The Concorde … Airport ’79 (Movie review)

Patroni and Métrand (George Kennedy and Alain Delon)

The Concorde … Airport ’79 is the fourth and last film in the Airport series. It is the only Airport film that has a supersonic airliner, a series of armed air attacks, a decompression, a lot of screaming and panicking, all with a 1980s feel… and a lot of camp value!

Plot summary

The movie starts with the Federation World Airlines’ (FWA) gleaming new Concorde, leaving an equally gleaming new Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle Airport, for a delivery flight to Dulles. The cabin is nearly empty: only a few flight attendants laughing off their journey, and following the tradition of the pilot and the flight attendant with a romantic history, Captain Paul Métrand (Alain Delon) asks Isabelle (Sylvia Kristel) for a coffee, still surprised that she is part of this flight. Also on that flight are another French pilot, Henri (Pierre Jalbert) and a British Flight Engineer, Peter O’Neill (David Warner).

Meanwhile, a hot air balloon flown by an environmentalist group protesting against the supersonic airliner ends up (unnoticed!) over the runway at Dulles, just as the Concorde is landing. Métrand has to go around and averts a mid-air collision with the balloon just by a few inches. It’s immediately followed by a news bulletin about the Concorde incident, as well as Harrison Industries, a company specializing in defence systems, and their newest missile called Buzzard. It is also an unfortunate look at what objectivity in journalism isn’t: the newscaster, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) reads a short story on her lover, Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), president of Harrison Industries, being named “Man of the Year” by a science foundation, and Robert Palmer (John Davidson) shows a report on his fiancée, Soviet gymnast Alicia Rogov (Andrea Marcovicci).

Enter Captain Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), arriving in Washington and contemplating the Concorde from its parking position. He will be replacing Henri for the pre-Olympic flight the next morning to Paris, then continuing on to Moscow. Meanwhile, Carl Parker (Macon McCalman), assistant sales director at Harrison Industries, does an impromptu visit to Maggie. He has alarming news: the company had been conducting illegal sales of arms to unfriendly nations for many years. He has documents proving it, but before he can show them, a hit man shoots Carl and chases Maggie before the police is notified.

Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely) discovering the ‘documents’ while Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner) watches

The next morning, she confronts Kevin, but without the documents and sobbing on his shoulder. Of course, Kevin denies everything and tries to comfort her. Back in his limo, he informs Willie Halpern (Robin Gammell), his aide, about the whistleblower being killed and Maggie and the documents still on the loose. He asks how difficult it would be to reprogram the missile scheduled to be tested that morning. Willie sighs and replies: “No problem at all.” It seems this “reprogramming” will be necessary indeed: after kissing Kevin goodbye and just before boarding the Concorde, Maggie receives a mysterious Air France flight bag from Carl’s widow, Mary (Kathleen Maguire). Inside are the famous documents, all signed by Kevin himself.

Boarding complete, and flight deck visit by Eli Sande, president of FWA (Eddie Albert) and his young wife Amy (Sybil Danning), the Concorde flight takes off for Paris, just as the Buzzard is launched, as well as its unmanned target aircraft. And then Buzzard diverts from its course, heading right into a crowded airspace just east of Dulles. Air Traffic Control advises all aircraft in the vicinity. You can imagine the rest: the Buzzard locks in on the Concorde, and Patroni must do some crazy maneuvers, including a barrel roll, to avoid being hit, until F-15s shoot down the drone. Passengers all have their seat belts on, so they’re not thrown around, but everything else is!

What follows is quite a variety of disaster one after the other, hitting the Concorde, as Kevin doesn’t give up on trying to get rid of the documents, even if it means getting rid of Maggie, the Concorde and everyone aboard.

Appreciation

Decompression in the cabin

The movie is far from being credible, overall. It was meant to be a drama with loads of fear. Instead, judging from test audiences laughing out, it had to be marketed as a big joke of a movie. How couldn’t it, with passengers upside down, screaming their lungs out, or Boise (Jimmy Walker) smoking illicit stuff in the bathroom? And who could forget that incontinent lady (Martha Raye), continuously locking herself in the bathroom, and ultimately stuck in it as the Concorde depressurizes and loops the loop? At least, we finally get to see George Kennedy on the left seat, and not just to taxi out a snowed-in Boeing 707 in Airport.

I give The Concorde … Airport ’79 a 5.5 out of 10.

Things to notice

Here are the goofs and trivia for The Concorde … Airport ’79.

  • The shots showing a real Concorde airliner are actually F-BTSC, a repainted Air France plane, the same one that crashed in the suburbs of Paris as flight AF4590 on July 25, 2000.
  • In the French-dubbed version of the movie, Captain Métrand becomes Captain Bertrand, because as a matter of fact, the last name Métrand is almost non-existant in France! Bertrand is, on the contrary, one of the most common last names in that country.
  • The first take-off scene after the opening credits uses the sound of a subsonic aircraft, the same one used in Airport (as a plane flying by, after Patroni argues with the airline pilot on the 707) and in Airport 1975 (when the 747 takes off).
  • Willie says the drone test is to occur at 6:30 AM, “an hour from now” (meaning it’s currently 5:30), yet there is full daylight outside. It is very unlikely that the sun would rise this early in Washington.
  • Concorde averting missile

    Watch for the scenes where the drone gets close to the Concorde. At some moments, you will see a rectangle surrounding the missile, showing an obvious “cut and paste”.

  • Some scenes featuring the Concorde on the runway at Le Bourget are a model on a black asphalt surface. The real shots of the Concorde show it is on a gray concrete runway.
  • The French announcements at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle’s Terminal 1 are made with a strong foreign accent and a syntax different from common announcements at that airport.
  • The only actors who speak correct French are of course French actors Alain Delon and Sylvia Kristel. Speaking of Kristel, her line in which she is angry at Delon in the flight deck (“Je te remercie. On peut avoir confiance en toi!“) is a sarcastic “Thanks a lot! One sure can trust you.” As for Charo’s rant after her dog is denied access on board (“¿Que te parece? No te preocupes…“), it can be translated as: “What do you think? Don’t worry. When the revolution comes, I promise you will fly on anything you want. I promise. What a shame, my love. What do they think they are?”
  • Unconfirmed sources claim that in real life, the Concorde did not have oxygen masks in the passenger cabin. The Concorde flew at an altitude so high (above 55,000 feet) that standby oxygen reserves would not have lasted for the duration of an emergency descent, making oxygen masks useless.
  • Speaking of altitude, the Concorde is permanently surrounded by clouds, even when it’s flying near the stratosphere. This is typical of movies, to certify that the plane is in motion!

The aircraft

It is an Aérospatiale/British Aerospace Concorde, flown by Federation World Airlines, flying from Washington-Dulles to Moscow (presumably Sheremetyevo), via Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (IAD-CDG-SVO). The aircraft has no flight number, and in the radio communications, it is simply known as “The Concorde” (except for the delivery flight, when it becomes “Concorde flight 28”).

Movie links

Specifications

U.S.A. 1979, Produced by Universal Pictures. Directed by David Lowell Rich. Starring Alain Delon, Susan Blakely, Robert Wagner, Sylvia Kristel, George Kennedy, Eddie Albert. Rated PG. Also known as Airport 80: Concorde (French), Airport ’79 – Die Concorde (German).

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Posted in Movie reviews
3 comments on “The Concorde … Airport ’79 (Movie review)
  1. Alison Schofield says:

    Your review left out the most shocking aspect of Airport 79 – Joe Patroni’s passionate sex scene! Cannot unsee!

  2. Sam says:

    Campy trash this one! If it had came out 1 year later, it would have qualified for the inaugural Razzies in practically every category. Make no mistake: everyone involved did this one strictly for the paycheck.

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