28 Comments

  1. What book? None.
    It was based on a movie, which itself was based on a TV drama, which originated with a screenplay written by Arthur Hailey.
    Hailey subsequently wrote the novel ‘Airport’, which made into a movie, and eventually into 18,000 sequels.
    What were they? They were movies based on movies. But that’s not important right now.
    I won’t go into detail the direct ancestor of ‘Airplane!’ Others can answer.
    I just wanted to wish you good luck…we’re all counting on you.

  2. Most directly it came from Hailey’s Runway Zero-Eight (itself based on a tv movie), though in fact the studio only bought the rights so they could use the “pilot and co-pilot both get food poisoning” plot.

    I remember reading that they were making a movie version of Runway Zero-Eight and thought that was interesting. Then I read further and saw it was going to be a comedy, which seemed ridiculous.

    I always suspected that Hailey wrote Airport because he had a ton of research for Runway Zero-Eight he hadn’t gotten to use.

  3. Airplane! is based on the film Zero Hour!, including character names and large chunks of dialog. It starred Dana Andrews as Ted Stryker. Zero Hour! was an adaptation of Flight into Danger — screenplay by Arthur Hailey — which aired on CBC and starred James Doohan. It did air later in the US. That screenplay did get novelized and Hailey got coauthor credit, but he didn’t have much to do with it beyond the original screenplay. He did later use a lot of his research to write Airport.

    Anyway, the line goes TV drama hour screenplay to film screenplay to Airplane! Runway Zero-Eight (Flight into Danger in the UK) is an appendage hanging somewhere between the TV and movie scripts and doesn’t feed directly into Airplane! But Arthur Hailey is Airplane!’s grandfather, so to speak.

  4. “Zero Hour” was the film they most closely cling to, I thought. The are shot for shot videos of “Airplane!” and “Zero Hour” or whatever it is called. Remarkable similarities.

  5. From Wikipedia:

    Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (collectively known as Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, or ZAZ), wrote Airplane! while they were performing with the Kentucky Fried Theatre, a theatre group they had founded in 1971. To obtain material for comedy routines, they routinely recorded late night television and reviewed the tapes later primarily to pull the commercials, a process Abrahams compared to “seining for fish”.[15] During one such taping process, they unintentionally recorded the 1957 film Zero Hour!, and while scanning the commercials, found that the film was a “perfectly classically structured film” according to Jerry Zucker.[7][15] Abrahams later described Zero Hour! as “the serious version of Airplane!”. It was the first film script they wrote, completed around 1975,[15] and was originally called The Late Show. The script originally stayed close to the dialog and plot of Zero Hour!, as ZAZ considered they did not have a sufficient understanding of film at the time to structure a proper script.[15] ZAZ’s script borrowed so much from Zero Hour! that they believed they needed to negotiate the rights to create the remake of the film and ensure they remain within the allowance for parody within copyright law. They were able to obtain the rights from Warner Bros. and Paramount for about $2,500 at the time.[15] The original script contained spoofs of television commercials but people who proofread the script advised them to shorten the commercials, and, eventually, they removed them. When their script was finished they were unable to sell it.[16]

  6. Good job by the person who put Zero Hour up against Airplane! – good editing and and snappy too and it’s amazing how the dialogue and some of the scenes match up and how they flow seamlessly into one another. Anyone who hasn’t watched it definitely should.

  7. I didn’t know about Zero Hour, btw. I too thought it was a general spoof mostly based on Airport, which I read and saw as a teenager back in the 70s (having a father as an airline pilot, I was interested in this stuff). I don’t know what the policy was about pilots eating food when Zero Hour came out (“Doctor, I had the fish too”), but more recently the two pilots have something different to avoid the danger of them both getting food poisoning.

    https://www.foodandwine.com/travel/surprising-reason-airplane-pilots-and-co-pilots-eat-different-meals

  8. chipchristian, thanks for putting in the video. It’s a great piece of work.

    As supplementary material, a real 747 pilot has made a video about “Hollywood vs Reality” for Airplane! It’s informative and actually subtly funny. It seems some of Arthur Haliey’s accurate research survived all the way into Airplane!

  9. Sorry, I got something wrong on the embedding. The video starts about 10 minutes into it. You should rewind and start from the beginning.

    Maybe I got it right this time.

  10. I used to tell my copilots that most of our passengers thought Airplane was a documentary. That helped explain their behavior.

  11. Isn’t there a line in the film’s closing credits making a reference to the book it was based on, and it’s something like A TALE OF TWO CITIES by CHARLES DICKENS? I recall some kind of joke/novel listing. But I was asked not to look.

  12. I seem to remember that if you stay in the theater all the way to the end of the credits, it cuts back to the guy stranded in the taxicab. He says “I’m going to give him five more minutes and then I’m leaving.”

    Now lots of movies have things like that after the credits.

  13. Mark in Boston, you are correct about that scene. The other interesting things about credits is that they all used to be up at the front of the movie. This was before everyone and his dog got a screen credit (and, to be fair, when movies were produced with smaller staff and crew). You can find Hollywood films from as late as the 1960s that have limited or no end credits.

  14. To go further, there is a great piece here, a recollection by Terry Southern, who helped Stanley Kubrick adapt _Red_Alert_ into the screenplay for “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”. https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/4125-notes-from-the-war-room

    The Criterion Collection has a release of “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”, that is great if you love that film. I picked up the Blu-ray of it on a sale recently. Many wonderful supplemental materials, as typically found on a Criterion Collection release, including a video interview with David George, son of _Red_Alert_ author Peter George. The novel was played straight but Mr. George senior was comfortable with it becoming a satire. The book was first published in the UK as _Two_Hours_to_Doom_ under the pseudonym “Peter Bryant”.
    https://www.criterion.com/films/28822-dr-strangelove-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb

  15. A few ideas I ended up throwing together.

    1) I used to have a quick “pretension” metric, that a film credit as “based on” could be okay but “based upon” was bound up in self-inflation. That doesn’t hold up well in the long run, just in terms of correlation – though the “based upon” phrasing itself hasn’t stopped bothering me.
    IMDB, btw, is not so great on showing what the onscreen credits say.

    2) When it says “Based on [or upon 🙂 ] the novel [or book]” (plus optional “by Author Name”) then I think that has to be a novel with exactly the same title as the movie. Of course a movie can very likely have a different title from the work it is based on. That’s fine — but then the “based on” credit should give the book title. Weird when it only says “the novel” and doesn’t name the book title though it is different.

    3) Sometimes a difference between book title and film title, when not totally different but still not identical, can be truly insignificant, but also sometimes a little interesting to speculate on the change.

    The classic “The Bridge on the River Kwai” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050212/reference
    The title was a bit of a puzzle to me when I first heard it (probably when my parents went to see it). I knew only the construction “the Mississippi river” (or “the Mississippi”) , so sort of figured “kwai” was a common noun and the construction was like “the river outlet”. Why capitalized then? Because it was in a title!
    Then at some point I ran across the book. “The Bridge over the River Kwai”. Different preposition! Why? (It turns out there have been other editions in English that do have “on”.)
    Well, it’s because the book was not originally in English, so both the movie and the translated novel were given titles independently, and used a small difference in choice in translating the French title. (“Le pont de la rivière Kwaï” — until yesterday I thought recalled it as “sur” rather than “de”.)
    I would venture a guess that the screenwriters (and others working on the property) mostly worked from an English translation of the book. But the official credit lists the French book, which is pretty clearly the right thing to do.

    “David and Lisa” (1962) made quite a splash when it came out, and was an early feature credit for actor Keir Dullea (who is probably not real well known today but was more or less the lead in “2001: A Space Odyssey”). I want to say it was also an early role for Liza Minelli, but that is entirely wrong! That is confusion with “The Sterile Cockoo” (1969) , a movie with some related story elements.

    Okay, the film “David and Lisa” was based on or based upon a book. Not a novel, but a somewhat fictionalized case report. Called … wait for it … “Lisa and David”.

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