Chris Hicks: Utah jokes more silly than insulting

Published: Thursday, July 19 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

"Airport 1975," the second film in the "Airport" disaster franchise, has a 747 jetliner bound for Los Angeles diverted to Salt Lake City, prompting a series of vaudeville-style wisecracks from various passengers: "What do you do in Salt Lake City?" asks one of a trio of drunken conventioneers, to which another responds, "I went there once. It was closed." Passenger Sid Caesar good-naturedly tells Myrna Loy, who has been downing boilermakers, "Salt Lake City may be very good for you. It's dry there, you know." "Dry!?!?" she exclaims in dismay. Susan Clark's whiny little boy says he wants to see everything, and she sarcastically says, "I suppose you'll want to see the Mormon temple." The boy responds, "Hey, that'd be neat." Finally, the copilot calls the Salt Lake International Airport tower and says, "We're descending for a landing in your fair city, please alert Brigham Young."

"The Getaway" (1972), the Sam Peckinpah thriller with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as bank robbers on the lam, has a scene with MacGraw sitting at a bar in a train station, and a soldier on the next stool asks, "You wouldn't happen to be a Mormon, would ya?" "No, I'm afraid not," MacGraw says, half chuckling. "Me neither," the soldier says. "I'm from Orem. That's right near Salt Lake. There's about 12 people in the state who aren't Mormons and I'm one of 'em." (This exchange is very closely duplicated in the 1994 remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.)

"Fletch" (1985), has Chevy Chase as an undercover reporter with a penchant for disguises investigating a Provo airline pilot. When Chase asks a mechanic if the pilot is a Mormon, the mechanic says, "I don't think he's doing a whole lotta singing with the Tabernacle Choir." Later, Chase is talking to the pilot's wife, who says she's bored. "If you're so bored, why didn't you go to Utah with (your husband)?" She replies, "Well, Utah's not exactly a cure for boredom." "That's a good point," Chase says. And during the film's climax, Chase reveals that the pilot was previously married and never divorced, "making (him) a bigamist — even in Utah."

"Switchback" (1997) is a serial-killer thriller that has a scene where Danny Glover picks up hitchhiker Jared Leto and asks where he's headed. "Utah," Leto says. "Big place, Utah," says Glover. Leto clarifies, "Salt Lake City." "Me too," says Glover, "how's that for luck? First I save you from freezin' to death, now you got a free ride to Mormonland."

"The X-Files" (1998), the movie that was spun off of the popular TV series, has a moment when Scully (Gillian Anderson) tells her partner Mulder (David Duchovny) that they are going to be split up, and that she's thinking of quitting because they've assigned her to — horrors! — the Salt Lake City office.

And, saving the best for last, in "Damnation Alley" (1977), a post-World War III apocalyptic thriller, an all-terrain vehicle drives through bombed-out Salt Lake City, where the entire downtown area is infested with oversized "armor-plated killer cockroaches."

What a missed opportunity. If those cockroaches had been crickets, maybe some armor-plated killer seagulls could have come to the rescue.

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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