During the 2023 Turner Classic Film Festival, I attended my first film, Airport (1970), at the Hollywood Legion Theater on Thursday night.
This 90-year-old theater which received a six million dollar makeover in 2019, is an integral part of the American Legion Post 43. Post 43 was chartered in 1919 by World War I veterans in the motion picture business. Members have included Gene Autry, Ronald Regan, Mickey Rooney and Stan Lee, to name a few. Icons like Bogart and Gable shot pool and drank in the bar downstairs.
There have been rumors that Charlie Chaplin haunts the Hollywood Legion Theater, but there’s no evidence to support the claim, but I like to think it’s true. The TV series “Ghost Adventures” did a segment on it, saying some people have reported seeing a ghostly figure that resembles Chaplin in the theater’s projection booth, while others have claimed to hear unexplained noises and footsteps in the building. The entire theater is genuinely something to behold and one of the most comfortable theaters to see a film in.
It was a wet and chilly night in Hollywood as I sprinted to the theater to catch the 1970 disaster drama I had looked forward to seeing for the first time. I found my highly comfortable seat in the middle of the massive theater just in time for the intro given by TCM’s own Eddie Mueller.
Mueller said he asked to do the introduction to Airport. He said this film was a “landmark traditional film in many ways and a landmark transitional film between old and new Hollywood.”
“This is essentially Hotel with wings,” said Mueller referring to the 1967 film also based on a novel by Arthur Hailey.
This 1970 film starring Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Helen Hayes, and Jean Seberg tells the story of an airport and the various employees and passengers involved in a potential bombing plot.
While Airport was a popular and successful film, it didn’t receive the most outstanding reviews. It was nominated for ten Oscars and received a win for Helen Hayes in her supporting and memorable role.
“This film was just this transition because 1969 you had Easy Rider, Medium Cool, The Wild Bunch, Hollywood was greatly changing, and Airport was saying ‘hold on’ there’s still a lot of people out there who want to see an old traditional movie, a movie-movie, a popcorn movie,” said Mueller during his intro. “Burt Lancaster called it a piece of junk. I don’t actually agree with him; I think Airport exists to show us that it may not be taught in film schools and things, but it is a movie-movie.”
Airport on 70mm in this large theater with an excited crowd ready to dive into the TCM Classic Film Festival was the perfect way to kick things off. As Eddie Mueller put it, “Get ready to rock and roll.”
Airport was a remarkable 70mm presentation thanks to FotoKem, to whom Mueller gave special kudos.
(Featured Image – Eddie Muller speaks onstage at the screening of “Airport” during the 2023 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 13, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for TCM 4/13/2023 )