some distortion, particularly when it came to high-end material. They usually seemed acceptably accurate within the limited parameters of the original recording, though. The music showed adequate range and failed to demonstrate notable flaws. The score wasn’t impressive but it wasn’t poor. That sentiment covered pretty much all of the soundtrack; it worked okay for an older movie.
As with the other three Airport movies, no substantial supplements accompany Concorde. We get the film’s trailer and nothing else.
My best friend Kevin views The Concorde… Airport ‘79 as the best of the series. That’s because Kevin delights in terrible, campy flicks like this. If you’re into odiferous cheese, you’ll likely dig Concorde as well, for smelly movies rarely stink this badly. The DVD offers mediocre picture and sound along with almost no extras. Masochists and fans of camp will love it, but everyone else should stay far away from this atrocious film.
Note that Universal currently makes The Concorde… Airport ‘79 available only as part of the four-film Airport Terminal Pack. This also includes the original Airport plus sequels Airport 1975 and Airport ‘77. Some may grouse that you can’t buy the flicks individually, but with a list price of less than $20 for all four, it’s hard to complain.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4 Stars|| Number of Votes: 5|