American Film

What's your favorite film? Is there a movie that changed your life? Send us an essay of 500 words or less about that film you can't forget – classic or contemporary – and we'll consider it for publication in these pages. In addition to your short essay, send your name, occupation, hometown, phone number, jpeg headshot and e-mail address to We reserve the right to edit for length and clarity.


By Jon Futrell

Jon Futrell is a sportswriter from Mayfield, Kentucky.

When I was nine in the summer of 1980, the one movie I just had to see, of course, was THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, the sequel to my all-time favorite, STAR WARS. As much as I enjoyed that adventure and wondered what would happen next to these beloved characters, a completely different movie had my attention when it was time to go back to school.

It was early in August when my parents and I took advantage of bargain Tuesday at the Mayfield [Kentucky] Twin Cinema and saw AIRPLANE! We had heard this was a pretty funny spoof of the AIRPORT movies, but even then neither we nor anyone else in the audience had any idea what we were in for.

From the moment the jet roamed the clouds to the theme from JAWS, it was just nonstop laughter from everybody in the building. The constant sight gags had me rolling almost breathless with laughter. The more verbal puns and subject matter eluded me at first but everyone else was laughing so I went along. It's those moments that have helped AIRPLANE! endure over the years and changed the way I saw humor and movies.

I had heard all the "bad" words before from watching HBO, but AIRPLANE! really exposed me to adult material for the first time, and I don't mean the topless woman who jumped in and out of frame in a flash. On my first dozen or so viewings (thanks again, HBO!), I thought Peter Graves was just asking that boy some weird questions. As I learned more about gay culture over the years, I got it, and instead of being offended, I laughed harder than ever.

Re-inflating the automatic pilot was amusing before but is now the funniest thing ever. Leslie Nielsen's reactions to what Julie Hagerty and Otto were doing in the co-pilot's seat were funny. Then I realized what was happening with Otto smiling, nodding and the two smoking afterwards. And this was a PG-rated movie! I still lose it every time I watch.

The main thing I learned from AIRPLANE! is that anything can be funny. A plane loses its flight crew to food poisoning and the only hope is an ex-pilot who's afraid of flying and his estranged girlfriend is a stewardess onboard. That's some pretty high drama, but those little gags in the background and the outrageousness that is the late actor Stephen Stucker keeps you howling all the way through.

I later learned to stay through the closing credits of movies thanks to AIRPLANE! When that first screening was over, we left during the credits just like everyone else. While watching it on HBO, I saw new jokes scrolling up the screen. The "So There" during the copyright notice and Howard Jarvis giving Robert Hays "20 more minutes, but that's it" have kept me in theaters with the clean-up crew ever since, looking for those extra moments. When I saw NAKED GUN 2 1/2 at that same theater more than a decade later, I had to remind everyone there would be gags in the credits. We all got a few extra laughs that day.

I'm writing this on July 2, 2013 – 33 years to the day this masterpiece first hit the big screen. My thanks to Hays, Hagerty, Nielsen, Stucker, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and all those great dramatic actors who put their reputations on the line and created an all-time classic. AIRPLANE! is among the AFI's 10 funniest films ever and in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. It surely deserves all these honors and more, but don't call it... Well, you know the rest.



By J.D. Blair

J.D. Blair is a retired television journalist in Walnut Creek, California, who has turned to writing short fiction, essays and plays.

The year was 1953 when, in the movie, Shane rode out of the Grand Tetons and into the lives of the Starrett family and the settlers on the wide expanse of Wyoming. The movie also changed the life of one young teenager who, after watching it, would never look at films and filmmaking the same way. That teenager was me.

The film starred Alan Ladd as Shane and Van Heflin, Jean Arthur and young Brandon De Wilde as the Starrett family. Supporting actors included Jack Palance as gunfighter Jack Wilson and Ben Johnson as a member of cattle baron Rufus Ryker's gang.

Having grown up on a steady diet of Saturday afternoon oaters with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy, I was stunned by what director George Stevens brought to the screen. After SHANE the western would never be the same. There is an authenticity and truthfulness in every confrontation between the settlers and the Rykers. I marveled at how Stevens shot the brutality and pace of a real fistfight, how he enhanced what gunshots actually sound like and what a bullet can do when it strikes a person. Elisha Cook, Jr. played a hot-headed Southerner, "Stonewall" Torrey. He has a confrontation with Wilson and is gunned down in dramatic fashion in the muddy street. Stevens had Cook wired and yanked him into the mud as though Wilson's bullet had knocked him off his feet. Aside from the truthful depictions of violence there are small touches of honesty like the playfulness of children at Torrey's burial, and Torrey's dog whimpering and pawing at the wooden casket as it is lowered into the Wyoming sod.

It would be easy to hang the magnetism of the film on just the final scene and the pleading call from young Joey Starrett as Shane ascends back into the Tetons having rid the valley of guns. "Come back Shane, Ma needs you. Pa has things for you to do." But what pulled at me as tears welled up in my eyes was the sense that I had just gotten my first taste of realism in film. I think any man who sees the movie probably feels a twinge of hero worship and identifies with young Joey and the awe that turned into love, then longing, for "Shane."

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