Kentucky Fried Movie is a relatively little-known film released in 1977 that consists of a series of humorous vignettes, sketches, and spoofs that bookend a "feature presentation": an extended parody of Bruce Lee action films, "A Fistful of Yen". The film was a financial success and encouraged its creators — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — to create a sequel. This time, the featured skit would be a spoof of disaster films and would be set in an airport. As they developed the script, they realized it had enough potential to be a feature-length film, so they dropped the shorter sketches and built out the rest into one long parody.
Thus was born Airplane!
At least, that's the story I was told — but a recent post at Cinematical has me questioning its veracity. It seems that Airplane! was an unabashed remake of a 1957 drama Zero Hour! with almost the exact same premise. Rather than rework the concept for their purposes, Abrahams and the Zuckers copied it almost scene-for-scene:
It's remarkable the amount of dialogue that was copied verbatim. Although Airplane! often takes those scenes to ridiculous lengths, other lines are parroted perfectly — yet what was dramatic in Zero Hour! somehow becomes humorous in this new context.
Although the quantity of parody suggests this aping intentional, such is not always the case. Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove are two films based on different books that were released by the same studio in the same year — yet the former is the most terrifying Cold War film I have ever seen, while the latter was ranked as the American Film Institute's third funniest movie of all time. (Airplane! comes in at #10.) But to watch these films, you'd think that there had to have been some correlation between the two, as there was with Airplane! and its source material.
Regardless, will anyone ever watch Zero Hour! the same way again?
(Hat tip to Bill Loguidice)