Zero Hour!: The History of the Movie Airplane!

zero hourMy husband recently hosted a Zero Hour! viewing party.  Many people know the lines from Airplane!, but most don’t know the lines were literally lifted from another movie–a serious movie!

I recommend running a double-feature viewing party of Zero Hour! and Airplane!–but don’t show them in chronological order.  While Zero Hour! came first, the joy is in seeing the lines you just saw delivered with brilliant comedic timing delivered with a straight face and in all seriousness.   (Surely, I must be joking).  So watch Airplane! first and follow it with the drama, Zero Hour!

Airplane! only exists because the creators Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker accidentally taped Zero Hour! and watched it anyway.  Seriously, one of the funniest movies of all time exists because someone couldn’t properly program their VCR.

Here’s his take on the movie:

“Zero Hour!†is the 1957 Canadian film that launched “Airplane!â€, the movie you all know.  You can thank this film’s gestalt for later inspiring Leslie Nielsen’s move from straight-laced dramatic actor to the legendary Dr. Rumack, then later Frank Drebin in the too-short TV serial “Police Squad!†and “Naked Gun†trilogy.

For those of you kids who are unfamiliar, the plot of “Zero Hour!” is a potboiler in which both pilots succumb to food poisoning (tainted halibut – guys, c’mon, try to grab some 50’s version of Gordon Biersch or Chick Fil-a on the way to the cockpit flight deck).

Former Canadian WWII pilot Ted Striker bends the precious aircraft but brings it and his deathly ill passengers safely home, if somewhat damaged.  Along the way he has the help of his former fighter squad leader, a man who would coach his own kid’s peewee football team to certain shutout defeat, and an estranged wife who can’t live with a man she doesn’t respect yet seems willing to die by his side.  Meanwhile, some creepy puppet guy not played by Peter Graves is hanging out in the cabin with their son Joey.

zero hour

zero hour
Did they use the same actor for Joey in both movies?! Maybe he doesn’t age…


I think the Irish guy “speaks Jive” but Barbara Billingsley wasn’t around to help translate his brogue.

Whole lines are lifted from the original script:

I guess I picked the wrong week to give up smoking.

Ted, that was probably the lousiest landing in the history of this airport. But there are some of us here, particularly me, who would like to buy you a drink and shake your hand.

Sluggish, like a wet sponge.

It takes so many things to make love last.  Most of all, it takes respect.  I can’t live with a man I don’t respect.

Our survival hinges on one thing – finding someone who not only can fly this plane, but didn’t have fish for dinner.

Well, Janet, you’re a member of this crew.  Can you face some unpleasant facts?

You ever been in a cockpit before? / No, sir!  I’ve never been up in a plane before!

Mostly, I remember … the nights when we were together.  I remember how you used to hold me.  Then afterwards, how we’d … watch until the sun finally came up.  When it did, it was almost like … like each new day was created … only for us.

A visibly exhausted, mightily sweating Dana Andrews plays Ted Striker.  Talented ‘40s workhorse Linda Darnell plays utility infield for a thankless role Julie Hagerty later employed to greater hilarity.

Zero Hour dana andrews striker

Sterling Hayden plays 1980’s Rex Kramer, mimicked expertly by Robert Stack in the pastiche but without the double pair of aviator sunglasses.    And of course Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker deserve mention in “Airplane!” for piecing together the gestalt mentioned above.

Zero Hour Sterling Hayden

Anyhow, the “Zero Hour†acting trio all deserved Oscars for something at some point in their career **not joking** but that post is for a different blog.

Who should watch “Zero Hour�  Anyone who loves travel, or is a pilot, or wants to be a pilot, or likes vintage Canadian cinema, or likes MST3K, or loves how brilliant the Zucker/Abraham/Zucker writing team was in not only cheekily deadpanning lines but in framing shots to make “Zero Hour†a movie that appeals to us all, even non-Canadians relieved that Vancouver had no WZAZ antenna to wreck upon emergency approach.

Good Luck
Good luck.


Anyone else checking out this movie?

Disclaimer:  I am not responsible for the level of quoting this movie may cause.  Good luck, we’re all counting on you.

About Jeanne Marie Hoffman

Former bartender, still a geek. One equal part each cookies, liberty, football, music, travel, libations. Stir vigorously. +Jeanne Marie Hoffman Jeanne on Twitter

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  1. Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up posting on the internet….

  2. This is great. Airplane is my favorite comedy.

  3. Glenn (The Military Frequent Flyer)

    Wow! You learn something new everyday. I guess there will be a run on Zero Hour! at Redbox.

  4. The DVD of “Zero Hour” is for sale on Amazon for $49.95 , or you can buy a DVD of it plus 2 other movies for $23.54.

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