THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)
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Produced by prolific 70s disaster movie producer Irwin Allen, this is simply one of the best, if not the best of the 70s disaster flicks. Story finds an assortment of characters, like a rebellious preacher (Gene Hackman), a New York detective (Ernest Borgnine) and a kindly Jewish couple (Jack Albertson and Shelly Winters) traveling from NYC to Athens on the final voyage of the S.S. Poseidon. It’s New Years Eve, and while there is a lavish celebration in the ship’s grand ballroom, a massive underwater earthquake triggers a 90 foot tidal wave and sends it in the aging ship’s direction. The wave slams into the vessel, capsizing it and setting the remaining survivors on a journey upwards through the upside-down decks, towards the hull of the ship in hope of rescue.
Flick is well-written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes from a book by Paul Gallico. What makes it a step above most others is that it is directed with passion and intensity by Ronald Neame, where most of these types of flicks are very by-the-numbers. The characters are well-rounded and appear very human and even our hero is flawed. The melodrama between them is kept to a minimum, as the action starts within the first half-hour and doesn’t stop till the end. Along the way we get some very thrilling action and escapes, as our group overcomes one challenge after another, all the while trying to keep their heads above water…literally. It makes for a very exciting and suspenseful two hours and the sets the survivors climb through are very impressive. It’s a maze of pipes and steel, either flooded or on fire and the benefit of this is that models and miniatures are kept to a bare minimum, making it far more realistic feeling than say, Earthquake. The cheese factor here is limited to the heavy 70s vibe and a few over-the-top performances like Stella Stevens’ ex-hooker turned policeman’s wife. There is also a heavier religious undertone, with it’s preacher hero and Israel bound Jewish couple, than is fashionable today, but I find that very charming and old-fashioned…as is the rest of this fun flick. There is a rousing score by John Williams and crisp cinematography by Harold E. Stine to accent a top-notch suspense thriller.
The cast here is not as obnoxiously star-studded, as some of these movies can be, containing more character actors. This gives it a more identifiable feel than with an all A-listers cast. Hackman really sells it as the preacher who walks to the beat of his own drum. He’s a bit more relatable than a more larger-than-life actor like Charlton Heston and more passionate in his portrayal. Borgnine gives us a Lt. Rogo with a fiery temper who battles Hackman’s preacher at every turn. The quality script and Borgnine being an absolute pro, makes the character more than a stereotypical antagonist. He’s angry, afraid and even though the two man battle for leadership, Rogo can be seen in a heroic light by the end credits. Albertson and Winters are very endearing as the old Jewish couple headed to Israel to meet their grandson. Winters can lay it on thick here and there, but is never out of control. We also have Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin as accompanying survivors with Stella Stevens a bit overacting as Rogo’s wife and Leslie Nielsen, before Airplane turned him into a comic actor, as the ship’s ill-fated captain. A great cast.
This might be one of my all-time favorites of this era and genre. It’s well-written, intensely directed and has a wonderful cast of character actors to give some dimension to the struggling survivors. There is a lot of personal nostalgia, as it is another flick seen with the folks at the long gone Park Lane Theater, but is also just a really good flick that holds up to the test of time. It’s setting cleverly omits the need for SPFX that may be seen as cheesy in today’s digital world, instead settling for well-crafted sets and dramatic set pieces that still work. Add in some 70s nostalgia to an already solid adventure flick and you have a film that earns the title classic easily! Still as effective today as back in 1972!
3 and 1/2.