Monday, January 01, 2018

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The best of four films (to date) inspired by Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel is the most faithful and the ultimate movie to curl up with on a chilly New Year’s Eve. The story is simple enough: a tsunami overturns a luxury cruise ship during a New Year’s part. The few survivors, mostly strangers to one another, have to work together to reach the “top” of the ship, which is above the surface of the ocean and, hopefully, where rescue crews will be waiting for them.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE influenced a decade or more of “disaster movies” — big-budget thrillers with all-star casts trying to survive a major calamity — though one could argue AIRPORT is the genre’s true father. In any case, Irwin Allen, who was then famous for science fiction television, such as LOST IN SPACE and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, grabbed the football and ran with it, producing THE TOWERING INFERNO, THE SWARM, and WHEN TIME RAN OUT…, while other producers rolled out ROLLERCOASTER, TWO-MINUTE WARNING, THE HINDENBURG, EARTHQUAKE, AVALANCHE, and three AIRPORT sequels, among other disaster flicks, in short order.

While Allen’s THE TOWERING INFERNO is arguably the best of the lot, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE isn’t far behind. Boasting an excellent cast, eight Academy Award nominations, two Oscars (including a special award for its groundbreaking visual effects), a hit theme song (“The Morning After”), and a simple premise given dramatic weight by heavyweight scenarists Stirling Silliphant (IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) and Wendell Mayes (DEATH WISH), Allen’s pioneering feature holds up decades later. A sequel, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, followed, as did a made-for-television remake and a big-budget theatrical remake. Nobody remembers them fondly.

Gene Hackman, just off THE FRENCH CONNECTION, heads the excursion as a hip priest, who swears and wears turtlenecks, whose every decision is questioned by overbearing cop Ernest Borgnine (MARTY), who is insecure because his sexy younger wife (Stella Stevens) is an ex-prostitute. Melodramatic personal stories became a staple of the disaster genre. Thankfully THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE doesn’t get bogged down in minutes-killing flashbacks and soap opera antics, though the dialogue and some of the performances are awful.

Other survivors include middle-aged Jewish couple Shelley Winters (an Oscar nominee) and Jack Albertson (CHICO AND THE MAN), pretty teenager Pamela Sue Martin (THE LADY IN RED), waiter Roddy McDowall (CLEOPATRA), haberdasher Red Buttons (SAYONARA), and singer Carol Lynley (RETURN TO PEYTON PLACE). Trying to predict which stars make it to the end of the movie is part of the fun, as director Ronald Neame (METEOR — a notorious disaster-movie bomb) tosses all kinds of obstacles in their path. Why was there never a POSEIDON ADVENTURE video game?

The film’s highlight, aside from the astounding tsunami sequence involving dozens of stunts and thousands of gallons of water poured over the cast, is the portly Winters’ underwater swim of death, which is likely the scene that earned the two-time Oscar winner her fourth (and last) nomination (she lost to Eileen Heckart). John Williams’ Oscar-nominated score keeps the suspense high, and there’s fun in noticing Leslie Nielsen as the Poseidon’s captain, less than a decade before he spoofed the genre as the co-star of AIRPLANE!

2 comments:

Grant said...

"A hip priest, who swears."
Luckily that doesn't happen so often that i feels like the story's hitting you over the head with the idea. Instead, it happens here and there, so it manages to surprise you.

Andy said...

"Why was there never a POSEIDON ADVENTURE video game?"

There was, unofficially: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SOS_(video_game)

"Mostly inspired by the book and film, The Poseidon Adventure, the game is set in 1921, and the players must escape the sinking ship Lady Crithania, which gets hit by a gigantic wave and is capsized; all within the time limit of an hour. However, the game is made more difficult by the lack of a visible timer (although it is shown if the player injures himself, in which case he will lose five minutes) and the fact the ship rotates angles constantly and gradually gets filled with water."

Made by the same company that did the heavily Argento/Phenomena-inspired Clock Tower.