This is the second sequel to Airport (1970) and stars Jack Lemmon as the ageing but very heroic pilot Don Gallagher.
This time, the co-pilot, Chambers (Robert Foxworth) of a private 747 Jumbo Jet outfitted like a Holiday Inn turns out to be a part of a gang of crooks planning to steal some valuable artwork on board.
The paintings – and the plane – belong to multimillionaire art collector Philip Stevens (Jimmy Stewart) who has invited other millionaires and art collectors to his Palm Beach estate where he will announce the donation of his family’s accumulation of the goodies of the world, to the public.
Eve Clayton (Brenda Vaccaro) is Stevens’ executive assistant and Gallagher’s mistress. Emily Livingston (Olivia de Havilland) is a sweet elderly lady, thrice-divorced, with lots of art and lots of moolah. Nicholas St Downs III (Joseph Cotten) is another millionaire who dated Emily in London 40 years ago. Nothing happened then. Will it now?
Famed oceanographer Martin Wallace (Christopher Lee) and his wife Karen (Lee Grant) are a quarrelling couple, still in love, who have forgotten how to say “I love you”.
The plane’s designer, Stan Buchek (Darren McGavin) – who hates flying – is on board as are banker Ralph Crawford (James Booth) who helped to finance the building of the jet, and Philip Stevens’ rebellious daughter, Lisa (Pamela Bellwood) who has tried to find a life of her own, and who is bringing with her a small son whom grandpa Philip has never seen.
Tom Sullivan plays a blind pianist (seriously).
The skyjacking attempt is going to plan: Gallagher and the other responsible crew members are knocked over the head and knockout gas is released into the plane causing everybody to pass out immediately. Chambers guides the plane beyond radar detection to the designated place of assignation, but . . . oh no! . . . the plane crashes into an offshore oil rig and plops into the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle.
Screams and consternation abound as the plane sinks and settles on the ocean bed. Fortuitously, it sinks in only 30 feet of water on a sloping sandbar.
Since the jet is pressurised and airtight, all inside are safe – for a while. The fuselage cannot withstand the pressure exerted by tons of water, and sooner or later it will break apart. Moreover, there is no way to send a radio message underwater, and as the jet has flown off course it cannot be located by a search party.
George Kennedy (the only actor to appear in all films in the original Airport trilogy) appears in a small role, as Joe Patroni – the expert who is rushed in to help get the US Navy rescue operation underway – and the second half of the film takes place underwater, ostensibly becoming a documentary on Navy frogmen raising a sunken vessel.
Airport ’77 was one of the most elaborate aviation films ever made. Interiors of the 747 were recreated exactly to scale on the cavernous Stage 27 at Universal Studios. The main lounge, where much of the drama unfolds, was constructed on gimbals so the entire set could move and tilt in any direction for maximum effect.
Above the lounge, two huge containers were each filled with 2,000 gallons of water which ultimately cascaded through the set. So great was the force of water that cameras had to be anchored down and the stars had to cling to immovable objects so as not to be swept away. Brenda Vaccaro described the experience as “absolutely terrifying”.
The external underwater scenes were filmed in a huge water tank at the CBS studios in Hollywood, and on location at Wakulla Springs, south of Tallahassee in Florida, where a plane fuselage was lowered under the water to shoot the scenes where divers attach flotation gear to the plane.
By this time, the Airport theme was thoroughly exhausted, although a further sequel – Airport ’79 – The Concorde – was made in 1979 (natch).
Nicholas St Downs III
Olivia de Havilland
Mrs Jane Stern
M Emmet Walsh
Commander Paul Guay
Lt Tommy Norris