1/2/07

614 San Francisco International

(1970, Drama-Television, color)

Subplots keep washing ashore.

Rating: ***

In a nutshell:

Maverick airport officials solve a series of crimes and family crises.

Summary:

Little Davey is all screwed up inside.Thank you, and welcome aboard MST3K Summary Airlines. Out the window to your left you will see Pernell Roberts (of Trapper John fame) as Jim Conrad: Maverick Airport Administrator. Out the window to your right, you will see Clu Gulager (who you may remember from Master Ninja I) as Bob Hatten: Cantankerous Chief of Airport Security. Since this TV series pilot has several subplots masquerading as an overarching story, we will now be switching to Multiple Plot Mode. Please stand by.

Click. Whirrrrr.

Multiple Plot Mode engaged. Commencing summary:

Plot #1, “Frightened Government Officials.” Several senators, congressmen, FAA officials, and hangers-on fly into San Francisco International Airport for an inspection that will determine that facility’s new safety budget. Rogue administrator Jim Conrad comes out of the captain’s cabin to announce that their landing gear has failed and they’re probably all going to die. The frightened officials go through the motions of putting their heads in their laps while the plane lands safely. Afterwards, Conrad announces that the whole thing was a safety drill, designed to demonstrate their need for an increased safety budget and to generally scare the pants off of them. The officials scowl menacingly at him as they go past, but the object lesson has been taken to heart. At the end we learn they voted to increase the airport’s budget as requested.

Plot #2, “The Handsome, the Big-Eared, and the Ugly.” Airline pilot Ross Edwards (TV veteran David Hartman) shares a goodbye kiss with his wife while she drops him off for his latest flight. She drives off, nearly running over a big-eared man in a priest’s collar. She apologizes while he gets into her car and pulls a gun. They drive to a nearby motel to meet a really ugly man with an airport frequency scanner.

Meanwhile, their handsome cohort (declining film hunk Tab Hunter) dons a priest’s collar to tail Ross through the airport. Ross gets a phone call from his wife, who hands the phone over to her big-eared captor. Ross must delay his flight to El Paso for one hour or his wife will die. He agrees and delays the flight as demanded, declaring the plane’s front wheel to be “mushy.”

Meanwhile, the handsome priest-thug takes Jim Conrad’s beautiful secretary/girlfriend hostage and forces her to drive him out to the middle of the airfield. He holds a gun on her and forces the control tower to send a certain mail plane to the end of the runway, where Big Ears waits to rifle through the cargo for a canvas sack filled with three million in cash.

At this point, Conrad and Hatten get involved. They dial up security on an outside line (so the thugs won’t listen in) and have cops and fire trucks block all possible avenues of escape. Big Ears rolls his car trying to get away, but escapes anyway. Handsome runs into a parking garage, takes off his priest’s collar, and is instantly unrecognizable to all his pursuers. Ugly arrives with Mrs. Edwards and they gather to take Ross’s flight to El Paso.

In the meantime, Conrad and Hatten figure out that Big-Ears has switched the money for some magazines in a crate destined for El Paso. Somehow, Hatten discovers Ross’s involvement and the identity of all three robbers, though, when questioned, he refuses to tell Conrad how he figured it out. Conrad and Hatten capture them all on the plane without bloodshed.

Plot #3, “Made-For-TV Hippies.” A rotund little man in a suit has been brought to Hatten’s office following an altercation at one of the terminals. The man complains that a “dirty, lousy hippie” cut in front of him at the candy counter line and was insufferably rude. Later, he found the young man playing guitar in the terminal, at which point the hippie punched him, breaking his glasses and blacking his eye.

The hippie in question turns out to be a sober young man with a neatly trimmed beard and a Davey Crockett outfit. Some generic counter-culture slang reveals that he was just minding his business in the terminal when some guy started shouting at him. Assuming the guy to be “flipped out,” he threw a punch in self-defense. Further investigation reveals it to be a case of mistaken identity. The hippie in the terminal was not the same as the hippie at the candy counter. Hatten releases the hippie and jails the rotund man for refusing to let the issue go.

Plot #4, “Young Davey Is All Screwed Up Inside.” Davey’s Dad is a prominent newspaper reporter who spends all his time out on the beat. Davey’s Mom pines for her husband, but can’t live with the fact that she never sees him. So she plans to take Davey to El Paso for a while to sort out her feelings. Davey’s Dad shows up for a last-ditch attempt at reconciliation. This fails, but he gets another chance when the flight is delayed for an hour. He screws it up again by running off with Conrad and Hatten when the heist starts in Plot #2, not hearing his son’s heartbroken plea for attention.

Davey decides to act out his grief by stealing a light plane and flying around San Francisco. Conrad takes a break from catching the bad guys to go up after him. He shows Davey how to use the radio with hand gestures, and then guides him back to the runway. With no damage done (except, of course, for the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of airline time wasted bringing him down) Conrad lets him off with a warning, but blames his mom and dad for not keeping track of him. Stung by Conrad’s rebuke, Davey’s mom and dad get back together, as the incident has shown them what is truly important in their lives.

Click. Whirrrrr.

Multiple Plot Mode disengaged. Host Segment summaries will commence shortly, after which we will be serving the author’s opinions in first and business classes. Thank you for choosing MST3K Summary Airlines. Please enjoy the rest of your review.

Introduction:

I guess it's funny that other people think it's funny.Mike moderates a political debate between Tom and Crow, on the subject of politics. Tom advocates the necessity for democracy’s mulching attachment, while Crow suggests we may not need a model that governs and shampoos.

Host Segment One:

Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank doff their shirts and slather on the fake tans while they talk like construction workers. Inspired by the construction paraphernalia, Mike mauls Tom and Crow with the ancient “carrying a long board” gag. Down in Deep 13, Dr. Forrester loses control of a power tool and screams like a little girl.

Host Segment Two:

Mike dresses up as Urkel, the African-American ├╝bernerd from the sitcom Family Matters. Tom and Crow can’t stop laughing. Neither can Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. Jan in the Pan (from Episode 513) shows up the Hexfield Viewscreen to laugh as well. Santa (Episode 521) shows up in Deep 13 to “ho, ho, ho,” along the rest of them. Mike tries to stop, but they won’t let him.

Host Segment Three:

Mike keeps up his Urkel act. Jan in the Pan calls Huggy Bear and Rooster (Episode 613) into the Hexfield Viewscreen to join in the merriment. Down in Deep 13, Pitch the Devil (Episode 513) laughs so hard that he has to lean on Santa for support.

Host Segment Four:

Mike continues to ham it up as Urkel. Nuveena: Woman of the Future (Episode 524) pops into the Satellite of Love to giggle at his nerdy antics. Torgo (Episode 424) wobbles into Deep 13 to view the hilarity. He stares, shakes his head, and declares that he’s never been much of an Urkel fan, before wobbling back out again. The laughter dies into embarrassed chuckles, and then into lame excuses to leave quickly. Mike is left alone with his Urkel imitation.

Host Segment Five:

Mike and the ‘Bots wonder what they were supposed to have learned from today’s film. They are left with the inescapable conclusion that “David Ogden is an ugly, ugly man.” They read some letters. Dr. Forrester takes exception to the David Ogden remark, even as his ears grow larger and hairier after each jump cut.

Stinger:

Pernell Roberts smolders with generic maverickness. Quoth he, “My job, my way.”

Thoughts:

Never trust a priest in a seventies movie.It bears mentioning that the hip, jargon-spouting young man in Plot #3 is not a hippie, since he is largely coherent, not at all greasy, and seems to be neither high nor hung over. Give him a coonskin cap and he’d look more at home defending the Alamo. Also, we could have been spared a lot of grief in Plot #2 if the Conrad’s secretary and Ross’s wife had applied seventies TV movie rule number seventeen—anyone under the age of sixty who wears a priest’s collar is a villain in disguise.

San Francisco International differs from other TV pilot episodes shown on MST3K in that it was actually picked up as a series. It’s easy to see why. It packs plot forwards, backwards, and sideways into every available film crevice and somehow manages to remain clear and comprehensible. It achieves one of the major goals of TV shows everywhere by not just passing time, but actively helping the time to pass. That’s something its competitors never quite manage, despite their Hawaiian spies and Orwellian thugs from outer space.

It falls victim to its genre’s weaknesses as well. There seems to be inalienable TV rule that requires the plot to spend most of its time recklessly complicating itself beyond all hope of reasonable resolution, while the last ten minutes heralds the arrival of an unbelievably convenient Deus Ex Machina to cut the Gordian knot and sweep any pesky loose ends under the rug. Conrad can jerk around a plane full of congressmen and get away with it because detailing all the little ways high-ranking government officials can make his life miserable would take too much time. Davey can steal a plane and have it ascribed to the frailties of youth because criminal charges and an FAA investigation would detract from Conrad’s daring mid-air rescue. Hatten’s sudden and complete knowledge of the robbery plot is incredibly implausible (to their credit, the producers don’t insult our intelligence by attempting to explain it), but it allows for a short, exciting resolution. Plausibility probably would have required a lengthy stakeout and a fair amount of paperwork.

In the host segments, the debate and board gag sketches are well done, and the fake-baked Mads know enough construction jargon to keep their remodeling funny. The Deep 13 tattoo on Dr. Forrester’s chest is a nice touch. Dr. Forrester’s ears and the references to David Ogden’s ugliness confused me. Looking at the credits, I note that Mr. Ogden does not appear in the film, so perhaps they have misidentified the man who plays the big-eared thug. These segments bookend one three-segment-long sketch containing Mike’s impression of Urkel, the most irritating sitcom nerd ever conceived. (If you’ve never seen Family Matters, try to imagine Saved By The Bell’s Screech to the power of ten. If you’ve never seen either, count your blessings.) The punchline comes when Torgo points out that the emperor has no comedic clothes. Though it takes most of the episode to get that far, watching all the previous MST3K guest characters arrive to laugh uproariously is funny in and of itself.

The film segments work well. Since the action moves continuously, there’s always something for the SOL crew to mock. Mike notes that the busy airport eateries make him “yearn for a five-dollar hot dog.” Upon meeting the big-eared man, Crow says, “He’s from the island of misfit toys,” while Tom says, “He looks like Dr. Zaius.” When all the faux priests are captured at the end, Mike instructs us to, “Worship at the airport of your choice.” It’s a decently funny episode, and worth a night’s entertainment.