Julien Neaves – Editor
These days the term “parody movie” is usually met with groans and rolled eyes. And with dreck like Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie you can’t really blame people for hating this sub-genre. But there was a golden age of the parody movie in decades past (the work of Mel Brooks is a good example) and one of the shining jewels of that era is Airplane! which turned 40 on June 27. It is not only one of the best parodies of all time but one of the best comedies of all time.
Now if I were to rank all the jokes in the film I could do a Top 100 and still not cover it all. But in the immortal words of Sweet Brown “ain’t nobody got time for that!” For ease of reading I will be talking about ten of the best jokes in ten different categories. With a SPOILER ALERT for those who have not seen it (and if that’s you then you should rectify that immediately, if not sooner) let’s lift off into comedy heaven:
#10 Best sight gag – Hit the fan
This is just so simple and so stupid and so on the nose and I just love it.
#9 Best absurd moment – Windshield clean
This movie has a cornucopia of jokes and they fly at you like with the speed of bullets from a Gatling Gun. And therefore it pays to pay attention to catch them all. In this blink and you miss it scene the pilots are preparing for takeoff and a guy climbs up to clean the windshield like it’s a car in a garage. What? This makes no sense. And of course he falls off, likely to his death. I should feel sorry for laughing, but I don’t.
#8 Best film parody – Stayin’ Alive
The entire film is a parody of little known 1957 drama Zero Hour! but there are other movies lampooned as well. The opening of the film parodies Jaws, the beach scene parodies From Here to Eternity and the “one for the Zipper” scene parodies the “one for the Gipper” scene in the film All American. But the best parody has to be the Saturday Night Fever one with its gravity-defying dancing. But my favourite part is the old sailor guy “dancing” to Stayin’ Alive with a knife in his back. Get it? You get it.
#7 Best gratuitous violence – Calming technique
The movie featured various scenes of irreverent, over the top and hilariously gratuitous violence. You have the Girl Scouts beating the ever living crap out of each other in the seedy bar, and Captain Rex Kramer skillfully beating the ever living crap out of the religious folks at the airport.
But the best has to be this scene with hysterical passenger, Mrs Hammen, getting “calmed” down. It starts with a slap, then more slaps, and then you see a line of people with various weapons. It is a wonderful send-up of the “slapping hysterical woman” cliche and is just fantastic.
#6 Best subversion – Tie between Coffee? and I speak Jive
This is one of my favourite jokes in the entire film. It starts off so innocently and sweetly and then BANG! the turn comes. This one never gets old.
I originally left this one out but it is an iconic moment and a great subversion joke as well. Who expected Barbara Billingsley, the lady who played Mrs Cleaver on the classic show Leave it to Beaver, to be fluent in Jive? No one. The answer is no one. The unexpectedness of the situation together with her sassy delivery just makes it magical.
#5 Best sexual humour – Cockpit job
Airplane! got raunchy on more than one occasion. You had the random topless lady, the airplane symbol saying no sex in certain rows (good to know), and the old woman talking about Elaine’s supple breast and firm thighs. But this one goes out to my boy Otto Pilot (oh the puns!) who gets deflated and needs some “help” from Elaine. It is ridiculous and juvenile but just dang hilarious.
#4 Best politically incorrect humour – Joey have you ever…?
If this movie was made in this modern time of political correctness a number of the jokes would have been excoriated. Take this one for example where Captain Oveur attempts to sexually groom little Joey with the most suggestive of comments. It’s like they thought about the absolute worst thing that could happen in this scenario and then thought “nah, too tame. Go lower.” Try not to think too much about what is happening, and just enjoy the absurdity of it all.
#3 Best fourth wall break – Hey, I know you!
This next one takes place during the same scene as our previous entry. There is another fourth wall break where Ted looks at the camera and says “what a pisser!” but this one is way better. When then Los Angeles Lakers player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar breaks character, drops the facade of co-pilot Roger Murdock and roughs up Joey it is so good. But the look on Joey’s face after is gold.
And you will also notice that when Kareem is being dragged out later in the film he is wearing some of his basketball gear. This movie is just loaded with lovely nonsense.
#2 Best building gag – The wrong week
Airplane! has a few running gags. You have Ted’s “drinking” problem and the guy in the taxi waiting like an idiot for Ted to return. But there are a couple of building gags as well, which may not be the actual term but hey, I’m no comedian. Just ask my wife.
Anywho in terms of building gags you have Mrs Hammen noting via inner monologue that her husband Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home. And then noting he never vomits at home either. But the better building gag is Steve McCroskey increasing substance abuse. When he says he picked the wrong week to give up smoking it feels like a throwaway line. But it builds and builds and builds in intensity and humour until he is floating on the ceiling from sniffing glue. Then later in his high state he jumps out of the tower when he thinks the plane is going to crash into him. Which to be fair was a strong possibility the way things were going.
#1 Best word play – Are you serious?
I love puns. I really, really do. And Airplane! really loves puns too. They are all about that sweet, sweet word play. You have the building pun when people mention a building, someone asks “what is it?” and then they describe the building and say “that’s not important right now.” But the best word play and the most iconic joke in the entire movie has to be the “Surely you can’t be serious” gag. The silliness of it combined with Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan delivery make for comedy gold. And so it’s my number one on this list. What’s that? Yes, I am serious. And stop calling me Shirley!
So what’s your favourite Airplane! moment? For more parody goodness and my Top 10 Most Ludicrous Spaceballs Moments you can click here.
Julien Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. Also loves promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and is an aspiring author. Says things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Can also be found talking about TV and movie stuff on Instagram as redmanwriter and on Facebook at Movieville