Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abegnale, Jr., follows the young con artist from New Rochelle to New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans and all the way to France. After running away from home, seventeen-year-old Frank poses as a pilot and flies around the country with Pan-Am before deciding to become a doctor, then a lawyer before being caught. He becomes a master check forger starting with the technique of taking the little Pan-Am stickers on toy airplanes and repasting them onto checks.
While the story is captivating and the cinematography is excellent, the airport scenes bring up some questions that aren’t addressed in the film. In the scene pictured above, when Frank reports for duty as a Pan-Am copilot, we see him walking through Eero Saarinen’s arrestingly beautiful building at what was then called Idlewild Airport. But we know that the Pan-Am terminal was located in the Worldport building, not the TWA Flight Center. It doesn’t make sense for Frank to report for duty at the TWA counter, unless he was catching a ride via TWA, which he did do at Orly Airport in the opening of the book.
At the end of the film, after Detective Hanratty (played by Tom Hanks) has caught Frank and enlisted him to work for the FBI, we see him in the TWA terminal again. He’s back at his old tricks–wearing a pilot’s uniform and getting ready to fly to an unknown destination. It seems a bit strange for a Pan-Am pilot to fly out of the TWA Terminal, but it actually would have been easier for an impostor to avoid getting caught by catching rides with other airlines, as pilots often do.
Besides, how can we blame Steven Spielberg for wanting to film the movie inside this masterpiece of the Jet Age? While Saarinen’s TWA Terminal was declared a landmark, thus ensuring its preservation, the Worldport Terminal did not meet the qualifications, and is currently being torn down. Spielberg’s use of the TWA Terminal seems to validate the decision to save it, despite the high cost of maintaining the building when it’s not generating revenue. The most recent news regarding the TWA Flight Center is that it will be turned into a hotel with Andre Balzas in negotiations with the Port Authority to create The Standard, Flight Center.
Also check out these vintage photos of JFK Airport in the early 1960s, when it was known as Idlewild.