Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Don't Call Me Shirley

This week's Dance Party comes from the Daddy of all comedy parody films, and is credited with inventing the genre. The film was created by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker, founders of an improvisational comedy troop known as the Kentucky Fried Theater (their first movie was the translation of some of their sketches to film, Kentucky Fried Movie, directed by John Landis of Animal House fame).

Airplane! was filled with hilarious sightgags and double entendres, with the plot poking fun at the "who's going to fly the plane?" scenario. "ZAZ," as the creative team was known, excelled in their casting of the film, which they filled with well-established men who were not known for their comic chops. Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen, and Robert Stack were all dramatic actors who, when speaking the outrageous dialogue in Airplane!, were drop-dead funny. (The film altered the direction of Leslie Nielsen's career, who was a moderately known dramatic actor before Airplane! transformed him into THE superstar of the parody film genre. He starred in the Police Squad TV series and its film versions, the Naked Gun series, all of which were guided by one or more of the ZAZ team).

Famous cameos pop up throughout Airplane!, including Ethel Merman (in her final film role), playing a male soldier who thinks he's Ethel Merman, and Barbara ("June Cleaver") Billingsley, who is an absolute scream as a passenger who "speaks jive" and who translates for black passengers. (For California viewers, the film even includes a cameo by Howard Jarvis, who led a tax revolt in the late 70s which resulted in California's Proposition 13; in the movie, he is stranded at the curb with the meter running.)

At the center of the lunacy, ZAZ placed two relative unknowns. Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty had both been knocking around the business for a while, and both had television and stage credits when they were cast as the romantic leads in Airplane! and its sequel. Neither of them were able to parlay the success of these films into substantial careers, but here, Hays's stoic hero and Hagerty's vacant facial expressions equaled comedic gold.

The following clip includes several sightgags which are just too delicious to cut. Please enjoy the flashback dance sequence from 1980's Airplane!

Julie Hagerty turned 54 last month, and Robert Hays turns 62 today.

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