DVD Review: Airplane! - The "Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition
Release Date: December 13, 2005
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
· Jim Abrahams
· David Zucker
· Robert Hays: Ted Striker
· Julie Hagerty: Elaine Dickinson
· Lloyd Bridges: Steven McCrosky
· Leslie Nielsen: Dr. Rumack
· Robert Stack: Capt. Rex Kramer
· Peter Graves: Capt. Clarence Oveur
· Lorna Patterson: Randy
· Stephen Stucker: Johnny Hinshaw
· Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Roger Murdock
by Paul Schultz
Published: January 11, 2006
The comedy to which all spoofs aspire, "Airplane!", gets a "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition re-release, following the current double-dip trend to fleece consumers who already own the movie by enticing them with additional features. You'll be offended, you'll shake your head at the incongruities, but most of all you'll laugh hysterically until you pee your
pants at this parody of every disaster film you can think of, particularly the
series of "Airport" movies.
Former fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) fears planes since a
disastrous mission during the war claimed the lives of his compatriots, yet he
boards a commercial flight to try to reconcile things with his estranged stewardess girlfriend (the lovely Julie Hagerty). Fidgeting in his seat, the cliché "little old lady" sitting next to him inquires, "Nervous?" "Yes." "First time?" "No, I've been nervous lots of times." This represents the type of clever dialogue you'll encounter throughout. When Striker reveals the reason for his presence, the little old lady replies, "No wonder you're upset. She's lovely. And a darling figure... supple, pouting breasts... firm thighs. It's a shame you two don't get along." Naturally, Striker becomes "the only man that can land the plane" when the flight becomes imperiled. But the plot is really not that important as it is really just a springboard for sketch-type comedy that skewers every conceivable melodramatic cliché and runs the gamut from slap-stick to deadpan. It's just wrong to laugh at a sick girl's IV tube getting knocked out during a rousing guitar sing-a-long, but just try stopping yourself. And where else will you see Mrs. Cleaver play the unlikely interpreter ("Oh stewardess! I speak jive."), or witness former straight-man Leslie Nielson responding to "Surely you can't be serious." with "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."?
This edition forgoes typical DVD releases by integrating the special features into what it dubs the "Long-Haul Version." This option interrupts the movie often with anecdotes from nearly everyone involved with the production, with the glaring exception of Hagerty. Each person is seated in some airplane set piece from the movie. I thought having Lorna Patterson, who played the hot stewardess Randy, sitting behind the "no sex" warning sign from the film was a nice touch. The frequent breaks provide plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes information. For example, I was unaware that a good chunk of dialogue was stolen directly from a 1957 B-movie with a similar plot entitled "Zero Hour." And not only dialogue, but whole scenes were absconded right down to replicating camera angles! (Paramount owns the rights to both films which made this legally possible.) A segment with side-by-side scenes from the current and vintage black-and-white film showcased the blatant similarities and intrigued me so much that I obtained a copy of "Zero Hour" just to compare. Let me tell you--there are many scenes lifted directly out of this movie! In fact, it's like watching Airplane!...only without the punch lines. When the doctor explains they must land as soon as possible to get the food-poisoned passengers to a hospital, the stewardess asks, "A hospital? What is it?" The doctor answers the question seriously and I found myself talking back to the screen, saying, "No...no...you're supposed to say 'it's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now'!"
Two deleted scenes were presented that I swore I had already seen. Sure enough, they were included when it was shown on network television, but were not in the original theatrical release. These included the water cooler discussion between flight traffic controller Steve McCrosky (Lloyd Bridges) and gung-ho Captain Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) which saw the demise of countless paper cups, and the "adult" conversation between a well-mannered boy and girl ("Cream [for your coffee]?" "No, thank you, I take it black, like my men."). It was noted that the latter conversation was lifted word-for-word from another '50s airplane flick "Crash Landing." I would have rather they just included these scenes back into the film, but I'm glad they at least made it onto this edition. My one pet peeve is that the sound of these interludes consistently seemed to be quieter than the movie and I had to keep adjusting the volume.
The audio commentary features producer Jon Davison and writers/directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, and David Zucker, and is as non-linear as the film. There were frequent references to their sketch comedy group beginnings at the Kentucky Fried Theater in Madison, Wisconsin as well as explanations how some jokes originated from ideas presented in their previous theatrical effort, "Kentucky Fried Movie". Stories from the production would often be told whether or not they were in sync with what was currently showing in the movie. In fact, at one point a comment is made: "We probably should be telling this when it happens, but who cares?" Well, I cared because it made for an uneven commentary. Additionally, there would be long stretches of silence when it seemed they were pausing to watch the movie themselves rather than comment on it. While it was informative (for example, FAA regulations
prohibit the pilot and co-pilot from eating the same meals which negates a very important plot point in the film) and they exhibited a fine camaraderie, I came away with an impression that they weren't entirely comfortable doing a
commentary. My suspicions were confirmed when the credits began to roll
and the final exclamation from the commentary track was: "Wow, I'm glad
A separate trivia track provides pop-up bubbles of information while the
movie is playing. Most were quite enlightening (David Letterman read for
the Army hospital scene) while others weren't ("Yes, these are real!"
follow a bouncing pair of breasts across the screen). Often they enhanced
the humor of a scene, like when a passenger asks for some light reading.
She's handed a leaflet, "Famous Jewish Sports Legends," and the trivia track
actually lists the names of noted Jewish athletes.
The transfer seemed a bit grainy to me, and there were a few small sound
dropouts that I hope are only unique to my copy. The packaging includes an official mail-in certificate "How to Get Your 'Otto' The Auto Pilot Inflatable by Mail!" A warning about the rating: there is a conspicuous scene of nudity and drug use that would seem to elevate the content beyond its innocuous PG rating. Watch it several times to catch all the humor, study the credits fastidiously, and make sure you watch it all the way through to the end to see the incredibly patient taxi occupant one last time. Twenty-five years after its initial release, the satire of "Airplane!" still flies far above many of the spoofs that followed in its wake.
Sneak Peaks include "Tommy Boy" - Holy Schnike Edition 2-Disc
DVD, The John Wayne DVD Collection, "Bad News Bears", and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - Bueller...Bueller... Edition