Yes, friends, it’s time for another episode of…
This month, we’re all going on a cruise, yay!
Well, sort of (just remember to climb the Christmas tree, or else). Ronald Neame’s 1972 classic (co-directed by Irwin Allen) is a star-filled one with impressive practical effects (well, the ship model looks these days like an expensive toy you don’t want to accidentally sit or step on while in the bath) and very cool upside down sets. While it’s not your typical “action” movie, it’s certainly exceptionally well made and packed with more than enough thrills and (wait for it…) spills galore (expect a lot of puns here, friends). As a disaster flick, it certainly wasn’t a disaster at all, raking in 93 million dollars for 20th Century Fox over its time in theaters.
These days (and a poorly received sequel plus a expensive few remakes later) is the original The Poseidon Adventure still a seaworthy film? I say yes, it still holds its water rather excellently if you throw caution to the wind and don’t go overboard with your expectations. Granted, for all its death and angst on display, the film is not as cruel as the 1969 novel was with some of its characters. One could say Stirling Silliphant’s adaptation of the Paul Gallico novel softens the impact somewhat yet still has enough drama for its target audience.
If you’re new to the film, all you need to know is how it starts and sit back to enjoy the rest (and NO, it’s not a true story):
Let’s just say it’s New Year’s (Rockin’, as ships do in bad weather with no ballast) Eve, stuff happens minutes after the happier vibe the film kicks off with that isn’t too good (like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand) and the world is turned upside down for a bunch of people (as I said, like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand). The survivors bond (well, sort of) and have to find their way off the doomed ship before she sinks to a watery grave like a former swimming champ does after a bit of too much exercise.
Uh, did I say this review was spoiler-free? I lied. Here’s the trailer, doing what it needs to to get 1972-era butts in theater seats:
While the plot is chock full of cliché characters and a raft of humorous bits among the drama, it’s pure fun to see big deal actors here doing their thing (and most of their own dangerous stunts). I’ve seen this a few dozen times since the 70’s and it’s just one perfect popcorn flick as the survivors experience their assorted highs and lows throughout. Anyway, the Poseidon rolls over because the greedy guy who’s having it decommissioned wants to save money on the deal, is onboard the ship and demands it go as fast as possible and carry no ballast. Oddly enough, experienced captain (Leslie Nielsen!) folds like a broken deck chair because he can’t take the barrage of insults and threats hurled his way (like a tossed deck chair?). Hey, his capitulation makes for a better movie, as no one I know wants to watch a 117 minutes of a fancy cruise on an old boat where NOTHING happens, amirite?
Anyway, the cast is whittled down like an ivory tusk in the hands of a carver with questionable skill to ten people after the ship goes belly up and it’s up to fate (well, the screenplay) to say who’s going to make it. The book makes this a bit ironic for those survivors, as they literally go through Hell (what a part of the ship is named) only to see a bunch of others rescued by safer means (oops) when they escape. In the film, the survivors are the early birds who did a bit of legwork before things started falling apart and kept moving despite them doing so (which doesn’t work out well for some).
It’s interesting that the Hollywood movie version went with saving the kid, Robin (Eric Shea) for the obvious reasons and the fact that he literally vanishes from sight in the book when he goes off to the bathroom (I hate it when I can’t find a toilet on a sinking boat, personally speaking). His sister, Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) had to live because, who the heck would have made a better 70’s version of Nancy Drew in the future? Confession: I only watched that show because she was in it (her detective skills would have found me out anyway).
Amusingly enough, every time I see this movie, I want fate to roll the dice differently for a few characters. A 70’s TV sitcom with the Rogos in it (Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens) with Gene Hackman as Reverend Scott dispensing his own brand of ticked off priestly wisdom as a frequent guest star? Yeah, I’d watch that because it would probably be on the same channel the one with the Rosens (Jack Albertson, Shelly Winters) appeared in (and sure, I can see Hackman popping in on occasion too). Imagine the crossovers in that!
Hell, I’d feature the new couple of Nonnie and James (Carol Lynley, Red Buttons) just because it would rock that age limit thing people are uncomfortable with and hell, they’re the non-couple couple you root for in the film because they’re both damaged goods (one, courtesy of the disaster’s trauma) and it sort of feels “right” and not in a creepy way they’d stay in touch when everything’s resolved. Hey, a cameo from Roddy McDowell as Acres would have been cool as well, I think. Ah well.
But wishful thinking aside, the film does a solid enough job keeping the suspense going as its remaining cast makes its way to the bottom (which is now the top) of things. Yeah, the bickering is often hilarious, but hell, wouldn’t you be stressed if down went up before you got too drunk to notice whether you were sloshed or not? Then again, with some of the stuff they have to go through, getting drunk would almost be a better alternative. Still, I bet some in the theater were turning their heads upside down to get a better look at Stella Stevens’ underwear while she was onscreen. I can say NOT GUILTY of this charge… until puberty hit like the ton of bricks a few years later as it naturally tends to.
Uh, where was I? Oh, right. For what seems like a hellish shoot, the results speak for themselves at the end of the day. Irwin Allen was called the “master of disaster” partially because of some memorable films (good and bad), but he definitely hit the nail on the head hard with this film. Just make sure you see it on as large a screen as you can and in letterbox format and a good sound system (invite the neighbors if you can, as no one will be resting if you blast this as you should). Hey, what can I say here other that I like John Williams’ score in addition to the action and dramatic parts because it fits so well.
I should mention the award-winning song “The Morning After” here right? It’s funny, as it was a staple of radio that I can recall hearing for a few years before I finally saw the film and hadn’t recalled any DJ’s mentioning the film until I noted someone calling it “Theme to The Poseidon Adventure”. Well, I was much younger when the film came out, so I many have missed those connections being made. It’s sappy as hell, but works for the film’s ending and the rehearsal scene it’s first sung in.
Now, should you or should you not double this up with a similar or equal disaster at sea flick? That’s up to you. That said, I went with picking a star from this and following up with one of their films, so Emperor of the North Pole happened to not only fit this month’s theme (I reviewed it here some time back), it’s a darn good movie, too. Of course, you can go with some other excellent seafaring action flick if you like. Just don’t spend too much time in the water. Mom says it’s bad for the digestion or something like that.
This film is easily my favorite of the disaster epics of the 70’s. Love that idea of Ernie and Stella having their own sitcom. How about placing them across the street from Archie Bunker and George Jefferson. Oh if we could only turn the clock back! Never read the book but recall Mom saying it was one you had to pay attention to with everything upside down. I remember seeing this for the first time as a big TV event as a kiddie and all I was concerned about at the time was the fate of Cornelius. aka Roddy McDowall. And yeah Miss Stella would soon prey upon my teenage mind between this one and seeing her as Miss Purdy in pigtails at school in The Nutty Professor’s classroom. Great pick.
LOL! We are in sync indeed with the Archie Bunker/George Jefferson reference. And the Roddy McDowell one. I cut out a sentence that mentioned his role as Cornelius on the TV version of the show and I think he also did that voice in the cartoon.
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I actually DID see this one at the theater, way back when it was released, when I was just nine years old and not yet knowledgeable in such things as Stella’s flotation devices. In fact, I may not have had the privilege of seeing them again until just a few months ago, when I rented this from the library; I don’t think I’d watched this since that initial 1972 foray.
What surprised me about my recent viewing was a) how quickly the film seemed to play out, and b) how simple the story was. Like you said, not a lot of action per se…and it all seemed to be over with too soon! And I had forgotten about, and was surprised to see, a character perish at the very end…it seemed very tacked on and unnecessary to me. And lastly: this WAS a fun one to watch, and of Irwin Allen’s big three disaster flicks of the ’70s, I’d say this one was the best.
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The pun master is back and on fine form.
Wow totally forgot about the remake Poseidon! Why do they do it when the originals are just so good? Never realized it was based on a book and to hear it’s even more brutal to our cast in peril! Jeepers!
Still to this day I can imagine the Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson bit has the power to break grown men.
That’s a crazy image of them hanging from the tables. Oh man it’s all coming back to me… pass the sick bag quick!!
This is another film I would like to see again. It’s been so long. It’s sure to be on at xmas on some channel or another. Great review Greg it’s really inspired me to see it again.