I Wish I Made That: Airplane & Clue
Welcome to this month’s edition of ComingSoon.net’s I Wish I Made That, in which filmmakers Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here, Mohawk) and Victoria Negri (Gold Star) each pick a film they wish they had actually made! This discussion focuses on the cult classic comedies Airplane! (1980) and Clue (1985). Check out their conversation below!
Victoria Negri is an actress, producer, writer and director known for The Walk (2020) and The Fever and the Fret (2018). Gold Star, her 2017 debut feature as director, served as the final onscreen performance by noted actor Robert Vaughn. You can purchase Gold Star by clicking here!
Ted Geoghegan studied screenwriting under the tutelage of the late Carroll O’Connor. After writing numerous genre features in Europe and The United States, he made his directorial debut with the 2015 horror film We Are Still Here, then followed it up with the Native American revenge movie Mohawk (2017). Click here to purchase We Are Still Here, and click here to purchase Mohawk!
Geoghegan recently began a well-recieved podcast titled “This is Not a Story About…” Each episode of the program begins as the story of someone or something in the world of film that cinephiles know very well, but transforms into an expertly-researched tale about a new topic: one that can be closely-related or worlds away from where its story began. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here!
I WISH I MADE THAT #2: CLASSIC COMEDIES
Victoria Negri: So this edition is 80s comedies. I had a tough time picking one actually. Too many good ones. So I ended up deciding on AIRPLANE! And you picked CLUE, which made me so happy because it’s been on my list forever to see and it finally gave me an excuse to watch it.
Ted Geoghegan: I can’t believe you’d never seen it! It’s one of my all-time favorite comedies. It inspired me to learn more about screenwriting when I was young, because I had to understand how it was possible to create dialogue that amazing. That said, I also grew up with AIRPLANE! and obsessed over it.
Negri: Yeah it’s one of those ones I was definitely ashamed to have never seen. We all have those embarrassing films we just never got to.
Geoghegan: I’ve got plenty of shameful secrets, but I’ve been trying my best to fill in those blanks over the past few years. So tell me about AIRPLANE! Why that title?!
Negri: I think it’s relentlessly funny. The momentum of the film doesn’t let up and I think the levels of humor are varied. You have the satire of other films, which I think is brilliant, even just as a whole, satirizing disaster films, but then also little moments. Like the woman at the beginning chasing the plane making fun of romantic films and clichés in those… The removal of sunglasses during dramatic moments in other films. It’s a movie that just gets what other movies do and pushes the humor. It’s a film by people that love film which is fun to watch. And that’s just ONE layer!
Geoghegan: I can absolutely see that. It’s endlessly charming and, you’re right, it’s definitely made by people who love film. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the overt slapstick satire comedies of the 80s, I remember adoring AIRPLANE! as a child. It stood head and shoulders above other similar titles.
Negri: As for slapstick, that shit hits the fan moment gets me every time, though.
Geoghegan: My elementary school rented it and showed it to my fourth grade class, with the understanding that it was PG and seemingly fine. I remember it vividly, because when the topless woman raced in front of the camera during the “We’re out of coffee” scene, my teacher almost died.
Negri: Oh my god you watched that in school?! That is an amazing mistake.
Geoghegan: I mean, in her defense, it was only rated PG! It’s absolutely amazing that it landed that sort of rating! Also, this happened in 1989, which, I suppose, was a simpler time?
Negri: Wow, I didn’t realize it was PG. They’d never pull that off now. And yeah, I think it goes to something else I’ve been thinking about with the film — it would never be made now. There are a lot of unfortunate moments of stereotypes. I think that’d be something I’d update now if I made the film. Lean less heavily on humor like that and more on the dialogue, playing with language, and the satire of similar films and slapstick that can ensue.
Geoghegan: Absolutely. The film has some shockingly un-woke moments, which, as a child, I thought were pretty funny, but as an adult, made me wince.
Negri: Exactly. I hadn’t seen it in a really long time, and re-watching it part of me was like. Oh no. This is really rough. There are only one or two moments like that in CLUE though. It’s less reliant on humor that veers in that direction.
Geoghegan: What we do in this column is talk about films that we wish we’d directed, and why. You mentioned a moment ago that you’d remove the less-PC stuff in AIRPLANE!, but what would you replace it with?
Negri: Yeah I think I would just have to do an overhaul on the script in those moments and focus more on the situational humor, to make the jokes less focused on stereotypes of the people and more about what’s happening and how different people are reacting regardless of what they look like. One moment I like that’s very slapstick that works well is when the woman is freaking out and every lines up to shake her and stop her from freaking out. That’s a good example in my opinion of building upon a reaction within the context of the scenario the film sets up, and then making it more ridiculous. It’s more situational. And when the nun hits her, that’s just great. But I also rarely write comedy. I just co-wrote a comedy pilot with a friend and it’s a huge challenge. And I was also always told in my improv classes that I was “too real”. So I also think I picked AIRPLANE! because I wish I could be that crazy over-the-top.
Geoghegan: It would be quite freeing to work on a project that absurd, but I’m sure that its production was nowhere near as free-wheeling as the finished product would lead us to believe. I’d always felt like the race-driven humor in CLUE was less about how uncensored films of the 80s were and more about how its characters would act, given that the film is set in 1954. To me, the lines drove home how dumb these supposedly brilliant people really were.
Negri: So true. So when you watch CLUE now compared to when you were young and inspired to learn more about writing, is there anything there you’d update or change if you were directing it?
Geoghegan: I love the Cold War setting, but I’d take it further back in time, setting it in the early 30s. I have such an affinity toward that era, its culture, its style… I’d kill to write a script as whip-smart as CLUE’s, but moreover, I’d be in heaven to have a cast like that. The film is a veritable who’s who of comedy, working with a screenplay that any actor would give their left foot to be a part of.
Negri: Yeah that cast is incredible. How do you think changing it to the 30’s could impact the story and characters. Would have to contend with the Great Depression then, perhaps?
Geoghegan: I think I’d still keep it in high society. There’s something really funny about watching these upper crust idiots get tousled around the way they do. There’s absolutely a bit of schadenfreude I get from watching these one-percenters get taken for chumps.
Negri: Totally. And the battle to keep up appearances while all of this is going down. How the politeness breaks down from the dinner scene is really funny.
Geoghegan: As a kid, I loved both CLUE and MURDER BY DEATH, which was a precursor to it made nine years earlier. Very similar plot, style, and vibe. I thought they were both brilliant, but upon revisiting, MURDER BY DEATH is just flat-out abysmal. The cast is legendary (Eileen Brennan is actually in both!), but the movie is nigh-unwatchable.
Negri: I haven’t seen MURDER BY DEATH, but will now avoid based on your comment.
Geoghegan: I absolutely love watching them snip at each other as things continue to fall apart and, by the time Mr. Boddy is dead, they’re all certifiable. MURDER BY DEATH has its fans – but I’m not one of them anymore!
Negri: My absolute favorite moment of Clue is the “flames coming out” monologue. I was dying. So brilliant.
Geoghegan: Oh, it’s the best. Flaaaaaames on the side of my face. She just OWNS that moment.
Negri: Yes. The timing is perfect. Like she’s completely confused, too, in this murder-haze.
Geoghegan: Speaking of cast, let’s talk AIRPLANE! I still have so many questions if you were to direct!
Negri: Yes! I love the cast!
Geoghegan: Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty are brilliant in the film. And Leslie Nielsen is absolutely charming.
Negri: Leslie Nielsen is my favorite.
Geoghegan: He’d done very little comedy before that, and still posited a lot of that leading man charm.
Negri: Exactly! That’s what I love about this movie. It took many actors who were only seen as actors in a certain way, and put them in an absurdist comedy. It works so well. His voice and charisma make you believe him and take him seriously but everything he says (and the other actors too) completely undercuts his persona.
Geoghegan: I think the reason it works so well is how straight everyone plays the absurdity. Robert Hays is treating the film like a legitimate disaster picture. And, I mean, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves? It’s incredible. These were NOT comedians!
Negri: Yeah, they believe the stakes of the scenario. And that’s what matters. Exactly! Lloyd Bridges sniffing glue is gold. But I think it’s that 100% commitment to the situation. They are thinking about the high stakes — life or death — and delivering their lines with that urgency, rather than looking for laughs.
Geoghegan: I feel like Bridges and Julie Haggerty are clearly having the most fun with it, but given how straight everyone else is playing it, a film like that still needs folks to offer up a bit more playfulness.
Negri: True. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also is an interesting one there. I like that he feels relaxed throughout the whole thing.
Geoghegan: If everyone had been treating it like AIRPORT 1975, which is the film its directly mocking, the comedy wouldn’t have landed. It needed a few folks to help offer up less intense comedy.
Negri: Yeah the cast is really well balanced. I think all the actors understand what kind of movie it is, which is unusual. Some do look like they’re having more fun, but they still know they’re in a satire. I think that would be the challenge with both of these films — getting everyone on the same page on the KIND of film it is.
Geoghegan: Speaking of challenges, what about the elephant in the room? It’s a comedy about an airplane disaster. This is something that, in a post-9/11 world, would require a VERY deft hand to pull off. Would you be scared of how making AIRPLANE! in 2020 would be perceived?
Negri: That’s such a good point. I got so distracted thinking about the racial politics the film was making a mess of that I didn’t think about that as much. Short answer: I’d be terrified. But I think the workaround is to make sure it’s clear it’s not an act of terrorism, and to really sell the fact that it’s some kind of stupid thing that they need to land ASAP and the plane has issues.
Geoghegan: Agreed. You definitely couldn’t make AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL these days. That’s the terrorism comedy. Oof.
Negri: Totally. This makes me think of what we’ve talked about CLUE and the one-percenter notion of it. Despite wanting to set it in the 30’s, would you play up the elitism of the characters in thinking about the huge divide between uber wealthy and lower class today?
Geoghegan: I’d absolutely love to go all in on the battle of the classes. I’d have Professor Plum and Colonel Mustard, the two characters with titles before their names, as my chief antagonists. I’d wallow in their elitism – one because of his role in higher education and the other because of his standing in the military. That said, I love how equal the 1985’s film makes everyone. They’re all upper class, they’re all educated in their own ways, and they’re all wildly egotistical. When its revealed that they all did it (sorry, world – spoilers!), it feels like a catharsis! They’re all going to get what they deserve!
Negri: Yes I love how egotistical they all are. No one gets out of this okay. We want to see that.
Geoghegan: I don’t know if I would have a Yvette in my version of CLUE. While she’s a lot of fun in the film, and Colleen Camp absolutely SLAYS as her, I feel the bimbo maid isn’t a character that is altogether necessary.
Negri: Yeah I feel the same way. Sometimes it got to be a bit much for me where I was like, okay, I get it. She’s in a tiny maid outfit.
Geoghegan: The reveal that she’s an ex-call girl with a connection to Ms. White gives her some unexpected depth, but not enough to necessitate replicating that role. If I were to include a new character in my film, I think it would be someone drawn more from real-life. Perhaps a celebrity or politician from the era who’s stumbled into this mess…
Negri: I think based on what you’re saying, someone else with a lot of “power” in society would make sense.
Geoghegan: I just don’t think there’s a need to throw a sexy character into the picture for the sake of being sexy. Any one of the existing characters can handle that just fine.
Negri: Exactly. Anyone who can deliver those lines and really sell it, that’s sexy.
Geoghegan: So, as we always do in this column, we end up asking ourselves why we wish we made these movies. What’s the impetus behind AIRPLANE!? Because you love it? Because you want to change it? A little of both? A little of neither?!
Negri: Both! I remembered loving it as a kid (I’m still in a nostalgic zone here in my childhood home) and was talking about it with a friend and was like, well, I HAVE to pick that movie. But also, I think what I was saying before — it is not my natural inclination to be slapstick and over the top both as a filmmaker and performer, so I’d love the challenge to commit to making something like this really good and to do it with people that are really smart and understand humor. What about for you?
Geoghegan: For me, this time around, it’s all jealousy. I’d die a happy man if I could have been behind a film as perfectly crafted as CLUE. The sets, the cast, and script… I would be honored beyond words to call that beautiful movie mine. Would I be able to bring the level of mastery director Jonathan Lynn did? Doubtful… but good God I would have loved to try.
Negri: I was reading about how when CLUE was released they had different theaters show one of the endings and you could go see them all by going to different venues. That had me so excited about film and I think it’s great to think about. Would you do that same thing? I think there are so many fun release strategies with this film that Hollywood desperately needs more of now. To get people into theaters, especially, once they open back up.
Geoghegan: Critics and audiences were actually really frustrated by the different endings when it came out, but history has been extremely kind of the gimmick… especially after the movie was released on video with all three endings cut together and placed into the picture. If I had carte blanche, I’d love to do something like that, but I know that they’d all have to make sense. I never saw CLUE in the cinemas back in ’85, but I know I would have been a bit let down if I’d gotten one of the “first two” endings, as they clearly aren’t the intended “real” end of the film. If I were to try a gimmick like that, they’d all have to work… and that would require some next-level writing.
Negri: The first two are definitely like warm-up endings. And yeah, I think it’d be a fun challenge to try to create three different endings of the script that work and feel satisfying, even if the film isn’t released that way.
Geoghegan: And hey, whatever we can do to get our chapels of film back up and running after that, I’m all-in on.
Negri: Truth! I miss movie theaters so much. I will pay 3x to see versions of CLUE gladly just to be back at “church”.
Geoghegan: I actually love having all three endings on the film, as it’s now released. I think it’s quite charming, and echoes the unpredictable nature of the board game so well.
Negri: Yeah it kept me on my toes because I didn’t read up on it until after, so I had no idea as I was watching I’d see multiple endings. And then I wondered before the start of the third how many there could be. And was kind of hoping for A LOT. The twists and turns and creativity of it is fun just to watch play out.
Geoghegan: Honestly, whatever keeps us going these days is very welcome. Be it a surprise ending or a film like AIRPLANE! that gives us exactly what we’re craving without any frills, but done PERFECTLY.
Negri: Definitely. And just to be able to laugh with these classic films. They aren’t made like this anymore, truthfully.
Geoghegan: They aren’t, but everyone in a while you find a gem. Want to wrap this up with a new comedy recommendation?
Negri: Yeah I think I’d say KNIVES OUT is a good one to check out if you’re a CLUE fan!
Geoghegan: Hear hear. That would be a very charming double feature.
Negri: Trying to think of a good double feature with AIRPLANE!. Thoughts?
Geoghegan: As I mentioned, I’m not a huge fan of slapstick, but my favorite comedy of the past few years, BLOCKERS, features a lot of physical humor. But beyond that, it’s a great example of how to do a non-PC comedy while landing everything with ease. It’s endlessly charming, and hilarious.
Negri: Yes! Good one. I saw that and completely agree. Another great chat! I hope for the next one you keep the streak alive and pick another film I still haven’t managed to see yet.
Geoghegan: I’ll do my best! I have all sorts of ideas! Until then, I hope cinema keeps you happy and safe, and keeps letting you unplug from this garbage planet. As I told someone yesterday, movies really are medicine, aren’t they?
Negri: Throughout my life, I’ve always turned to movies. Even when they’re about something sad, they give me a pause on anything going on in my life and the world. But luckily we picked comedies this time!
Geoghegan: Here’s the keeping it light!
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