Friday, 26 September 2008

Affare Concorde / The Concorde Affair / S.O.S. Concorde

Disaster movies and the Airport series were two staples of 1970s cinema. 1979 brought them together with Concorde: Airport 79 and, predictably enough, spawned this Italian imitation / cash in, directed by the ever-reliable Ruggero Deodato.

Like its models Concorde Affair features something approximating an all-star cast, with Joseph Cotten, Edmund Purdom, Mimsy Farmer and James Franciscus in the name roles and such familiar Italian cinema faces as Dakar, Venatino Venantini and Meg Fleming amongst the supporting players.

Cotten and Purdom play the villains. With their airline threatened by Concorde's success, they've decided that a campaign of sabotage is called for, leading to a nice symbolic cut from the launching of Cotten's clay pigeon target to the doomed Concorde taking off.

The plane duly goes down over the ocean, near to one of the Antilles. All on board are killed, with the exception of Farmer's stewardess, Jean Beneyton, who is rescued from the water by two fishermen, one of them played by Dakar.

Fleming's character, Nicole Brody, notices Jean and informs her ex-husband, Franciscus's down-on-his-luck investigative reporter Moses Brody, who duly flies out from New York. Unfortunately by the time he arrives Venantini and his gang have already recaptured Jean and disposed of Fleming and Dakar. Worse, with the downing of one Concorde apparently not having the desired effects, his paymasters are planning a second disaster...

While there is nothing unusual in Concorde Affair's depiction of evil businessmen willing to kill a few hundred innocent people for the sake of profit – and here remembering the Ford Pinto saga during the 1970s – what makes it more interesting is the way in which Cotten emphasises that the multinational corporation is like a state:

“Since time immemorial nations have been sacrificing hundreds of millions of lives to protect their interests. Well, we too are a nation. A multi-national state. Our citizens are workers, employees, technicians – and shareholders. The shareholders, gentlemen! And it is our responsibility to protect their interests, which at the moment are being threatened by the Concorde.”

There's an inherent believability gap in the story that it's hard to accept that the Concorde with its limited passenger and cargo capacity and noise could have ever offered a real threat to conventional jumbo jet based air-travel. The idea of a South American airline commissioning 12 new Concordes also seems highly dubious considering that only 20 models were ever built and operated by the UK and France, only 14 of these seeing operational use.

Given environmental concerns, a more plausible Concorde '79 story would perhaps have been one of Cotten, Purdom and company bribing politicians and encouraging astroturfing (i.e. fake grassroots) campaigns rather than corporate murder. This, of course, would doubtless have been a scenario that wouldn't have offered the same dramatic potential.

Reading the interview with Mimsy Farmer in Spaghetti Nightmares, where her commitment to Marxist politics helps indicate just why she found Europe a more congenial environment than the USA, one wonders if this anti-corporate aspect was part of the reason underlying her involvement in the project. If not, its anti-bourgeois tone is certainly in accord with House on the Edge of the Park and Waves of Lust in relation to Deodato's oeuvre.

Another problem in terms of plausibility is that there is no sense of any official investigation within the film, with nobody from the aviation authorities present in the Antilles searching for the Concorde or its black box, nor any other reporters converging on the islands.

Indeed, the whole scenario seems to operate in a curious vaccuum. We get little sense of Cotten and company having seen to it that rumours about the Concorde are already in circulation – especially given that waging the propaganda war is surely an important prelude to waging a real war; that they likely wouldn't escalate the conflict to blowing up planes without exhausting other methods first. The question of exactly how you go about moving a 200-foot long, 78,700kg plane off on the seabed and hiding it without anyone noticing or wondering what you're up to also goes unanswered.

In this regard the film, with its extensive waterworks, is also touch reminiscent of an inverse Jaws or The Last Shark in that the bad guys should be trying to publicise the danger as much as possible rather than downplaying it; note here also that the surname of Franciscus's character is the same as that of Roy Scheider's in Spielberg's film.

If the individual investigative journalist also shows up in the like of Fulci's Zombie and City of the Living Dead around the same time – not to mention his more specialised anthropologist variant in Deodato's own Cannibal Holocaust – the scenarios in which these characters are placed are that bit lower-key: the killing of a cop or the death of a reputed medium in unusual circumstances are worth a newshound's nosing around a bit, but of a different order to an iconic aircraft going down with the loss of 100-plus lives.

Gaunt and Bolla

Another reason for mentioning Cannibal Holocaust is, of course, the casting of that film's Robert Bolla as the one of the ground control team at London the airport as the film builds to its race against time climax.

What's less frequently been remarked upon, however, is the presence of another 70s woodsman amongst the team, namely Michael Gaunt who, in one of our six degrees of separation filone style, also appears in City of the Living Dead as one of the gravediggers opposite another Cannibal Holocaust alumnus, Perry Pirkanen.

Reading Gaunt's credits on the IMDB makes for some bizarre juxtapositions, ranging from long running British children's TV programme Jackanory to Radley Metzger's The Opening of Misty Beethoven to Doris Wishman's Let Me Die a Woman; I can't say I remembered Gaunt in either of these films but will definitely be keeping an eye out when I revisit them.

Returning to the inherent plausibility issues with the film, the point that needs to be made in closing is that, having outlined what I think are the problems with the film, they ironically really matter except to the critic commenting on the film in retrospect: Deodato knows that as long as he keeps things moving at a fair pace and throws in moments of spectacle like the killing of the fishermen; an extended scuba diving sequence; and the preparation, planting and triggering of the devices intended to down the second plane etc. – at regular intervals, his target audience aren't going to care too much.

What most impresses about his direction is again his versatility and professionalism, especially when we remember that he made the very different Concorde Affair and Cannibal Holocaust in the same year.

Stelvio Cipriani provides a workmanlike score, well suited to the action but not particularly memorable.

[An English-dubbed, Greek subtitled video rip is available for download from Cinemageddon]


Reel Monkey said...

It's funny how we look back at films like this and see all the folly of them, knowing that our own contemporary films will have this same thing happen. . . especially in light of all the air traffic incidents. Snakes on a Plane? I wonder if this film was like Snakes on a Plane for them, minus the hype and Samuel L. Jackson....

I also think it's interesting that it has this feel of 1980s Hollywood films, with the corporations and the obsession with coporations and money. Somewhat of a precursor to the boom? Or was that something more radical in Europe during the 70s?

Johan Melle said...

Gaunt and Kerman aren't the only porno actors in this film! In the same scene, the bearded guy on Kerman's right is Jack Teague, who also went on to play one of the police inspectors in Eaten Alive! and the university professor at the end of Cannibal Ferox.