When my husband and I sat down to watch this on a quiet Saturday afternoon (with our good friend Mary-Jane, nudge nudge wink wink), we were fully expecting an over-the-top, cheesy-but-compelling disaster flick not unlike “The Poseidon Adventure” or “The Towering Inferno,” and while we didn’t get that, what we got instead was a delightful surprise. Indeed, “Airport” is less of a disaster thriller and more of a star-studded melodrama that happens to occur before-and-during an airline crisis, and it’s not unlike watching a soap opera with great production values and a first-rate cast that never misses a chance to dig its claws into its lines, no matter how cheesy. It’s actually a lot of fun to watch a parade of famous faces like Burt Lancaster and Jean Seberg treat this pot-boiler material like nothing could be more serious, and it’s that aura of respectability that makes the whole thing stand out even more; with a lesser cast, this would be negligible tripe with some exciting scenes here and there, but director George Seaton is able to window-dress the “Days of Our Lives” plotline with the finest sets and special effects money could buy at the time, and the result is the unmistakable aura of class and early-’70s, with-it hipness. Among the distinguished cast, Helen Hayes won a deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as an adorable, unashamed stowaway, but for my money this is Maureen Stapleton’s show: Her Inez Guerrerro is a beacon of strength and forgiveness, and she radiates warmth and steely resolve while occupying the screen with a casually towering presence.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)