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Film Title

The Poseidon Adventure

Director

Ronald Neame

Starring

  • Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott
  • Ernest Borgnine as Mike Rogo
  • Red Buttons as James
  • Stella Stevens as Linda Rogo
  • Shelley Winters as Belle Rosen
  • Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen
  • Roddy McDowall as Acres
  • Eric Shea as Robin Shelby
  • Pamela Sue Martin as Susan Shelby
  • Carol Lynley as Nonnie
  • Leslie Nielsen as The Captain

A memorable example of the 70’s disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure retains its suspense and danger with an all-star cast as the survivors of an overturned ocean liner   attempt to reach safety.

The S.S. Poseidon is a large ship that is making its way from New York to Athens, on what is believed to be its final voyage. The Captain of the ship is concerned about the fact that it’s carrying to heavy a load and knows that if anything where to go wrong while at sea, the ship would turn into a disaster. The new owners however don’t want to hear this and through blackmail forces the ship onward, heading towards a damaging fate. We are then introduced to the principal characters of the piece. Impassioned but unorthodox Reverend Frank Scott is being sent to a different parish for his views, which are mainly that he believes actions are how best to serve God, as opposed to prayer. Growling Detective Mike Rogo and his younger wife Linda, who he rescued from a life of prostitution. Lonely bachelor James Martin, who needs someone to take care of and fill the void of solitude. Middle aged Jewish and long married couple Belle and Manny Rosen, who are travelling to see their young Grandson for the first time. The observant waiter Acres who frequents the resident dining room. Teenager Susan Shelby and her younger, inquisitive brother Robin are travelling back to see their parents. And rounding out things is vulnerable lounge singer Nonnie. The spirit of New Year is in full swing for everyone, in an ironic twist of fate, disaster will soon be at hand. Just as everyone is welcoming in the New Year, a massive tidal wave strikes the ship causing it to capsize. With the Captain and main crew dead, panic sets in as the ship is now upside down. Scott has the right idea and persuades the aforementioned main characters to follow him to what he hopes is safety. Others stay behind believing they will be rescued in time, but Scott is not one to sit around and takes it upon himself to be leader of this band that agree to follow him. The mismatched group of survivors, lead by firebrand Reverend Scott, must now navigate their way through a labyrinth of hazardous corridors, flooded compartments and dangerous events if they are to have any hope of making it out of there alive.

Ronald Neame is in the director’s chair and his flair for drama is evident by how he gets some emotional chapters in among the action, with the characters you sympathise with more than others. Neame is the director and a very astute choice, but the biggest vision comes from the ambitious Irwin Allen, who became something of a pioneering producer with the cycle of well designed obstacle course that is as unpredictable as it is dangerous. The sets, specifically considering that everything is turned on its head, are crafted with immense skill and passion. And if you’re talking about set pieces that stuck in the memory, The Poseidon Adventure is fit to bursting. The first is when the tidal wave hits, which definitely sets the ball rolling and is followed by the survivors using a large Christmas tree on the first step to hopeful safety. Another memorable set piece is when the group must swim for a long period of time through a multitude of chambers to reach the next destination, which involves each holding their breath for longer than expected. There is genuine tension here and seeing when Scott becomes stuck and tenacious(despite her advancing years) swims to rescue him is pretty exhilarating to watch. While some of it creaks in the beginning, the main thing you go into movies like this for is the effects and excitement of it all. And while yes some of the characters aren’t that interesting, there are some parts and various characters that give off a real poignancy. There are some lulls in the action and the opening is a little slow, but once that wave hits, it’s a thrill a minute spectacle. With the production design, the direction of and the grandeur vision of producer Irwin Allen, The Poseidon Adventure definitely delivers on its title in terms of what it presents and the often tense but always engaging struggle for survival from the ragtag group. And as it isn’t an overly CGI fest, because that kind of technology wasn’t even around much at the time, the dangers and perils of the journey are rendered with a bit more grit than the average disaster epic. You can feel the arduous task that lies ahead of them as they attempted to reach the bottom of the hip, which is now ironically the top. Visual effects like explosions and if course the destructive tidal wave are used, but it’s the way that they are employed that ensure it doesn’t feel fake or patchy in the long run. Instead, full on adventure and excitement are the name of the game here and the effects that are used seamlessly give life to the perilous fight for survival. John Williams, one of my favourite film composers, gives a stirring sweep to the adventure at hand, while also pausing for some very moving moments.

A pretty talented ensemble cast play the remaining survivors of the disaster, with many game for the adventure and drama. Heading the cast is the ever excellent Gene Hackman as the passionate Reverend Scott; all unorthodox and unbridled determination and sense of leadership once the tragedy occurs. His ideas are dangerous but necessary as a man of action, as he figures out getting out alive is not going to be a piece of cake. Yet at the same time, Hackman imbues Scott with a potent care for the other survivors and how he really does think with faith, they can pull through instead of sitting around to die. It’s safe to say Hackman gives it his all as a religious man with different ideas, who keeps pushing on for the sake of others, even when faced with a seemingly impossible task. Ernest Borgnine is on typically imposing and bull-dog like form as the oppositional police detective, with a sense of authority that he feels threatened by Scott. A bruised sense of optimism comes courtesy of the delightful Red Buttons, who somehow tries to make the best of this dire situations with his sympathetic care. Stella Stevens has a lot of brassy and brash behaviour on show, playing the former good time girl making her way in a new lifestyle. Shelley Winters nicely plays the older Belle, whose gutsy gumption, sense of humour in crisis and selfless personality are balanced beautifully. The part requires Winters to show off considerable endurance, especially during the famous swimming rescue scene, a challenge the veteran actress rises to admirably as well as emotionally. Jack Albertson plays classily off Winters as her husband; there’s a simplicity and quiet certainty shared between them that is very special and sensitively handled. Roddy McDowall lends his talents to the proceedings well, while young Eric Shea is clearly having fun as the little boy whose interest in ships comes to be invaluable in the situations everyone is caught up in. The only two flaws in the cast are Pamela Sue Martin and Carol Lynley, who both come off as irritatingly whiny in the long run. There is a good cameo from Leslie Nielsen as the ill-fated captain of the vessel.

Thrilling and exciting, and not forgetting huge in terms of sheer spectacle, The Poseidon Adventure is the go to movie for an exhilarating example of a disaster flick that helped kick-start the boom in the genre.

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