Airplane!


1h 28m 1980
Airplane!

Brief Synopsis

When a flight crew falls ill, the only man who can land the plane is afraid of flying.

Film Details

Also Known As
Titta vi flyger, Y a-t-il un pilote dans l'avion?
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Release Date
Jan 1980
Premiere Information
not available
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m

Synopsis

Laugh until you cry with "Airplane!" (1980), the spoof comedy that started it all, now funnier than ever with this "Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition. Robert Hayes, Julie Hagerty, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and Leslie Nielsen send up every '70s disaster movie cliche, with the help of a wide assortment of supporting players and sight gags. The style of this hilarious tongue-in-cheek comedy spawned a genre of its own.

Crew

Jim Abrahams

Executive Producer

Jim Abrahams

Screenplay

James M Anderson

Assistant Camera

Susan Arnold

Casting

Dan Attias

Dga Trainee

Glenda Baker

Transportation

Tom Baker

Transportation

Elmer Bernstein

Music

Joseph Biroc

Dp/Cinematographer

Joseph Biroc

Director Of Photography

Brink Brydon

Gaffer

Edwin Butterworth

Makeup Artist

Allison Caine

Advisor

David E Campbell

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

Jeff Carson

Music Editor

Ken Collins

Assistant Director

Tom Crowl

Props Assistant

Adam Culunga

Craft Service

Jon Davison

Producer

Jerry C Deats

Grip

Bill Decker

Grip

Kathy Durning

Music Editor

John Frazier

Special Effects

Larry Gilhooly

Gaffer

Wally Graham

Construction Coordinator

Donald Hansard

Production Supervisor

Nancy Hansen

Script Supervisor

Bill Hedge

Visual Effects

William J Hedge

Visual Effects

Richard O Helmer

Special Effects

Todd Henry

Assistant Camera

Joseph E Hubbard

Set Designer

David J Hudson

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

Dennis Jones

Boom Operator

Patrick Kennedy

Editor

Steve Kramer

Other

Steven M Levine

Props

Bruce Logan

Photography

Hunt Lowry

Associate Producer

Aggie Lyon

Costume Supervisor

Agnes Lyon

Costumes

Tom Mahoney

Choreographer

Danny Marzolo

Electrician

Anne Mcculley

Set Decorator

Maureen Mcgovern

Song Performer

Ethel Merman

Song Performer

Dave Miller

Medic

J L Mitchell

Wrangler

John Monte

Photography

Betty Moos

Production

Wallis Nicita

Casting

Rosanna Norton

Costume Designer

J Hugh O'donnell

Song

Tommy Overton

Sound

Conrad Palmisano

Stunt Coordinator

Nick Papanickolas

Grip

Pete G Papanickolas

Grip

Lorna Patterson

Song Performer

Dan Perri

Titles

Joan Phillips

Hair Stylist

Ward Preston

Production Designer

Otis Redding

Song

John T Reitz

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

Gretchen Rennell

Casting

Arne L Schmidt

Assistant Director

John F Shea

Song

Michael J Shea

Song

Fred Smith

Camera Operator

Victoria J Snow

Costumer

Stephen Sondheim

Song

David Spear

Original Music

Jule Styne

Song

Joel Thurm

Casting

Jim Troutman

Sound Editor

Maurice Vaccarino

Unit Production Manager

Chris Walas

Visual Effects

Scott James Wallace

Assistant Editor

Dick Webb

Wrangler

John Williams

Music

Larry Wilson

Consultant

Gary Wostak

Electrician

Edmond Wright

Grip

Peter Yarrow

Song

David Zucker

Executive Producer

David Zucker

Screenplay

Jerry Zucker

Screenplay

Jerry Zucker

Executive Producer

Film Details

Also Known As
Titta vi flyger, Y a-t-il un pilote dans l'avion?
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Romance
Release Date
Jan 1980
Premiere Information
not available
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 28m

Articles

Airplane!


The hundred-gags-a-minute movie parody genre seemed destined to die a quick death when Airplane! came out back in 1980, but it's hung on a lot longer than anyone could have expected. When these things don't work, they really don't work, so it's easy to forget just how hilarious Airplane! was...and still is.

Comics like Sid Caesar and Carol Burnett had been doing this sort of thing in TV skits for over 20 years, albeit in a less risque manner. But no one dared try it at movie length for fear of losing the audience after eight minutes. Happily, Airplane!'s creative team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker were hot at the time, and they hit their shots far more often than they tossed up air-balls. They also didn't mind if viewers occasionally winced at the movie's intentional idiocy, since another joke would be along in 6 or 7 seconds, and it stood a good chance of getting a laugh. Over-caffeinated pacing was everything.

It seems more than a little bit ridiculous to describe the "plot," but here goes nothing. Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, a former pilot whose wartime flying errors caused the deaths of seven men in his Air Force squadron. (Though the movie is set in the 80's, the flashbacks show him flying a World War II bomber!) This gives Ted a permanent case of the jitters. He can no longer fly a plane. Fittingly, his sweet, long-suffering girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty) is a stewardess, and she breaks up with him shortly before boarding a flight. So he buys a ticket and follows after her.

The plane is loaded to bursting with disaster movie cliches including a little girl who needs a heart transplant, a singing nun (Maureen McGovern), a square-jawed pilot (Peter Graves), a brilliant physician (Leslie Nielsen), and an athlete making a quickie appearance in a movie, even though he can't act (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.) Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker mock the characters with an ongoing series of bad puns and ludicrous sight gags that quickly demolish your genre expectations.

Since Airplane! is a take-off (no pun intended) on such movies as Zero Hour! (1957), The Crowded Sky (1960), and the later Airport series, you know the entire crew will soon be struck down with a severe illness, leaving Hagerty and Hays to pilot the plane. This generates some of the better gags in the picture, as, back on the ground, hardened pros Kramer (Robert Stack) and McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) try to talk them through the process of landing the plane.

This was the one and only time America got to see Bridges sniff glue on camera, but both he and Stack were back on the show business map once Airplane! came out to rave reviews and big box office. Sometimes it pays to act the fool. (Airplane!, by the way, was the final film for stage and screen legend Ethel Merman, who, for a few scant seconds, plays a shell-shocked G.I. who thinks he's Ethel Merman. He was right.)

Leslie Nielsen's career, rather incredibly, was also revitalized by his role. It's shocking to note that, almost a quarter of a century later, there are viewers who see Nielsen only as that guy with the deadpan expression who'll do anything for a laugh. For many years leading up to this picture, he was a popular, deadly serious character actor; that was the whole point of casting him as an authority figure in Airplane!.

Watch closely the next time The Poseidon Adventure (1972) plays on TCM, and you'll notice Nielsen as the captain of the ill-fated ocean liner. He plays it completely straight, although maybe he shouldn't have. But at this point, everything he does (or did) seems thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. And at least we know his name now.

Written and directed by: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Editor: Patrick Kennedy
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Cinematographer: Joseph Biroc
Special Effects: Bruce Logan
Cast: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Murdock), Lloyd Bridges (McCroskey), Peter Graves (Capt. Oveur), Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack), Lorna Patterson (Randy), Robert Stack (Kramer), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Maureen McGovern (Nun), Ethel Merman (Lt. Hurwitz).
C-88m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara

Airplane!

Airplane!

The hundred-gags-a-minute movie parody genre seemed destined to die a quick death when Airplane! came out back in 1980, but it's hung on a lot longer than anyone could have expected. When these things don't work, they really don't work, so it's easy to forget just how hilarious Airplane! was...and still is. Comics like Sid Caesar and Carol Burnett had been doing this sort of thing in TV skits for over 20 years, albeit in a less risque manner. But no one dared try it at movie length for fear of losing the audience after eight minutes. Happily, Airplane!'s creative team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker were hot at the time, and they hit their shots far more often than they tossed up air-balls. They also didn't mind if viewers occasionally winced at the movie's intentional idiocy, since another joke would be along in 6 or 7 seconds, and it stood a good chance of getting a laugh. Over-caffeinated pacing was everything. It seems more than a little bit ridiculous to describe the "plot," but here goes nothing. Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, a former pilot whose wartime flying errors caused the deaths of seven men in his Air Force squadron. (Though the movie is set in the 80's, the flashbacks show him flying a World War II bomber!) This gives Ted a permanent case of the jitters. He can no longer fly a plane. Fittingly, his sweet, long-suffering girlfriend, Elaine (Julie Hagerty) is a stewardess, and she breaks up with him shortly before boarding a flight. So he buys a ticket and follows after her. The plane is loaded to bursting with disaster movie cliches including a little girl who needs a heart transplant, a singing nun (Maureen McGovern), a square-jawed pilot (Peter Graves), a brilliant physician (Leslie Nielsen), and an athlete making a quickie appearance in a movie, even though he can't act (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.) Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker mock the characters with an ongoing series of bad puns and ludicrous sight gags that quickly demolish your genre expectations. Since Airplane! is a take-off (no pun intended) on such movies as Zero Hour! (1957), The Crowded Sky (1960), and the later Airport series, you know the entire crew will soon be struck down with a severe illness, leaving Hagerty and Hays to pilot the plane. This generates some of the better gags in the picture, as, back on the ground, hardened pros Kramer (Robert Stack) and McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) try to talk them through the process of landing the plane. This was the one and only time America got to see Bridges sniff glue on camera, but both he and Stack were back on the show business map once Airplane! came out to rave reviews and big box office. Sometimes it pays to act the fool. (Airplane!, by the way, was the final film for stage and screen legend Ethel Merman, who, for a few scant seconds, plays a shell-shocked G.I. who thinks he's Ethel Merman. He was right.) Leslie Nielsen's career, rather incredibly, was also revitalized by his role. It's shocking to note that, almost a quarter of a century later, there are viewers who see Nielsen only as that guy with the deadpan expression who'll do anything for a laugh. For many years leading up to this picture, he was a popular, deadly serious character actor; that was the whole point of casting him as an authority figure in Airplane!. Watch closely the next time The Poseidon Adventure (1972) plays on TCM, and you'll notice Nielsen as the captain of the ill-fated ocean liner. He plays it completely straight, although maybe he shouldn't have. But at this point, everything he does (or did) seems thoroughly tongue-in-cheek. And at least we know his name now. Written and directed by: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker Editor: Patrick Kennedy Music: Elmer Bernstein Cinematographer: Joseph Biroc Special Effects: Bruce Logan Cast: Robert Hays (Ted Striker), Julie Hagerty (Elaine), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Murdock), Lloyd Bridges (McCroskey), Peter Graves (Capt. Oveur), Leslie Nielsen (Dr. Rumack), Lorna Patterson (Randy), Robert Stack (Kramer), Stephen Stucker (Johnny), Maureen McGovern (Nun), Ethel Merman (Lt. Hurwitz). C-88m. Letterboxed. by Paul Tatara

Airplane! (Don't Call Me Shirley Edition) on DVD


Way, way back in the summer of 1980, it sure sounded like a flick that would vanish from the cineplex like spit on an August pavement. A disaster-movie parody concocted by a filmmaking team with one spottily distributed low-budget skit comedy to their credit, featuring a cast whose biggest names were long removed from their days of box-office cachet. As it turned out, audiences came, saw, and cracked up at an unprecedented, seemingly endless barrage of sight gags, verbal groaners, and subversions of genre conventions, rendering Airplane! the season's surprise success, and starting a cult of appreciation that landed the film in the top ten of the AFI's screen comedy survey. Paramount Home Video has finally given this modern comic classic the bells-and-whistles treatment on DVD with the release of Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition), and it's got plenty to commend it to those countless out there who can rattle off the lines by heart.

The project, of course, had its genesis in the warped imagination of a trio of improv comics from the Midwest, and it wound up launching the reputations of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker (AKA "ZAZ") among Hollywood's eminent feature farceurs. As recounted in the DVD's copious extras, the trio was videotaping a wee-hours evening's worth of local commercials for parody fodder when they captured the 1957 Dana Andrews sky-crisis melodrama Zero Hour in their net. The over-the-top "B" film became the template for an amazingly cutting satire that often aped the very dialogue and camera set-ups of the original. The plot involves a commercial flight from L.A. to Chicago that is boarded at the last possible moment by the damaged, phobic ex-military pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays). Ted's ex-lover Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) is an attendant on the trip, and he's making a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship. The fragile Ted, however, winds up being the only hope for every soul on board when the whole flight crew gets stricken with food poisoning.

Sounds cut and dried, but from the opening moments when the airport boarding announcers start getting into a riotous, obscenity-laden fight over the P.A., and Striker's request for "smoking" results in his being handed a smoldering ticket, you know you're not in for any ordinary ride. Prop engines are heard during every exterior of the jet in flight, rather than turbines. The stalwart pilot, Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), offhandedly makes pedophilic come-ons to a young cockpit visitor (Ross Harris), who in turn determinedly insists that co-pilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The string of seatmates with whom Striker shares his backstory exposition engage in increasingly outrageous forms of suicide.

The extent of the peril is diagnosed by the physician passenger Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) ("We've got to get these people to a hospital." "A hospital? What is it?" "A large building with doctors and patients. But that's not important now."), who exhorts Striker to take the controls. On the ground in Chicago, airport executive Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) braces for disaster, opining at various junctures how he picked the wrong week to give up smoking, drinking, amphetamines, and sniffing glue. The one chance for talking Striker down successfully rests with his former C.O., Capt. Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), who strides through the terminal laying out a parade of those once-prevalent airport proselytizers in a joyously un-p.c. fashion.

One could go on and on about the inflatable automatic pilot Otto, the flamingly absurd control room suit Johnny (Steven Stucker), and so much more, but cold print doesn't so justice to this still-entertaining skewering. Hays and Hagerty delivered engaging, name-making lead performances, that they'd reprise for the ZAZ-less (and relatively pizzazz-less) Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). While one of the studios mulling the project before Paramount wanted to see comics in the key supporting roles, the ZAZ boys knew that the humor would come from watching second-tier leading men delivering the material straight. Graves, Nielsen, Stack and Bridges were game, and it worked-- To that point in his career, a change-up assignment for Nielsen involved going from stolid hero to stolid villain. The performer, of course, has since gone on to a bona fide second act in his lifetime, further establishing himself as a crowd-pleasing comic actor in further collaborations with ZAZ and others, namely the cult sitcom Police Squad! and its lucrative big-screen Naked Gun spin-offs.

As far as the extras go, Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition) ably delivers, starting with the giddy full-length commentary track from Abrahams, the Zuckers and producer Jon Davison. They spill all kinds of obscure details about the film's development and production-- from how an exec floated the notion of casting Barry Manilow as Striker, to how Kareem's role had been written for Pete Rose, a notion scuttled because shooting ran through baseball season. A lot of the same information carries over into the special "Long Haul Version," laden with visual prompts that allow the viewer to break from the action to newly-minted interview footage with surviving cast and crew. While Hagerty is conspicuously absent, copious reminiscences abound from ZAZ, Davison, Hays, Nielsen, Graves, and Harris, as well as folk-singing stewardess Lorna Patterson, Hare Krishna (and future Izuzu pitchman) David Leisure, subtitled jive-talkers Al White and Norman Alexander Gibbs, Harris' screen parents Nicholas Pryor and Lee Bryant, among others. If that isn't enough to sate you, you can give the film one more viewing with the "Trivia Track" that provides similar details via pop-up graphics over the course of the film. The original theatrical trailer completes the package.

For more information about Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg

Airplane! (Don't Call Me Shirley Edition) on DVD

Way, way back in the summer of 1980, it sure sounded like a flick that would vanish from the cineplex like spit on an August pavement. A disaster-movie parody concocted by a filmmaking team with one spottily distributed low-budget skit comedy to their credit, featuring a cast whose biggest names were long removed from their days of box-office cachet. As it turned out, audiences came, saw, and cracked up at an unprecedented, seemingly endless barrage of sight gags, verbal groaners, and subversions of genre conventions, rendering Airplane! the season's surprise success, and starting a cult of appreciation that landed the film in the top ten of the AFI's screen comedy survey. Paramount Home Video has finally given this modern comic classic the bells-and-whistles treatment on DVD with the release of Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition), and it's got plenty to commend it to those countless out there who can rattle off the lines by heart. The project, of course, had its genesis in the warped imagination of a trio of improv comics from the Midwest, and it wound up launching the reputations of Jim Abrahams and Jerry and David Zucker (AKA "ZAZ") among Hollywood's eminent feature farceurs. As recounted in the DVD's copious extras, the trio was videotaping a wee-hours evening's worth of local commercials for parody fodder when they captured the 1957 Dana Andrews sky-crisis melodrama Zero Hour in their net. The over-the-top "B" film became the template for an amazingly cutting satire that often aped the very dialogue and camera set-ups of the original. The plot involves a commercial flight from L.A. to Chicago that is boarded at the last possible moment by the damaged, phobic ex-military pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays). Ted's ex-lover Elaine Dickinson (Julie Hagerty) is an attendant on the trip, and he's making a last-ditch effort to salvage their relationship. The fragile Ted, however, winds up being the only hope for every soul on board when the whole flight crew gets stricken with food poisoning. Sounds cut and dried, but from the opening moments when the airport boarding announcers start getting into a riotous, obscenity-laden fight over the P.A., and Striker's request for "smoking" results in his being handed a smoldering ticket, you know you're not in for any ordinary ride. Prop engines are heard during every exterior of the jet in flight, rather than turbines. The stalwart pilot, Captain Clarence Oveur (Peter Graves), offhandedly makes pedophilic come-ons to a young cockpit visitor (Ross Harris), who in turn determinedly insists that co-pilot Roger Murdock (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The string of seatmates with whom Striker shares his backstory exposition engage in increasingly outrageous forms of suicide. The extent of the peril is diagnosed by the physician passenger Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen) ("We've got to get these people to a hospital." "A hospital? What is it?" "A large building with doctors and patients. But that's not important now."), who exhorts Striker to take the controls. On the ground in Chicago, airport executive Steve McCroskey (Lloyd Bridges) braces for disaster, opining at various junctures how he picked the wrong week to give up smoking, drinking, amphetamines, and sniffing glue. The one chance for talking Striker down successfully rests with his former C.O., Capt. Rex Kramer (Robert Stack), who strides through the terminal laying out a parade of those once-prevalent airport proselytizers in a joyously un-p.c. fashion. One could go on and on about the inflatable automatic pilot Otto, the flamingly absurd control room suit Johnny (Steven Stucker), and so much more, but cold print doesn't so justice to this still-entertaining skewering. Hays and Hagerty delivered engaging, name-making lead performances, that they'd reprise for the ZAZ-less (and relatively pizzazz-less) Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). While one of the studios mulling the project before Paramount wanted to see comics in the key supporting roles, the ZAZ boys knew that the humor would come from watching second-tier leading men delivering the material straight. Graves, Nielsen, Stack and Bridges were game, and it worked-- To that point in his career, a change-up assignment for Nielsen involved going from stolid hero to stolid villain. The performer, of course, has since gone on to a bona fide second act in his lifetime, further establishing himself as a crowd-pleasing comic actor in further collaborations with ZAZ and others, namely the cult sitcom Police Squad! and its lucrative big-screen Naked Gun spin-offs. As far as the extras go, Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition) ably delivers, starting with the giddy full-length commentary track from Abrahams, the Zuckers and producer Jon Davison. They spill all kinds of obscure details about the film's development and production-- from how an exec floated the notion of casting Barry Manilow as Striker, to how Kareem's role had been written for Pete Rose, a notion scuttled because shooting ran through baseball season. A lot of the same information carries over into the special "Long Haul Version," laden with visual prompts that allow the viewer to break from the action to newly-minted interview footage with surviving cast and crew. While Hagerty is conspicuously absent, copious reminiscences abound from ZAZ, Davison, Hays, Nielsen, Graves, and Harris, as well as folk-singing stewardess Lorna Patterson, Hare Krishna (and future Izuzu pitchman) David Leisure, subtitled jive-talkers Al White and Norman Alexander Gibbs, Harris' screen parents Nicholas Pryor and Lee Bryant, among others. If that isn't enough to sate you, you can give the film one more viewing with the "Trivia Track" that provides similar details via pop-up graphics over the course of the film. The original theatrical trailer completes the package. For more information about Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition, visit Paramount Home Entertainment. To order Airplane! ("Don't Call Me Shirley!" Edition, go to TCM Shopping. by Jay S. Steinberg

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)


Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82.

Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.

Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).

Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.

After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).

His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)

Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82. Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer. Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954). Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music. After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969). His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Robert Stack, 1919-2003


Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84.

Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling.

Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger.

Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen.

His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942).

After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958).

Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name.

Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980).

Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles.

by Michael T. Toole

Robert Stack, 1919-2003

Robert Stack, the tough, forceful actor who had a solid career in films before achieving his greatest success playing crime fighter Eliot Ness in the '60s television series The Untouchables (1959-63) and later as host of the long-running Unsolved Mysteries(1987-2002), died on May 14 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 84. Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to a well-to-do family but his parents divorced when he was a year old. At age three, he moved with his mother to Paris, where she studied singing. They returned to Los Angeles when he was seven, by then French was his native language and was not taught English until he started schooling. Naturally athletic, Stack was still in high school when he became a national skeet-shooting champion and top-flight polo player. He soon was giving lessons on shooting to such top Hollywood luminaries as Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and found himself on the polo field with some notable movie moguls like Darryl Zanuck and Walter Wanger. Stack enrolled in the University of Southern California, where he took some drama courses, and was on the Polo team, but it wasn't long before some influential people in the film industry took notice of his classic good looks, and lithe physique. Soon, his Hollywood connections got him on a film set at Paramount, a screen test, and eventually, his first lead in a picture, opposite Deanna Durbin in First Love (1939). Although he was only 20, Stack's natural delivery and boyish charm made him a natural for the screen. His range grew with some meatier parts in the next few years, especially noteworthy were his roles as the young Nazi sympathizer in Frank Borzage's chilling The Mortal Storm (1940), with James Stewart, and as the Polish flier who woos a married Carole Lombard in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be (1942). After serving as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II, Stack returned to the screen, and found a few interesting roles over the next ten years: giving Elizabeth Taylor her first screen kiss in Robert Thorp's A Date With Judy (1948); the leading role as an American bullfighter in Budd Boetticher's The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951); and as a pilot in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), starring John Wayne. However, Stack saved his best dramatic performances for Douglas Sirk in two knockout films: as a self-destructive alcoholic in Douglas Sirk's Written on the Wind (1956), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for supporting actor; and sympathetically portraying a fallen World War I pilot ace who is forced to do barnstorming stunts for mere survival in Tarnished Angels (1958). Despite proving his capabilities as a solid actor in these roles, front rank stardom oddly eluded Stack at this point. That all changed when Stack gave television a try. The result was the enormously popular series, The Untouchables (1959-63). This exciting crime show about the real-life Prohibition-era crime-fighter Eliot Ness and his G-men taking on the Chicago underworld was successful in its day for several reasons: its catchy theme music, florid violence (which caused quite a sensation in its day), taut narration by Walter Winchell, and of course, Stack's trademark staccato delivery and strong presence. It all proved so popular that the series ran for four years, earned an Emmy for Stack in 1960, and made him a household name. Stack would return to television in the late '60s, with the The Name of the Game (1968-71), and a string of made-for-television movies throughout the '70s. His career perked up again when Steven Spielberg cast him in his big budget comedy 1941 (1979) as General Joe Stillwell. The film surprised many viewers as few realized Stack was willing to spoof his granite-faced stoicism, but it won him over many new fans, and his dead-pan intensity would be used to perfect comic effect the following year as Captain Rex Kramer (who can forget the sight of him beating up Hare Krishnas at the airport?) in David and Jerry Zucker's wonderful spoof of disaster flicks, Airplane! (1980). Stack's activity would be sporadic throughout the remainder of his career, but he returned to television, as the host of enormously popular Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002), and played himself in Lawrence Kasden's comedy-drama Mumford (1999). He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Rosemarie Bowe Stack, a former actress, and two children, Elizabeth and Charles, both of Los Angeles. by Michael T. Toole

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Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 2, 1980

Released in United States July 11, 1980

Released in United States Summer July 2, 1980

Released in United States July 11, 1980