Doe-eyed, soft-spoken, and utterly bewildered, Elaine Dickinson is our female lead and beautiful love interest of Ted Striker. Oh, and she has the mouth (and the personality?) of a sailor. Her wide-eyed innocence plays off some of her rather raunchy dialogue and actions in the film.
Elaine was wild about Ted when she met him in a bar on the Barbary Coast and planned to spend her life with him. But when he came home from the war a damaged man who couldn't get his act together, she had to move on.
We're introduced to Elaine as she's ready to board a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. As a flight attendant, embarking on this trip is part of her job description; but it's also her escape from her struggling relationship with a floundering Ted. When they meet in the airport terminal, Elaine tells Ted with gentle firmness that she can't keep waiting around for him to take back responsibility in his life. This sentiment is sincere; in these moments, we feel empathy for Elaine in her genuine sweetness.
Aboard the airplane, Ted continues his attempts to win Elaine back. It becomes apparent that Elaine still has feelings for Ted, but can't commit to him as long as he's unable to get his life back under control. It's not until Ted confidently takes the controls of the plane at a life-or-death moment that Elaine begins to come around. She believes in Ted and Ted believes in himself; with Elaine's help, Ted's able to land the plane safely while a loving Elaine looks on.
Elaine is well-meaning, but she always seems to make things just a little worse. For example, even when she and Ted are in the thick of their past romance, she helpfully sinks his spirits while trying to comfort him:
TED: Because of my mistake, six men didn't return from that raid.
ELAINE: Seven. Lieutenant Zip died this morning.
She wants to reassure the passengers but can't quite seem to get it right:
ELAINE: Ladies and gentlemen, this is your stewardess speaking... We regret any inconvenience the sudden cabin movement might have caused, this is due to periodic air pockets we encountered, there's no reason to become alarmed, and we hope you enjoy the rest of your flight... By the way, is there anyone on board who knows how to fly a plane?
Hagerty, herself a rookie actress, brings to the part an earnest sweetness, remaining perfectly innocent even as the world crashes around her (source). Ultimately, Elaine infuses an understated sense of humor into the movie, not to mention some cluelessly raunchy moments with Otto. While Robert Hays's performance as Ted Striker parodies the bland, hyper-serious action hero of the day, Julie Hagerty's portrayal of Elaine Dickinson plays on the trope of vacant love interests and beautiful but one-dimensional female leads in cinema.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of 'em.