A snowbound airport, a foolish king, a funny lady: movies and TV

AIRPORT (1970) is the Best Picture-nominated adaptation of Arthur Hailey’s novel, foreshadowing of the 1970s’ disaster movie cycle with its climax (a plane tearing apart from a bomb), it’s similar story structure (personal crises going on while the disaster builds) and it’s all-star cast (of course it’s also the heir to the early cycle of Doomed Flight films such as Zero Hour and The High and the Mighty). Burt Lancaster stars as the airport ops manager coping with a heavy snowfall and his deteriorating marriage to Dana Wynter; Dean Martin is an arrogant pilot married to Barbara Hale but having a love affair with Jacqueline Bissett; George Kennedy is a troubleshooter trying to clear a vital runway; Van Heflin is a mad bomber plotting to blow up the plane over the ocean so wife Maureen Stapleton can live off the insurance; and Helen Hayes copped a Supporting Actress Oscar for playing a tricky stowaway. A good job adapting the source — the only major plotline they missed was a suicidal air-traffic controller — and fun in its own right, even though it’s the Oscar nominee a lot of critics love to hate. “I don’t want to be turned over to the Italian police!”

As KING LEAR (1999) Brian Blessed appears at first as a jovial, almost fuddy-duddy monarch, willing to turn over the kingdom to his beloved daughters as soon as they tell him how much they love him — but when Cordelia refuses to mouth platitudes, Lear turns petulant and casts her out (while it was unfair of him to pressure her, I’ve got to say she could have handled it better). Of course his two older daughter turn out sharper than a serpent’s tooth, Regan being particularly vicious.  As Christopher Moore says in the afterword to Fool, the more versions of the play I watch, the more I grow to despise the king’s selfishness and folly, but Blessed still does a great job making him a tragic figure. For comparison, you can check out Ian McKellan, Orson Welles, James Earl Jones and a 1969 Soviet production. “Upon such sacrifices, the gods themselves throw incest.”

The third season of THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAIZEL (click the links for reviews of S1 and S2) is funny but ends on a note of idiot plot. This season has Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) touring as the opening act for black crooner Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain) while Susie (Alex Borstein) juggles managing Midge with her new client, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). Sophie became an enemy to Midge in the first season but she was impressed with how Susie refused to back down; she wants Susie fighting for her, specifically getting Sophie a serious dramatic role on Broadway (opposite a British actor played by Cary Elwes).

As usual the season has funny moments and some great dialog (“She said I belonged in a freak show and told me my billing would be second after the dogfaced boy!”); I particularly liked the women winding up in Miami, where they’re very much fish out of water. However the season ends by implausibly undercutting Susie and Midge’s success, presumably so they’ll still be struggling in S4. First Sophie freaks out on stage and ruins the show she’s in. Then Midge, opening for Shy at the Apollo, heeds his manager’s suggestion to tell the black audience some stories and jokes about Shy. As she knows he’s gay but closeted, she proceeds to tell lots of jokes focusing on how effeminate he is — and presto, she’s off the tour. While one review argued this shows Midge doesn’t care who she hurts as she climbs to the top, I can’t believe it didn’t occur to her that this wouldn’t be okay with Shy. Sure enough she ends up off the tour just after everything was going perfect. It doesn’t help that they pulled the exxact same trick near the end of S1 (Midge joked about some of Sophie’s secrets, getting her blackballed). It’s a frustrating end to a fun season. “More pregnant women smoke Pall Malls than any other brand of cigarettes.”

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