Sunday, August 9, 2015
POSEIDON ADVENTURE, THE
(December 1972, U.S.)
One of the most intriguing things about any sort of film franchise, case in point being the infamous disaster films of the 1970s, is that no matter how out-of-control-bad things get when they inevitably spiral into extreme overkill, they've almost always started as something very positive and successful. While one might trace the 1970's disaster film all the way back to Arthur Hailey's original novel of AIRPORT, which eventually became a successful 1970 film, it was truly Irwin Allen's (nicknamed the "Master of Disaster) production of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, that really kicked things into gear. Based on Paul Gallico's novel, it's the story of the aged luxury ocean liner SS Poseidon, and her final voyage from New York City to Athens. At midnight on New Year's Eve, the ship is overturned by a monstrous rogue wave following an underwater sea quake and all surviving passengers and crew are trapped inside, fighting for their survival. Based on such true ocean liner disasters as the Titanic, the Andrea Doria and the RMS Queen Mary, this story uses the overturned ship effect to take things one step further. How do your survive a ship disaster such as this when all of your location bearings have now been set in reverse and literally turned upside down? Perhaps I over-dramatize the situation a bit, but really, the entire dangerous premise of it all still fascinates me ever after forty-three years! Ironically, as the whole disaster film craze came to a disastrous (excuse the pun!) end by the decade's conclusion, it was Irwin Allen's own failed sequel of BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979) that brought things full circle. Still, for a while, whether it was fires, floods, quakes or airplanes, it was all a whole lot of fun!
Still fresh off of his bad-ass performance in THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), Gene Hackman now plays bad-ass preacher Reverend Frank Scott aboard the Poseidon trying to teach those that will listen to him the value of finding God from within to help fight for themselves in a desperate situation. A very convenient sermon, no doubt, as such values must be put to the test immediately following the ship's capsizing. Our small group of protagonists, whom we will spend nearly two hours following throughout each and every crevice of the ship, feel more than comfortable in putting their faith into a preacher that talks a lot more like, well, "Popeye Doyle" than a traditional man of the cloth. Of course, in any group survival scenario, there's always the loud-mouth skeptic who doesn't believe anything can be achieved, and that's where Ernest Borgnine's character of Mike Rogo comes in perfectly! Any other actor in the same role, like Peter Boyle in the failed 1979 sequel, would just make it all mouth and no delivery. Borgnine, the gifted actor that he was, brings just the right level of humanity to his otherwise cynical role. As their journey for survival literally makes its way from the bottom to the top, the ship repeatedly settles in the ocean, rocking the entire foundation on its ass, and this is where our heroes will either survive or die. Some make and some don't. Some characters are of a smaller nature (like ship employee Acres) and you almost expect them to die. Others, like Belle Rosen (played by Shelley Winters) and Reverend Scott himself, are unexpected casualties. Unexpected, in my opinion, because just before their untimely demise, they manage to achieve feats of heroism, enabling others to survive the ship's disasters, and you start to believe they just might make it.
By the film's end, one can't help but feel that they've been watching an alternate version of Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in that as time goes on, vital (or non-vital) characters are slowly eliminated as they each, in their own way, succumb to the forces of the enemy (in this case, the ship). The ongoing question of, "Who will survive?" remains on our mind up until the very end, when in fact, their are six people left that are rescued and taken out of the ship to safety. One can't help their bewilderment of considering just how many people an entire ocean liner will house and that when it's all over, only six people have survived the ordeal. It's actually pretty unsettling when you really think about it and only serves to make the story's drama and intrigue all the more fascinating. Unfortunately, such a premise fell victim to the 1979 sequel which implied that there were other survivors the entire time, just waiting around to be rescued by Michael Caine and Sally Field! Yes, it would seem that Irwin Allen himself was his own worst enemy in the case of an entire decade's film genre - he started and he finished it (very badly!)!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Reverend Frank Scott (screaming to God): "What more do you want of us? We've come all this way, no thanks to you! We did it on our own, no help from you! We didn't ask you to fight for us, but dammit, don't fight against us! Leave us alone! How many more sacrifices? How much more blood? How many more lives!? Belle wasn't enough! Acres wasn't! Now this girl! You want another life? Then take me!"