Sunday, April 10, 2011

Don't Make a Scene: Airplane!

The Story:  Lots of reasons why I've wanted to include this scene from Airplane!: It was voted into the National Film Registry at the end of last year; Barbara Billingsley, otherwise known as Mrs. Cleaver from the "Leave it To Beaver" television show, died at the end of last year, and this scene loomed large in her legend.  No doubt, her earlier role figured in her being chosen for this (I can't think of a funnier person, other than the ubiquitous Betty White, to make the line "I speak jive" ring with wholesome comic brilliance), and the Zucker Brothers have a fetish for all things "Beaver;" I love Airplane! in the same way I love Buster Keaton, Chuck Jones and Daffy Duck (especially together), a soupcon of Jerry Lewis, and slapstick.  Ardently, and every viewing seems opposed to the in-flight meals that start the complications of this whole thing.

You look at the screenplay posted on-line, and what the Jive-Talkers are saying is gibberish, the ZAZ team couldn't speak jive for any reason (they're also referred to as "Black Dudes, but in the on-set transcript they're "Jivemen"), so the dialogue was ad-libbed by the two actors (Norman Alexander Gibbs and Al White) on set.  Obviously, they wrote Barbara Billinsley's lines, as well.  Some unsung trivia there, for the scene and talk (in it's previous sub-titled conversation) are brilliantly hilarious. 

What's always made this scene funny for me, besides Billingsley's showing up, and the rather nicely rhythmed "jive" being spoken, was the basic joke that understanding a language doesn't always promote understanding.  In fact, there is more mis-understanding (it seems) the more you learn; one has to be immersed in the culture to learn the idioms, the slang, the colloguialisms, the provincialisms, the emphases, and vernacular.

And if you look on a color wheel, the opposite of black is Barbara Billingsley.

The Set-Up:  Set-up?  The set-ups only last long enough to deliver the punch-lines. 

Anyone who had "the fish" for dinner on board the flight from Los Angeles to Chicago is getting violently ill, including the entire flight crew, save the stewardesses.

But, that's not important right now....



A Black Dude is holding his stomach in pain.

JIVEMAN 1: Mnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Randy approaches.

RANDY: Can I get you something?

JIVEMAN 1:  S'mo fo butter layin' me to the bone. Jackin' me up. Tightly.
RANDY: I'm sorry. I don't understand.

MRS. SCHIFF, a middle-aged woman, is seated behind the Black Dudes.

JIVEMAN 2: Cutty say he cant hang.

MRS. SCHIFF: Oh, stewardess, I speak jive.
RANDY: Ohhhh, good. 

MRS. SCHIFF: He said he's in great pain and wants to know if you can help him.

RANDY: Would you tell him to just relax and I'll be back as
soon as I can with some medicine.

Randy exits.

MRS. SCHIFF: Jus' hang loose, blood.

MRS. SCHIFF: She goonna catch you up on the`rebound on de medcide.

BLACK DUDE (indignantly): What it is, big mamma. My mamma didn't raise no dummy, I dug her rap.

MRS. SCHIFF: Cut me some slack, jack!

They engage in an argument in jive talk, with Mrs. Schiff getting the best of it.

MRS. SCHIFF: Chump don' wan' no help, chump don' git no help.

MRS. SCHIFF: Jive-ass dude don' got no brains, anyhow.


Words by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker

Pictures by Joseph F. Biroc and  Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker

Airplane! is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.

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