The Poseidon Adventure, the 1972 Oscar-winning disaster film, marks the 50th anniversary of its theatrical release and doomed voyage.
I started watching a series of disaster thrillers in January since my headspace wasn’t really in the mood for much of anything else. When there’s an attack at a shul–as there was this year–it’s hard to be in the mood for much of anything else. Anyway, I ran my reviews of Dante’s Peak and Volcano on their 25th anniversaries. Appropriately, I decided to do the same for my review of The Poseidon Adventure given the milestone anniversary. Can you believe it is already 50 years old?!? I should note that my viewing of the film came one day ahead of the Colleyville synagogue hostage crisis. The other disaster thrillers were rewatched in the week that followed.
Whenever someone representing the ocean liner–Linarcos (Fred Sadoff)–tells you to go full speed ahead, don’t listen to them. It only results in doom for the ship’s passengers. The Poseidon isn’t the first ship to be doomed to this fate and it won’t be the last. No, we saw it decades before when the Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage. The ship said to be unsinkable is resting on the bottom of the Atlantic as a result. Where the Titanic is on its maiden voyage, the SS Poseidon is on its last journey. A trip from New York City to Athens should be a simple one, right? Come New Year’s Day, all hell breaks lose when the ship finds itself the victim of a tsunami. Both passengers and crew are trapped as the boat overturns. Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman) takes charge and leads the few survivors to safety.
We get to meet the core cast before all of the drama starts. There’s Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and wife Linda (Stella Stevens). Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and younger brother Robin (Eric Shea) are in route to meet their vacationing parents in Greece. Manny (Jack Albertson) and Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters) are traveling to Israel in order to meet their 2-year-old grandson for the first time. In addition to them, there’s haberdasher James Martin (Red Buttons), singer Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), and injured waiter Acres (Roddy McDowall).
Rev. Scott believes that they’ll find their safety in the ship’s engine room. With explosions happening every which way one looks, only nine people successfully follow Scott to safety. Others make attempt but their weight proves to be too much for the tree. They do end up finding another group but Scott believes it’s a mistake to head to the bow. Ultimately, the other group doesn’t make it out alive. But even with Rev. Scott’s tiny band of survivors, not everyone would make it out alive. You can’t help but feel for every loss as they happen on screen.
When you have a film of this nature, they can only focus on so many people! Even for what went for production budgets in 1972, they can only do so much with a $4.7 million budget. Between the star-studded cast and visual effects, there’s not going to be enough left for hiring more name actors. As such, they only focus on a small band of survivors that battle their way to the end of the film. At the end of the day, only six survive but the number could have been higher.
In another universe, the film could have starred Gene Wilder rather than Red Buttons. Wilder ultimately dropped out of the film but wow, what a difference he would have made. Similarly, Petula Clark was originally offered the role of Nonnie Parry. Interestingly, they offered Burt Lancaster the role of Scott but he also turned it down.
When one generally thinks of disaster thrillers, Oscar is not a word that you hear in the same sentence. One generally expects such films to be cheesy to some extent. Regardless, you still can’t help but watch because you have to see what happens! At the end of the day, this film is a showcase for sound, visual effects, and production designers. But even beyond the sound design itself, John Williams would pick up his 5th Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
Aside from this one, there’s a few others that stand out in the 1970s because of their cast and genre–Airport, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno. Earthquake is not based on a novel but Universal capitalized on the genre’s popularity. I still need to watch The Towering Inferno and I’ll make some time during a break in awards season. But anyway, this film won two Oscars (Original Song, Visual Effects) in eight nominations (Supporting Actress/Shelley Winters, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Score, Sound) during the 45th Academy Awards. By the end of 1973, The Poseidon Adventure would win the box office as the highest grossing film of the year.
Fifty years after its theatrical release, The Poseidon Adventure remains one of the gold standards in the disaster genre.
DIRECTOR: Ronald Neame
SCREENWRITERS: Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes
CAST: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, Arthur O’Connell, Eric Shea, Byron Webster, and Leslie Nielsen
20th Century-Fox released The Poseidon Adventure in theaters on December 12, 1972. Grade: 4/5
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