Everyone always wonders how they would react in the event of a disastrous incident. Would you be a leader? Follower? Or that one guy who is a pain in the you-know-what to everyone around him (or maybe you’re the sexy lady running around in the strategically torn dress 😉).
Disaster movies are a way for us to imagine ourselves in these situations. From the dawn of film to the present, whether it be fire, flood, or earthquake, an erupting volcano or a shipwreck, killer mutant insects or zombies, to the modern apocalyptic films Hollywood loves so much, there is literally a movie for every disaster imaginable.
It was in the 1970s however, that the disaster movie became a genre of it’s own. And the man behind it was none other than the “Master of Disaster” himself, Irwin Allen.
One of his biggest hits, grossing over $84 million, was The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Based on the novel by Paul Gallico and directed by Ronald Neame, the film has an impressive cast of Oscar winners and nominees: Gene Hackman (2x winner), Ernest Borgnine (1955 winner), Shelley Winters (2x winner and 1 nomination), Red Buttons (1958 winner), Carol Lynley (2x Golden Globe nominee), Roddy McDowell (Golden Globe nominee), Stella Stevens (Golden Globe winner), Arthur O’Connell (2x nominee), and Jack Albertson (1969 winner). The cast also newcomer Pamela Sue Martin and child Actor Eric Shea (The Magical World of Disney). Playing the captain of the doomed Poseidon: Leslie Nielsen.
It’s New Year’s Eve and the Poseidon is making her final voyage before being scrapped. But Mother Nature has other plans. Just after midnight, the luxury liner going faster than is safe in order to arrive at it’s destination on time, is hit by a tidal wave caused by a sub-sea earthquake. Everyone on the bridge watches in horror as the wall of water sweeps towards them, killing them instantly when it hits and capsizes the ship, throwing partygoers to the ceiling now far below them as it rolls completely over. Chaos ensues until Reverend Scott (Hackman), a preacher who believes that “God helps those who help themselves,” takes charge of the situation. He informs everyone that they need to make their way to the hull of the ship, now above them, where the propeller shaft is located, as the steel there is only an inch thick. With the help of some of the men, the giant fake Christmas tree is pushed upright to serve as a ladder. Only a few passengers follow him, the majority listening to the ship’s purser who encourages everyone to wait until help comes. No sooner does the little group reach the top of the tree when explosions rock the ship, filling the great hall with water and drowning those who stayed behind.
As they make their way through the ship there are more explosions, including ones of temper as Hackman and Borgnine have constant disagreements. At one point the group comes to a seemingly dead end - a flooded corridor. In the original script, Winters character, a now overweight former Olympic swimmer, swims through but becomes trapped and has to be rescued by Hackman. Hackman suggested it be switched and the resulting scene, in which Winters rescues him only to die of a heart attack minutes late, earned her an Oscar nomination (Esther Williams was originally offered the role but turned it down on her husband’s advice). Winters studied with an Olympic swim coach prior to filming to give the scene authenticity.
More people die before the small group finally reach their destination and are rescued by the coast guard who cut a hole in the hull and pull them to safety.
There are several great intense scenes that made this movie enjoyable and entertaining. It would be fun to see it on the big screen!
The film was nominated for an Oscar in nine categories and won for Best Song and Best Special Effects, for which it also won a Special Achievement Award. Hackman won the BAFTA for Best Actor and Winters won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
A sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, was released in 1979 also with an all-star cast, including Michael Caine, Sally Field, Karl Malden, Telly Savalas, Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Shirley Knight, Slim Pickens, Angela Cartwright, Mark Harmon, and Shirley Jones. Directed by Irwin Allen himself, the film was unfortunately a “disaster.”
Taking place minutes after the helicopter full of survivors has taken off, Caine, his partner Malden, and passenger Field (nicknamed Monkey), come across the Poseidon, with only a small area of its hull showing above water (the earthquake of the first film is changed to a tropical storm). He declares salvage rights and prepares to enter. Savalas and his crew show up posing as medics (later we find out he is looking for a certain bit of cargo containing... plutonium.
Here is where the film enters a major problem. They enter the ship and begin making their way “down,” Caine to the pursers office where the gold is kept, and Savalas to the baggage hold. Now in the first film, as the survivors made their way to safety, there was no possible way to turn back, as the explosions had caused the ships passageways to fill with water. Yet suddenly the salvagers have no problem walking through the ship! If I had watched the sequel first it wouldn’t have been that unbelievable. But given what I had just seen, their actions were impossible. And for some reason EVERYONE enters the ship, including passenger Sally Field. I mean, would YOU enter an almost completely submerged ship just so you wouldn’t be left alone topside?
Naturally after they enter there is an explosion that cuts them off from the outside. Their only way is forward. They come across a group of survivors (that helicopter left a little prematurely don’t you think?) and head to the pursers office where everyone’s dreams of becoming rich come true. At this point the true identity of Savalas is revealed. There is a shootout, people are killed, and then Caine and his group escape and miraculously find a way out - a hole in the ship and scuba equipment. Despite it being a short swim, not everyone makes it. Then, just as they reach Caine’s tugboat, the ship finally sinks, killing Savalas and his remaining crew. Caine and Field kiss and chug away into the sunset.
Can you see why the film didn’t do well?
It's not a total loss though. There are some good performances by Malden and Pickens. It's just unfortunate the story doesn't hold up.
I hope you enjoyed this post. It is part of the DISASTER BLOG-A-THON hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Dubsism. Please be sure to check out the other "disastrous" articles!