One of my all time favorite movies is the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker disaster spoof Airplane!. If you by chance haven’t seen the film, there’s no real way to describe the film’s offbeat, random, out-of-left field sense of humor. It’s something you’ll just have to experience for yourself.
I first saw the movie sometime in the early 1980s, at my friend’s house on HBO. It was a comic revelation to us and for months afterwards we would set each other up with lines like “Surely you don’t mean it,” and getting the expected “Yes I do. And don’t call me Shirley!” in response.
It wasn’t until around the time I was in high school or college that I learned that the movie was actually patterened after a 1957 b-movie called Zero Hour!, scripted by none other than Alex Roots Hailey! Finding it on television proved impossible and it never got a release on VHS.
Last week though, Zero Hour! finally got a home video release as part of Warner Brothers “Cult Camp Classics” series. And the similarities between Zero Hour! and Airplane! are amazing! Where the original film reached for dramatic tension, Airplane! grabs laughs using the exact same lines. The Zucker-Abrams-Zucker team knew that the original was pure soapy melodrama, and they played it as straight as possible, knowing that’s where the laughs were.
Don’t take my word for it though. Check out these two scene-by-scene comparisons that recently showed up on YouTube.