Air America (1990)

R | 112 mins | Comedy | 10 August 1990

Director:

Roger Spottiswoode

Producer:

Daniel Melnick

Cinematographer:

Roger Deakins

Production Designer:

Allan Cameron

Production Company:

Carolco Pictures Inc.
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HISTORY


       A 10 Nov 1981 DV item reported that Shoreham ProductionsJohn W. McLean and Mike Frankovich, Jr. acquired film rights to Christopher Robbins’s book Air America (New York, 1979). However, no further mention of Shoreham’s participation in the project was found in AMPAS library files. In 1985, director Richard Rush became interested in Robbins’s book, as stated in the Feb 1991 issue of Empire magazine. With Rush attached to write and direct, the project was set up at Carolco Pictures, as announced in a 20 Feb 1986 DV news item, with a $15 million budget, and Sean Connery cast as “Gene Ryack.” Actors considered for the role of “Billy Covington” included Bill Murray, Kevin Costner, and Jim Belushi. The project stalled after the 1987 release of another Vietnam-themed picture, Good Morning, Vietnam (see entry). Although Connery and Costner had been cast, their fees had escalated over time and the filmmakers could no longer afford them.
       Producer Daniel Melnick’s IndieProd Co. came on board after Carolco acquired the company in Sep 1987, as stated in a 27 Apr 1988 Var item. The project was set to be fully financed by Carolco and distributed by Tri-Star Pictures as part of a long-term agreement between the two companies. Melnick fired Rush, who was paid in full based on his pay-or-play deal, as noted in a 10 Dec 1989 LAT item. Director Bob Rafelson was brought in to replace Rush, and a 13 Jan 1988 HR reported rumors that Rafelson might cast longtime collaborator Jack Nicholson. A 20 Nov 1987 HR item noted ... More Less


       A 10 Nov 1981 DV item reported that Shoreham ProductionsJohn W. McLean and Mike Frankovich, Jr. acquired film rights to Christopher Robbins’s book Air America (New York, 1979). However, no further mention of Shoreham’s participation in the project was found in AMPAS library files. In 1985, director Richard Rush became interested in Robbins’s book, as stated in the Feb 1991 issue of Empire magazine. With Rush attached to write and direct, the project was set up at Carolco Pictures, as announced in a 20 Feb 1986 DV news item, with a $15 million budget, and Sean Connery cast as “Gene Ryack.” Actors considered for the role of “Billy Covington” included Bill Murray, Kevin Costner, and Jim Belushi. The project stalled after the 1987 release of another Vietnam-themed picture, Good Morning, Vietnam (see entry). Although Connery and Costner had been cast, their fees had escalated over time and the filmmakers could no longer afford them.
       Producer Daniel Melnick’s IndieProd Co. came on board after Carolco acquired the company in Sep 1987, as stated in a 27 Apr 1988 Var item. The project was set to be fully financed by Carolco and distributed by Tri-Star Pictures as part of a long-term agreement between the two companies. Melnick fired Rush, who was paid in full based on his pay-or-play deal, as noted in a 10 Dec 1989 LAT item. Director Bob Rafelson was brought in to replace Rush, and a 13 Jan 1988 HR reported rumors that Rafelson might cast longtime collaborator Jack Nicholson. A 20 Nov 1987 HR item noted that Derrick Washburn had been hired to write a new draft of the script, but screenwriter John Eskow soon replaced him. In 1988, a Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike stalled the project again, and Rafelson left to direct Mountains of the Moon (1990, see entry). Although the 27 Apr 1988 Var stated that Rafelson would return to Air America, which was slated to begin filming in Sep 1989, Roger Spottiswoode was later brought in as director, and Mel Gibson was cast. According to Empire, Gibson chose the role of Gene Ryack over Billy Covington, which Robert Downey, Jr. then accepted. Nancy Travis replaced Ally Sheedy in the role of “Corinne Landreaux.”
       Spottiswoode planned a large-scale production, with a 500-member, three-unit crew shooting in forty-nine locations across Thailand, London, England, and Los Angeles, CA. The budget climbed to $35 million, and according to an 11 Jun 1990 People item, Gibson was paid $10 million. Production charts in the 11 Oct 1989 Var noted that principal photography began 2 Oct 1989 in Thailand, where shooting took place in the northern bush country of Mae Sariang and Mae Hong Son, and the city of Chiang Mai, according to a 10 Aug 1990 NYT article. Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that filming in Thailand ended 23 Dec 1989. Following a holiday hiatus, shooting resumed in Los Angeles, CA. There, locations included the Terminal Island Freeway in San Pedro, as noted in a 6 Jan 1990 LAT article which stated that 500 motorists were paid $5 per hour to drive their pre-1971 vehicles in a traffic jam sequence.
       Production was plagued with two earthquakes, one typhoon, and “four serious in-flight emergencies,” according to the Feb 1991 Empire. When younger stunt fliers refused to perform certain tasks, including the landing of airplanes on narrow airstrips bordered by jungle, more veteran fliers were brought in. During post-production, filmmakers encountered problems with negative feedback from test screenings, according to an 18 Jul 1990 Var item. Last-minute re-shoots were rumored to be taking place one month before the theatrical release, although Carolco and Tri-Star denied changes were being made.
       A world premiere co-hosted by AFI, Carolco, and Tri-Star took place at Mann’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, CA, on 9 Aug 1990, as stated in a 10 Aug 1990 HR news brief. Premiere tickets cost $250, and proceeds went to AFI.
       Critical reception was largely negative. After six months in release, the film had grossed only $30 million. Around the same time, a 4 Feb 1991 Var brief reported that 100 West German theaters stopped showing the picture after nation-wide demonstrations against the Gulf War.

      The following title cards precede end credits: “Major Lemond was indicted during the Iran-Contra investigation. He was pardoned, promoted and sent to Panama to help Manuel Noriega keep drugs out of America”; “Rob Diehl was called before a Senate Committee during the Iran-Contra investigation. He repeated the phrase, “I have no clear memory of that, sir” 115 times”; “General Soong got the Holiday Inn of his dreams. He also became a major force in the California Savings and Loan business”; “Gene Ryack joined his family in Thailand. He started six businesses all of which failed. In 1975 he won the Thai State Lottery”; “Billy Covington went to Thailand and eventually became a computer whiz. In 1976 he was deported for fixing the Thai State Lottery.”

              End credits include the statements: "'I Dream of Jeannie' courtesy of Columbia Pictures Television"; “We wish to give special thanks to the Royal Thai Army, the Royal Thai Air Force, the Prime Minister of Thailand General Chatichai Choonhaun and to the government, the Film Commission and especially to the people of Thailand for their gracious cooperation”; “This film is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Michael Katzin"; and, "The reference to 'Air America' in this motion picture is with respect to the CIA operated airline doing business in Southeast Asia in the early 1970s and is not intended to refer to any other company or entity or to imply that any other company using the name 'Air America' is related in any way to the company depicted herein." More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
10 Nov 1981.
---
Daily Variety
20 Feb 1986.
---
Empire
Feb 1991.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jun 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1990.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1990
p. 10, 16.
Los Angeles Daily News
11 Feb 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Dec 1989
Calendar, p. 32.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jan 1990
Metro, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
10 Aug 1990
p. 8.
New York Times
10 Aug 1990
Section C, p. 6.
New York Times
10 Aug 1990
p. 8.
People
11 Jun 1990.
---
Variety
27 Apr 1988
p. 8.
Variety
11 Oct 1989.
---
Variety
18 Jul 1990.
---
Variety
15 Aug 1990
pp. 45-46.
Variety
4 Feb 1991.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Daniel Melnick/IndieProd Production
A Roger Spottiswoode Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Aerial unit dir by
3d unit dir by
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr, Los Angeles unit
Prod mgr, 2d unit
Prod mgr, 2d unit
Unit mgr, Aerial unit
1st asst dir
1st asst dir, 2d unit
1st asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir, 2d unit
2d asst dir, 2d unit
2d 2d asst dir, Los Angeles unit
3d asst dir
3d asst dir
3d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-prod
Co-prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Cam op
Cam op
Cam op, 2d unit
Cam op, 2d unit
Cam op, Los Angeles unit
Cam op, Los Angeles unit
Cam op, Los Angeles unit
Steadicam op
Steadicam op, Los Angeles unit
Steadicam asst
Aerial cam
Aerial cam-U.S.
Aerial cam op, Los Angeles unit
Video op
Video op, 2d unit
Video op, 2d unit
Video op, U.K. unit & process
Video asst, Los Angeles unit
Clapper/Loader
Clapper/Loader
Clapper/Loader, 2d unit
Clapper/Loader, 2d unit
Python crane op
Python crane op
Cam grip
Cam grip
Cam grip, 2d unit
Cam grip, 2d unit
Cam grip asst, 2d unit
Cam grip asst, 2d unit
Cam maintenance
Cam asst, 2d unit
Cam 1st asst, Los Angeles unit
Cam 1st asst, Los Angeles unit
Cam 1st asst, Los Angeles unit
Cam 2d asst, Los Angeles unit
Cam 2d asst, Los Angeles unit
Cam 2d asst, Los Angeles unit
Aerial asst cam, Aerial unit
Aerial asst cam, Aerial unit
Aerial asst cam-U.K., Aerial unit
Aerial asst cam-U.K., Aerial unit
Aerial asst cam-U.S., Aerial unit
Focus puller
Focus puller
Focus puller, 2d unit
Focus puller, 2d unit
Gaffer
Gaffer, Los Angeles unit
Best boy
Best boy/Elec, Los Angeles unit
Best boy/Grip, Los Angeles unit
Generator driver
Generator driver
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Rigging elec
Elec, 2d unit
Asst elec, 2d unit
Key grip, Los Angeles unit
Grip, Los Angeles unit
Stills photog
Stills photog, Los Angeles unit
Camera-in U.S.
Film processing by
Film processing by
Film processing by
Grip equip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Art dir, Los Angeles unit
Asst art dir
Asst art dir, 2d unit
Draughtsman
Sketch artist
FILM EDITORS
Assoc film ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec, Los Angeles unit
Draughtsman
Prop master
Prop master, Los Angeles unit
Asst prop master
Chargehand standby prop
Chargehand standby prop
Standby prop
Standby props, 2d unit
Chargehand dressing prop
Chargehand dressing prop
Chargehand dressing prop
Chargehand dressing prop
Dressing prop
Dressing prop
Prop storeman
Asst props, 2d unit
Asst props, 2d unit
Asst props, 2d unit
Asst prop mgr, Los Angeles unit
Const mgr
Const, Los Angeles unit
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter, U.K. unit & process
Painter
Painter
Painter
Painter
Standby painter, Los Angeles unit
Rigger
Rigger
Rigger, 2d unit
Plasterer
Plasterer
Plasterer
Plasterer
Const asst
Const asst
Const asst
Const office interpreter
Stagehand, U.K. unit & process
Leadman, Los Angeles unit
Swing gang, Los Angeles unit
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Cost supv, Los Angeles unit
Cost, Los Angeles unit
Ward master
Ward, 2d unit
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst
Ward asst, 2d unit
MUSIC
Mus supv
Mus supv
Supv mus ed
Asst mus ed
Mus coord
Mus clearance
Score rec by
Mus contractor
Synclavier programming by
Realized at, Synclavier programming
Addl eng
Addl eng
Addl eng
Addl eng
Addl eng
Addl eng
Mus supv provided by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Sd mixer, Los Angeles unit
Boom op
Boom op, Los Angeles unit
Sd maintenance
Utility sd tech, Los Angeles unit
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
Digital editing
Digital editing
Digital editing
Supv ADR ed
ADR ed
ADR ed
Foley supv
Digital sd eff rec
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Rerec mixer
Dolby Stereo consultant
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Visual eff supv
1st unit spec eff supv
2d unit spec eff supv
Sr spec eff tech
Sr spec eff tech
Sr spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech
Spec eff tech, U.K. unit & process
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Asst spec eff tech
Gimbal op, U.K. unit & process
Spec eff, Los Angeles unit
Spec eff, Los Angeles unit
Spec eff, Los Angeles unit
Titles and opticals by
Titles and opticals by
Main title seq des by
MAKEUP
Supv chief make-up
Chief make-up
Make-up artist, Los Angeles unit
Supv hair stylist
Hair stylist
Hair stylist, 2d unit
Hair stylist, Los Angeles unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting-Thailand
Casting-Thailand
Casting-Thailand
Extras casting, Los Angeles unit
Extras casting asst, Los Angeles unit
Line prod
Thai exec co-ord
Scr supv
Scr supv, 2d unit
Scr supv, Aerial unit
Scr supv, Los Angeles unit
Post prod supv
Post prod co-ord
Prod accountant
Carolco prod accountant
Prod accountant, U.K. unit & process
Asst accountant
Asst accountant
Asst accountant, U.K. unit & process
Prod auditor, Los Angeles unit
Prod co-ord
Bangkok prod co-ord
Thai prod co-ord
Prod co-ord, 2d unit
Prod co-ord, Los Angeles unit
Asst to prod co-ord, 2d unit
Prod co-ord, U.K. unit & process
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr, Los Angeles unit
Asst loc mgr, Los Angeles unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Loc asst, 2d unit
Military co-ord
Military co-ord, Aerial unit
Crowd organizer
Unit pub
International pub
Armourer
Transportation mgr
Transportation mgr
Transportation mgr, 2d unit
Asst transportation mgr
Transportation co-ord, Los Angeles unit
Transportation capt, Los Angeles unit
Catering mgr
Catering supv
Catering supv, 2d unit
Caterer
Caterer
Caterer, Los Angeles unit
Caterer, Los Angeles unit
Catering-London
Craft service, Los Angeles unit
Asst to Mr. Downey, Jr.
Asst to Mr. Melnick-U.S.
Asst to Mr. Melnick-Thailand
Asst to Mr. Melnick-U.K.
Asst to Mr. Spottiswoode
Asst to Mr. Kagan-U.S.
Asst to Mr. Kagan-U.K.
Asst to Mr. Pestonji
Asst to Mr. Gibson
Medical services provided by
Exec officer, Entertainment Medical Specialists In
Prod physician
Prod physician
Nurse, Aerial unit
First aid, Los Angeles unit
Co-ord & pilot, Aerial unit
Asst co-ord-pilot, Aerial unit
1st eng, Aerial unit
2d eng, Aerial unit
2d eng-U.K., Aerial unit
Asst unit mgr, Aerial unit
Asst unit mgr, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot, Aerial unit
Pilot-L.A., Aerial unit
Prod asst, U.K. unit & process
Prod asst, U.K. unit & process
Hansard process co-ord, U.K. unit & process
Hansard process 1st eng, U.K. unit & process
Hansard process 2d eng, U.K. unit & process
Prod runner, U.K. unit & process
DGA trainee, Los Angeles unit
Set prod asst, Los Angeles unit
Set prod asst, Los Angeles unit
Set prod asst, Los Angeles unit
Prod office asst, Los Angeles unit
Prod office asst, Los Angeles unit
Prod office asst, Los Angeles unit
Financial services
Completion bond services provided by
Prod insurance provided by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Air America by Christopher Robbins (New York, 1979).
SONGS
"Free Ride," performed and produced by Edgar Winter & Rick Derringer, written by Dan Hartman, published by Multi-Level Music Inc. and Silver Steed Music Inc., administered by EMI Blackwood Music Inc.
"Love Me Two Times," performed by Aerosmith, written by The Doors, published by The Doors Music Company, produced by Bruce Fairbairn, courtesy of Geffen Records
"Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," performed by Charlie Sexton, written by Roger Cook, Allan Clarke & Roger Greenway, published by Bienstock Publishing Company on behalf of Timtobe Music and Polygram International Publishing, Inc., produced by Bob Smith and Charlie Sexton
+
SONGS
"Free Ride," performed and produced by Edgar Winter & Rick Derringer, written by Dan Hartman, published by Multi-Level Music Inc. and Silver Steed Music Inc., administered by EMI Blackwood Music Inc.
"Love Me Two Times," performed by Aerosmith, written by The Doors, published by The Doors Music Company, produced by Bruce Fairbairn, courtesy of Geffen Records
"Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress," performed by Charlie Sexton, written by Roger Cook, Allan Clarke & Roger Greenway, published by Bienstock Publishing Company on behalf of Timtobe Music and Polygram International Publishing, Inc., produced by Bob Smith and Charlie Sexton
"Right Place Wrong Time," performed by B. B. King & Bonnie Raitt, written by Mac Rebennack, published by Walden Music, Oyster Music and Cauldron Music, administered by WB Music Corp., produced by Don Was
"Pushin' Too Hard," performed by The Seeds, written by Sky Saxon, published by Neil Music, Inc., produced by Sky Saxon & Marcus Tybalt, courtesy of GNP Crescendo Records
"Get Ready," performed by The Temptations, written by William Robinson, published by Jobete Music Co., courtesy of Motown Record Company, L.P.
"Do It Again," performed by Steely Dan, written by Donald Fagen, Walter Becker, published by MCA Music, a division of MCA Inc., produced by Gary Katz, courtesy of MCA Records
"Run Through The Jungle," performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival, written by John Fogerty, published by Jondora Music, produced by John C. Fogerty, courtesy of Fantasy Records
"Baby, I Need Your Lovin'," performed by The Four Tops, written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, published by Stone Agate Music, courtesy of Motown Record Company, L.P.
"Rescue Me," performed by Fontella Bass, written by Carl William Smith & Raynard Miner, published by Chevis Publishing Corporation, produced by Billy Davis, courtesy of MCA Records
"California Dreamin'," performed by The Mamas and the Papas, written by John Phillips, Michelle Gillian, published by MCA Music, a division of MCA Inc., produced by Lou Adler, courtesy of MCA Records
"Gimme Shelter," performed by The Rolling Stones, written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, published by Abkco Music, Inc., by arrangement with Abkco Records
"Tumbling Tumbleweeds," performed by Sons of Pioneers, written by Bob Nolan, published by Williamson Music, courtesy of MCA Records
"One More Ride," performed by Sons of Pioneers, written by Bob Nolan, published by Warner Chappell Music, courtesy of MCA Records
"Horse With No Name," performed by America, written by Dewey Bunnell, published by Warner Chappell Music, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records Inc.
"Come Fly With Me," performed by Frank Sinatra, written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, published by Cahn Music Co., administered by WB Music Corp. and Maraville Music Corp., courtesy of Reprise Records, by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
10 August 1990
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 9 August 1990 at Mann's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles
Los Angeles and New York openings: 10 August 1990
Production Date:
began 2 October 1989 in Thailand
Copyright Claimant:
Carolco Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
28 August 1990
Copyright Number:
PA476980
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses & cameras by Joe Dunton Cameras Ltd.; Prints by Deluxe Laboratories Inc.
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
30290
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1969 Laos, pilot Gene Ryack watches a televised speech in which U.S. President Richard M. Nixon claims no American troops are present in Laos despite the war in bordering Vietnam. Meanwhile, Gene flies for Air America, a covert operation funded by the U.S. government to supply Laotian civilians and soldiers with aid. Alerting the Air America pilots that one of their men was shot down by an armed villager, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Rob Diehl insists the death remain a secret. In Los Angeles, California, Billy Covington flies a helicopter over a traffic jam as he reports for a radio station. Lowering his helicopter dangerously close to the highway, Billy yells at a truck driver to move on from the site of an accident so that rescue vehicles can approach. The incident costs Billy his pilot’s license, but he is soon recruited to fly for Air America by a CIA agent who promises there will be no warfare. As Billy arrives at the Air America base, Diehl leads a meeting, informing pilots that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) is pouring into Laos. The men are given audiotapes of horrific noises to blast over NVA-occupied regions and scare the troops away. Later, Gene accompanies Billy on his first flight, and frightens the novice by announcing that his big toe was shot off during a delivery. At the airport, U.S. Senator Davenport arrives on a fact-finding mission, and Diehl’s superior, Major Donald Lemond, introduces him to General Lu Soong, the commander of local allied forces who admits he dreams of one day owning a Holiday Inn. After Gene forces Billy to execute a hasty landing on a tiny ... +


In 1969 Laos, pilot Gene Ryack watches a televised speech in which U.S. President Richard M. Nixon claims no American troops are present in Laos despite the war in bordering Vietnam. Meanwhile, Gene flies for Air America, a covert operation funded by the U.S. government to supply Laotian civilians and soldiers with aid. Alerting the Air America pilots that one of their men was shot down by an armed villager, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent Rob Diehl insists the death remain a secret. In Los Angeles, California, Billy Covington flies a helicopter over a traffic jam as he reports for a radio station. Lowering his helicopter dangerously close to the highway, Billy yells at a truck driver to move on from the site of an accident so that rescue vehicles can approach. The incident costs Billy his pilot’s license, but he is soon recruited to fly for Air America by a CIA agent who promises there will be no warfare. As Billy arrives at the Air America base, Diehl leads a meeting, informing pilots that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) is pouring into Laos. The men are given audiotapes of horrific noises to blast over NVA-occupied regions and scare the troops away. Later, Gene accompanies Billy on his first flight, and frightens the novice by announcing that his big toe was shot off during a delivery. At the airport, U.S. Senator Davenport arrives on a fact-finding mission, and Diehl’s superior, Major Donald Lemond, introduces him to General Lu Soong, the commander of local allied forces who admits he dreams of one day owning a Holiday Inn. After Gene forces Billy to execute a hasty landing on a tiny mountainside airstrip, Billy watches as his partner buys Russian guns from his Laotian brother-in-law, and learns that Gene earns extra money as a gunrunner. Heading back to the base, Billy flies through a storm and pleads for guidance, but Gene and fellow Air America pilot, Babo, purposely ignore him. That night, Lemond and Diehl join Gen. Soong at the factory where he produces heroin and ask him to halt his operation while Davenport is in town, but Soong refuses. At a bar, Billy discovers his fellow pilots are all reckless thrill-seekers like Gene but joins them in a binge drinking session anyway. He passes out on a lawn chair at the home of pilot Jack Neely, and does not wake up when Gene arrives via helicopter the next morning. Gene throws down a rope to fellow pilot O.V., who ties it around Billy’s body. Gene takes off, and Billy wakes up mid-air as he dangles from the helicopter and Gene flies back to the base. There, Gene is assigned to pick up Davenport and take him to a refugee camp run by a group called U.S. Aid. At the camp, aid worker Corinne Landreaux tells Davenport that the CIA is involved in Gen. Soong’s heroin trade. When Davenport confronts Lemond with the accusation, the major claims a couple of his pilots might be to blame. Before Billy’s next flight, Soong oversees the loading of his cargo and Billy asks what is inside some large sacks, but Soong does not respond. Jack Neely and a Laotian civilian named Kwahn accompany Billy as they drop pigs, via crates with parachutes, over a village. Unexpectedly, enemy soldiers fire explosives at the plane, and Billy panics as one of the propellers is hit. He radios Gene, who directs him to a nearby landing strip called “Tango Seven.” Billy crash-lands the plane, but when Soong arrives at the same airstrip to retrieve some cargo, he refuses the stranded fliers a ride, and Billy is surprised to learn that Soong is smuggling opium. Meanwhile, Gene and another pilot, Pirelli, dodge heavy fire as they fly to Tango Seven to retrieve their colleagues. Billy joins Gene in his helicopter, which is quickly shot down. The two trek through the jungle to get back to base, but are taken prisoner by Laotian villagers. Gene negotiates their release by pointing out that their guns are not suitable for rainy weather, and promising his Laotian brother-in-law will sell them more suitable firearms. Gene takes Billy home, where he meets Gene’s wife, Mei Ling, and their two children. The veteran flier suggests Billy go home before he becomes an “adrenaline junkie” like everyone else there, but Billy claims he wants to exact revenge on Soong before he leaves. Later, Diehl offhandedly mentions to the other pilots that Jack was shot down by communist Pathet Laos soldiers. As he reminds them that the casualty must remain a secret, Gene demands a moment of silence. That night, Gene announces plans to retire after he sells a final batch of guns the following day. He warns the others that Diehl and Lemond are looking for scapegoats to blame for their heroin operation. Billy buys grenades in town and uses them to blow up Soong’s factory. The next day, Gene reprimands Billy while loading his last delivery of guns onto a large plane. When Billy and Babo leave on another run, they are ordered to land for a routine inspection. Babo claims he has never encountered an inspection, and Billy suspects that Lemond and Diehl have planted drugs in his cargo. Babo cuts open sacks of flour in the cargo hold and finds a bag of heroin. Although they are short on fuel, Billy avoids the landing strip where Lemond, Diehl, and Davenport await, flying instead to Tango Seven, where he crash-lands, hiding his smaller plane inside a section of the larger plane he crashed earlier. Gene comes to Billy and Babo’s rescue, and soon after, they receive a call for help from Corinne Landreaux, whose refugee camp has been overtaken by Soong’s troops as they fight for control of the nearby poppy fields. Landing at the camp, they find Corinne with a group of refugees. Gene realizes he must unload his cargo to save the civilians, and hesitates for a moment before abandoning his firearms and blowing them up. Flying away, Gene tells Billy he will sell the plane to make back the money he just lost. Billy reminds him the plane is U.S. government property, but Gene counters that the U.S. government is not technically in Laos and the men break into laughter. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.