Monday, November 27, 2017

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE 1972

Warning: Spoilers galore

Looking back, I still find it hard to believe that I came to know of the existence of The Poseidon Adventure only after it had already opened in theaters. It was in December of 1972, I was 15-years-old, and my folks were treating my sisters and me to our first visit to Disneyland and Los Angles over the Christmas holidays. Disneyland and Universal Studios were, of course, a blast (this was back when Universal was ONLY a tour, not an amusement park, and the main attractions were Lucille Ball’s dressing room, the props from the Land of the Giants TV show, and the bridge Shirley MacLaine got pushed off of in Sweet Charity), but that was for the daytime.
In the evenings we drove and walked around Hollywood—you could do that back then—and I was utterly overwhelmed and enthralled by this city devoted to the movies. Hollywood Blvd was always kind of tacky, but in the early 1970s, all decked out in Christmas decorations, stars in the sidewalks, and overflowing with one first run movie house after another…to my eyes it looked every bit as magical as Main Street in Disneyland.

Who Will Survive-- In One Of The Greatest Escape Adventures Ever!
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott
Ernest Borgnine as Mike Rogo 
Stella Stevens as Linda Rogo
All of the 1972 holiday movie releases had opened: Grauman’s Chinese featured Streisand’s Up The Sandbox, Diana Ross was at The Pantages in Lady Sings the Blues, the Cinerama Dome had the Patty Duke thriller You’ll Like My Mother, the Pacific was showing The Getaway with Steve McQueen & Ali MacGraw, and Paul Newman was at the Hollywood (currently a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum) in The Life & Times of Judge Roy Bean.
Adding considerably to the excitement was the fact that movie theaters still went all out in the way of promotional materials and displays, so every theater was bathed in colorful neon, aglow with bright and flashing lights, and everywhere you looked were banners, streamers, oversized posters, and huge cardboard promotional cutouts for movies currently running and others coming soon. My eyes were popping out of my head.

But what really stopped in my tracks when we came upon the beautiful and enormous Egyptian Theater. Here, towering at least two stories high above the theater’s massive, winding marquee was the poster art for a film I’d somehow not heard a single thing about: The Poseidon Adventure. The Egyptian, every bit as ornate and elaborate as Grauman’s Chinese, was in the middle of an exclusive run of The Poseidon Adventure after having hosted the film’s premiere a week prior. Remaining evidence of the glamorous event were the massive cast portraits adorning the sprawling marquee, taller-then-me cutout posters, hanging banners, production stills, posters, and lobby cards as far as I could see. Suddenly I was surrounded by images of what looked like the most exciting film I’d never heard of.
Shelley Winters as Belle Rosen 
Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen
Red Buttons as James Martin
Carol Lynley as Nonnie Parry
To understand how a dyed-in-the-wool film fan type like myself managed not to hear a single advance word about a movie that went on to become not only one of my all-time favorites, but the second highest grossing film of the year, it helps to know what kind of year for film 1972 was. In both fan magazines and the legitimate press, the lion’s share of 1972 movie coverage/publicity centered around these high-profile titles: The Godfather (Brando’s comeback!), Cabaret (Judy’s daughter makes good!), Last Tango in Paris (Le Scandale!), Lady Sings the Blues (a Supreme film debut!), The Getaway (behind-the-scenes adultery!), and What’s Up Doc? (Streisand meets New Hollywood wunderkind!).

I don't think many other films had much of a chance of competing with the publicity juggernaut surrounding these high-profile releases. Besides, given my age and cineaste pretensions, I’m certain that had any news about The Poseidon Adventure managed to reach me in the midst of rapt my absorption in all the above titles, I most likely would have leapt to conclusions concerning the involvement of Irwin Allen (whom I associated with gimmicky, cheap-looking TV shows), and made snobbish assumptions about that film’s cast of past-their-prime notables. A roster which, with the exception of Gene Hackman, struck me less like a Grand Hotel-style“all-star” movie cast and more like a TV Guide listing of a particularly feeble week on Johnny Carson’s sofa.

But there I was, standing in the middle of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, staring up at grand-scale movie hype at its best, hoping beyond hope that my parents would decide to terminate our sightseeing foot tour on the spot and insist we all go in to see this suddenly must-see movie that very minute.
Roddy McDowall as Acres
Pamela Sue Anderson as Susan Shelby
Eric Shea as Robin Shelby
Leslie Nielsen as Captain Harrison
Arthur O'Connell as John, the ship's Chaplain 
The Poseidon Adventure opened on December 15th in Los Angeles, but by the time we returned home to San Francisco, had not yet been released. The Poseidon Adventure opened at San Francisco’s Alexandria a week later on Friday the 22nd. So, over that weekend and several more times before school reconvened, I saw The Poseidon Adventure…and what an adventure it was. For weeks afterward, I couldn’t enter a classroom, library, store, or home of a friend without imagining what it would look like upside down. 

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS MOVIE
It says a lot about the traditionalism of TV and studio-era films that by age 15 I’d already grown pretty well-versed in recognizing movie clichés. While I’d not yet seen many of the films that established the familiar tropes from which ‘70s disaster movies would later draw (The High and the Mighty, Zero Hour!, The Last Voyage); I was familiar enough with combat movies (dangerous situation + dissimilar people from all walks of life + hero = everyone discovers what they’re really made of), all-star ensemble melodramas (the aforementioned Grand Hotel), and waterlogged thrillers (Lifeboat, A Night to Remember), for the of The Poseidon Adventure’s high-concept upside-down ocean liner premise to sound both intensely original while at the same time sounding reassuringly familiar.
Reverend Scott, not looking exactly pleased to have someone besides himself talking.
Far left is actress Frieda Rentie, sister of 227 actress Marla Gibbs

On New Year’s Eve the ocean liner S.S. Poseidon (significantly, at least in terms of ironic poignancy, making her final voyage before the scrap heap) is capsized by a tidal wave. While several passengers survive the breathtakingly entertaining catastrophe; only nine of the ship’s most stock and photogenic passengers ultimately elect to follow the long-winded Reverend (Hackman) on a perilous climb to safety via navigating their way up to the ship’s bottom.
Everyone involved—save for the resourceful reverend, who oozes so much self-reliance and leadership qualities he can’t help but grow tiresome—is spectacularly ill-suited to the task, but any life-or-death struggle that begins with a ragtag group of “types” having to climb a big, tinsely Christmas tree to salvation is my kind of calamity. And so, armed with little more than pluck, guts, elderly body-shaming, and tight-fitting hot pants; our intrepid troupe begins their adventure.

Meet The Players / Character Shorthand
He's a Rebel 'Cause He Never, Ever Does What He Should
In the interest of saving time, Rev. Scott--who's such a hip, throw-out-the-(Good)book type he wears a turtleneck instead of a clerical collar--simply tells us what we might have otherwise found out about him from, y'know, paying attention and following the plot
The Bickersons
Common-but decent police detective Mike Rogo and his foul-mouthed former-prostitute wife Linda, are a kind of Bronx George and Martha. Mike thinks Rev. Scott is a loudmouth, Linda refers to Mrs. Rosen as "Ol' Fat ass." Ergo, they are my favorite characters in the film. 
My Yiddishe Grandmama & Papa
As though their borscht-belt accents weren't a dead giveaway, the film makes sure we know Belle & Manny are Jewish by introducing Manny with his nose in an Israel travel brochure, and Belle knitting their grandson a sweater with prayer shawl stripes.
Coded and Fabulous
James Martin--the real hero of film, as he is the one who comes up with the idea to climb to the hull--is gay. No one can tell me otherwise. This 50-something bachelor haberdasher might actually have said something about it had Belle, the Hasidic Heteronormative Buttinsky ("It comes from caring"), not pressed that "What you need is a pretty wife" business.  However, it's not likely anyone bought his "I'm too busy" line anyway. Mr. Martin's character would essentially be out and proud in the 2006 Poseidon remake, but the movie itself was so lousy, no one cared.
Damsel in Distress
My real-life experience has been that in moments of crisis, more men & women act more like Nonnie than Rev. Scott, but that doesn't stop this fraidy-cat,  easy-listening songbird from being a bit of a pill. She's genuinely sweet though, and as one of cinema's most high-profile fag hags (you don't honestly think she and middle-aged Mr. Martin became a post-rescue romance, did you?), I like to imagine Nonnie and Mr. Martin became friends: she tagging along on his visits to The Mine Shaft, or meeting up for Sunday brunches in the Village
Susan Being Polite To Mr. You're Not Reverend Scott (Ernie Orsatti)
Although I don't ever recall a brother actually calling his sister "Sis" instead of her given name in real-life, I suppose it was important for the film to establish lovesick Susan and "all boy" Robin (so much the stereotype I expected him to say "Jeepers!") weren't some kind of Susan Anton/Dudley Moore couple.
Sure, his role is brief, but after three Planet of the Apes movies, I'm sure Roddy McDowall is simply glad to show his real face in a movie again. More a plot device than a character, what exactly is Acres' accent? I thought he was British (with a Liverpool lilt), but someone told me he's supposed to be Scots (maybe due to that bagpipes crack?)

In the 1972 shout-fest X, Y and Zee, Elizabeth Taylor has the line:“I may be the worst thing in the world, but I carry it in front where you can see it!”  Well, if The Poseidon Adventure could speak, that would be its mantra. It’s old-fashioned, schlocky, and loaded with what director Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) labeled “carboardy” characters; but the film carries it all out in front where you can see. 
The Poseidon Adventure, a 20th Century Fox film, wears its corniness proudly on its sleeve. It’s a big, family-friendly film that was a conscious thumb of the nose to the incoherence (Fox’s Myra Breckinridge -1970), drugs (Fox’s The Panic in Needle Park -1971), and vulgarity (Fox’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls - 1970) of New Hollywood.
Sure, The Poseidon Adventure is hokey, soapy, cliché ridden, and a terribly contrived, but (miracles of miracles) it works. And rather magnificently, at that! I loved the premise, enjoyed the archetypal characters, and I was thrilled as all getout by the upside-down sets and the real-life special effects. Most surprising of all was that the filmmakers not only got me to care about these characters, but to also feel something about their fates. Who knew a cheesy movie could be so moving?
The terrible remake (which Carol Lynley called “The biggest piece of shit I’ve ever seen”) cost 32 times more and had CGI wizardry up the ass, but I never gave a whit about what happened to anyone in it. The Poseidon Adventure was ripped apart by many critics in its day, but it has aged well. What seemed corny in 1972 looks rather sweet today. And makers of today's disposable action films could a lesson from how The Poseidon Adventure takes the time to get us to know/care about the characters before the mayhem starts). This film is now 45 years old, and in spite of its well-earned reputation as a campy favorite, I can't help but think that in the realm of disaster movies, The Poseidon Adventure is some kind of a minor classic of the genre.
As both Beyond The Poseidon Adventure and The Swarm proved, when Irwin Allen directs, the result is a guaranteed disaster. An invaluable boon to The Poseidon Adventure was handing the directing chores over to Ronald Neame and leaving the action sequences to Allen

PERFORMANCES
One of the peculiarities of the disaster film genre is that things don’t actually improve when “good” actors are cast in the roles. The genre doesn’t need performances, it needs personas. Nothing bogs a disaster film down more than a so-called serious actor trying to give a “performance.” For example--for all their innate talent, you’d have to look to an Ed Wood movie to find performances worse than Olivia de Havilland in The Swarm, or Jack Lemmon in Airport ’77.
Leslie Nielsen as Captain Harrison
Young viewers are surprised and delighted to see the Airplane and Naked Gun star in a serious role. However, those of us of a certain age know that for decades, THIS Leslie Nielsen was the only Leslie Nielsen there was.
No, with the genre’s emphasis on action and expediency, it’s often a matter of finding actors with distinct, identifiable, almost over-emphatic screen personas, capable of projecting a level of conviction appropriate to the arch dialogue and bigger-than-life goings on.
Much in the manner that Vincent Price became the master of schlock horror sincerity, disaster film actors who take their roles too seriously come off as ridiculous, while the most effective performances are those that seem to operate on a level of magic reality that hovers somewhere between authentic and artificial.
The distinction I'm trying to make is that while the cast of The Poseidon Adventure may all be quite excellent actors in their own right, what they're called upon to do in The Poseidon Adventure doesn't require "good" acting so much as "effective" acting. To make material like this believable, it matters more to strike the right tone; in which case performances ranging from hammy to hoary can prove to be 100% on the money.
My absolute favorite shot in the entire film, also my favorite moment.
No matter how many times I see The Poseidon Adventure, Linda Rogo's death remains for me the most shocking and heart-wrenching. Winters' Belle Rosen was set up from the beginning to be nobly tragic, but Mike and Linda Rogo were the couple I identified with. They weren't know-it-alls, they weren't noble, and they said the things I was thinking. They were funny, sweet, and a life-force in the film, and Linda's death reverberated like no other. Ernest Borgnine just breaks my heart in this scene and I always get waterworks from his reaction. To me he was always the film's most valuable player.

THE STUFF OF DREAMS
By no means all, but just a few of my favorite things:
I don't care how dated the special effects are, the capsizing of the Poseidon is epic moviemaking
(Gotta love Red Buttons during this part. That's not acting)
No one on the Poseidon faced a bigger challenge than these two trying to find the beat
I love Mrs. Rosen
Even in 1972, the Hot Pants Under The Gown Reveal drew gasps and laughs.
Loving Linda's reaction
That Dive!
The biggest shock of the film. It got laughs, applause, and cheers
I love Linda Rogo

The Poseidon Adventure is a favorite. You'll never hear me call it one of the best films ever made; I don't buy into revisionist assessments ranking it a genuine classic (it's great for what it is, but let's not forget what it is); nor do I harbor illusions about its depiction of women (save for Belle and her big moment, the men are all active while the women are reactive) and lack of people of color in the major cast (Akers & Belle occupy the stereotypical roles of ethnics in action films: "first to die" and "noble sacrifice").
Yet there's no denying The Poseidon Adventure is one of those imperfect films that achieves a kind of lightning-in-a-bottle kind of excellence. From script (dialogue, primarily) to characterizations, to outlandish (albeit exciting) premise; it shouldn't really work as beautifully as it does. But you'd have to look hard and long to find a disaster film that does it better. It's one of the best of its breed. I've come to regard it with such fondness, I've noticed that over the years my laughs of derision have turned into laughs of affection. Despite its flaws, I fully understand why it has endured and why so many people have taken it to their hearts.


BONUS MATERIAL
In 1973 MAD magazine once again did a movie satire that hit the nail on the head. In "The Poopsidedown Adventure" the characters are named: Reverend Shout, Hammy & Bellow Roseman, Snoozin & Rotten, Mr. Martyr, Ninny, Mr. Rougho, Limber, and Apers.

The juxtaposition of Shelley Winters' name to the title of the film "Fat City" causes Robert Duvall to lose it when reading the 1973 Academy Award nominees for Best Supporting Actress. And don't buy the "for public consumption" explanation Duvall gave the press saying that he was laughing because James Caan was making faces from the audience. Though it's nothing compared to U.S. norms today, Shelly Winters' weight was a major source of comedy and comment, a Johnny Carson monologue staple, and all anyone could talk about in 1972. HERE

The internet is loaded with information, fansites, trivia, casting factoids, reunion videos, and clips pertaining to The Poseidon Adventure film and any one of its numerous stage incarnations.
Copyright © Ken Anderson

33 comments:

  1. This is the first you've ever written about POSEIDON ADVNETURE? I feel like we've talked about it a lot on this blog.

    I'm one of those rabid fans who view POSEIDON as a true classic rather than a "minor classic". Campy performances, soap opera plotting, wicked stunts and terrifying death scenes -- this has become the template for the short-lived disaster movie craze of the 70s. I view TOWERING INFERNO as the crown prince to POSEIDON'S grand queen in the disaster flick genre. I was obsessed with this movie as a kid. I was still in elementary school when it came out in theaters, but we all managed to see it at only 12 and 11 years old. I remember corralling my friends at recess and leading them in recreations of all the action scenes. I always wanted to replicate Acres' backwards plunge death on the jungle gym. Of course there was no water to break my fall so I had to twist my body at the last minute to land on my hands and knees on the sandy ground which I did only successfully two or three times. Mostly I scraped my knees and palms and ruined some school pants, too. A life as a stunt man was definitely not in my future.

    Stella Stevens! -- love her as Linda. Such an unabashed scene stealer whenever she's on screen in this. What a shock when she falls to her death. You really want her to make it. Mike's heartbreaking cries followed by the rage of Rev. Scott: "How many more, God? How many more do you have to take?" Oh wow. Gave me chills as a kid. It might still have that effect on me.

    Shelley Winters never shut up about the weight she gained and then claimed she could never shed on every damn talk show from Carson to Merv back then. I can still hear her make jokes about it in my warehouse of a memory: "I can't walk by a bakery anymore. I only have to inhale and I gain five pounds."

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    1. Hi JF Norris
      The true test of a film's enduring excellence to a young viewer is when it inspires a playground game. Since my sisters and I used to play "The Derby" from THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY? in our backyard as kids, I can well imagine the enthusiasm which inspired you to turn recess into THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE: The Playschool Edition.
      This is indeed a wonderfully entertaining film, and I think if I shaved about 5 or 6 years off my age when first seeing it, I have no doubt I would consider THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE a genuine classic.
      A well-told story with heroism, action, and child-size depictions of adults (easy to comprehend and identify)...plus, the whole upside-down world premise is the stuff of accessible fantasy. It's a great "fairy tale" type movie because the action isn't good vs evil battles like superhero movies; it's individuals placed in a difficult situation and struggling to find things within themselves.
      I've read reviews that have likened this film's appeal for young people to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because the young relate to stories that serve as metaphors for growth, compassion, and self reliance.

      One of the things I respect about the film more now than I realized when I first saw it was that, given that the cast was well-known but all were more or less on the same "level" - there really was a lot of suspense built into not knowing who would go next.
      Later, when the genre got around to courting bigger stars, suspense was watered down significantly because you always knew who was going to go based on star salary!
      I can only imagine how heady this movie must have seemed to you at your age. The size of it, the likable characters, the unexpected deaths. No wonder you were hooked!
      And I'm glad you remember how Shelley Winters was always such a character on talk shows. She always went on and on about how much weight she had to gain for the film, and while true, if you see her in the films she made just preceding POSEIDON (WHATS THE MATTER WITH HELEN, WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO) it's fair to say she starting "getting into character" quite a while before.
      Ah, and Stella Stevens...what kid didn't have a crush on her brassy Linda?
      Thanks for reading this and commenting, JF. This is one of those films I think most people would have thought I'd covered long ago, it's that iconic for fans of 70s films. I'm glad I waited at least long enough to be able to read about your memories of seeing it as a kid. Thanks!

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    2. JF and Ken - you both played "TPA" too???? So did I! We used to play during recess, and at home I used the little Fisher Price figures to re-enact the story!!

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  2. Never heard of it...

    Ha ha! Needless to say, this film had quite an impact on me. As I was only 5 when it came out, I actually saw "The Towering Inferno" first (when I was 7!) My initial exposure to "The Poseidon Adventure" was on TV -black & white, even (and it was shattering to my young eyes!) I don't have much in the way of a bucket list, but I think I'd have to put seeing TPA on the big screen on there if I did. There are certain types of people, be it that they were a similar age or had a similar love of the unusual (an upside-down cruise ship, fer cryin' out loud!) for whom this is more than a movie. It's an encompassing emotional experience that leaves its brand on ones psyche. I used to think I was completely alone in this until the Internet came along and exposed us all to one another.

    Oh, before I forget, MAD's name for Mr. Rogo was "Mr. Rougho." I recall feeling a strange stirring when the survivors came upon the ship's doctor leading some other passengers to potential safety and among them was a Speedo-clad Mark Spitz!! LOL My love for TPA was so intense that I hated to see it made fun of by MAD, yet I couldn't deny how much of it was spot-on.

    While I always enjoy your writing and typically agree with virtually all of it, I think I depart just a smidge when it comes to your description of the disaster movie acting styles. Meaning - I think the more intensely dedicated the performance, the more entertaining (for all the right OR all the wrong reasons) the performance becomes. Hackman is clearly all in. There's even spittle coming from his mouth in one big crying scene. And Borgnine is, too. (I also love that shot of him with the fire underneath!) Winters, Stevens... they're indelible and giving it their utmost. Just that one glimpse of Winters about to dive put a thick lump in my throat. The intensity she gives to that sequence is staggering. And Stevens never lets one moment go without texture of some sort, filling in the blanks of her 2-D character. (I love her facial reaction to Belle's demise - containing guilt, regret and sympathy - and it only lasts a moment before it's interrupted.) My one and only wish for her was that her fall had been handled better. She is shown basically tottering off the scaffolding without much emphasis. I think her gritty character might have grasped at life a bit more and it would have been neat to see her at least reaching out for a railing or something to cling to.

    But, anyway, I digress... I really enjoyed seeing Lemmon in his atypical role as the heroic airline pilot and de Havilland is an unintentional scream as Miss Schuster. But above all are the unforgettably shrewy Ava Gardner, A-C-T-I-N-G in all caps through "Earthquake" and Method maven Lee Grant going balls out in "Airport '77." The performers who DON'T give everything they can in these movies tend to be the ones I skip over in my mind. I think it's why Chuck Heston found such success in the genre. He couldn't help himself from acting as if the movie needed Moses to come in and free the people! ha ha!

    I thoroughly enjoyed this, though. I echo the other commentor who thought you'd already done it before!

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    1. Part II (LOL - "Beyond The Poseidon Adventure?")

      I think Susan's hot-pants would have worked a lot better if we'd seen them earlier. There's a TINY glimpse of them when she jumps from the table and lands on the taut tablecloth, but your mind isn't on them then. Had she been shown with them on in her cabin getting ready or even beneath her skirt on the dance floor (or even as she gets up from the dinner table to go dance - something!) it might not have seemed so convenient when she just doffs her skirt and "abrakadabra" - there she is ready to climb!

      BTW, I FINALLY was able to see a movie I'd been looking for for decades ("Counterpoint") and Leslie Nielsen, while underutilized, was effective and believable in a dramatic role (something he had great trouble with in the wake of "Airplane!" and "The Naked Gun," though he needn't have complained as those films and others gave him a terrific third act for his career!) People who've only seen the comedy films have trouble buying him in earlier things, sometimes with good reason when his line readings hit close to the latter, kooky stuff!

      Lastly, you're so right about dear Irwin and how his greatest movies were ones in which he collected the awesome cast and handled the action himself, but then turned the dramatics over to someone like Ronald Neame or John Guillerman. When he took the helm 100%, the results were pretty dire!

      Thanks!

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    2. Ha! Well, Poseidon, there was no way I could write about this and not think about you. All of us who really love movies have a film that means something special to us. We respond to it in a way unique, acknowledging the genuine merits of the film, yet aware how it’s all tied in with an emotional experience.
      Although XANADU changed the course of my life, and CASINO ROYALE was the film that made me really love movies (imagine that!), my ROSEMARY’S BABY is my POSEIDON (it got into my psyche and is now a part of my DNA), so I know exactly how deeply your feelings for this film run.
      I had to go back and re-read your comments on the film and how you came to know of it, and indeed, the through line of those most affectionately drawn to POSEIDON are those who saw it when they were young. It’s very touching and a marvelous dissertation on the power and magic of film.

      I hope one day you get the thrill of seeing POSEIDON on the big screen with an audience. When I saw it in the 70s, the audience was all over it; laughing in the right places, caught up in the drama and pathos. When I saw it in the late 80s, it was equally fabulous, and nostalgia and a wry self-awareness had been added to the mix. Although there were more laughs heard, there was clearly a lot more nostalgic affection, too.

      Thanks so much for remembering MAD magazine’s name for Borgnine’s character! I’ll amend the caption. Boy, those writers had a marvelous ear for satire.

      Your appreciation for the performances and acting in POSEIDON and disaster films is well-considered and the perfect counterpoint to my feelings. I think you are spot-on in noting that the players have a commitment to their roles, and there is often a lot more going on than is obvious at first viewing.
      I find Hackman really one-note, but Stevens and Borgnine are amazing.

      I’m older than you so I think my having gone through the 3 stages of film acting: the affected, theatrical style of the studio era; then the 60s era of what I call “TV emoting,” a style I associate with this film and movie like HARLOW, THE OSCAR, Valley of the Dolls; and finally, the naturalistic style of the late ’60 & ‘70s, which is my favorite.
      But while of love that style, naturalistic acting looks zombified in a disaster film (Katharine Ross in THE SWARM), hence my feeling that the “big” playing in POSEIDON is ideal for the genre.

      As for Susan’s hot pants reveal, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s something reminiscent of a Carol Burnett Show spoof about the way Scott says “You have to get rid of that gown” and whoosh! off comes the skirt and Susan’s ready for action. It’s like she becomes Wonder Woman in that moment and it’s the single most ballsy thing she does in the whole film.

      I’ve never seen the Leslie Nielsen film you mentioned, but it’s funny when I try to convey to a younger person what a shock it was for many of us to discover that the solid, stiff, officious, actor we’d grown up with was also a gifted and rubber-faced comic actor. Like Candice Bergen, George Hamilton, & Raquel Welch, I love it when frosty stars reveal themselves in later years to be funny and good sports about themselves.
      Thank you very much, Poseidon for being so gracious in regard to my essay on your namesake. It’s quite a kick to see Poseidon here in the comments section for Poseidon! Cheers!

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    3. I really love your "3 stages of film acting" thing! I'm so tacky I probably prefer the middle stage the best! LOL When you got to Katharine Ross in "The Swarm," I literally chortled out loud. PERFECT illustration of what you're saying. Somehow, Genevieve Bujold, who is a similarly natural actress (right?) came away less scathed during "Earthquake." But then she had Mark Robson at the helm and not Mr. Allen (as much as I love him.)

      As for Nielsen, YES. Same goes with Peter Graves suddenly appearing as a crafty pedophile or Lloyd Bridges doing all his crazy stuff in "Airplane!" and "Hot Shots." We'd only seen these people in 100% STRAIGHT roles, lending a hand to 100s of episodes of episodic TV and TV-movies.

      I know there are a few people out there in cyberland who resent the fact that I go by the handle of "Poseidon" because they feel I have no right to claim "ownership" of it (the movie brings out such personal feelings in some of us, as we've already discussed.) I picked it almost twenty years ago (as an imdb.com reviewer), not as an egotistical or possessive thing at ALL, but simply as a tribute to a movie I all but worshiped for most of my life. And there was a time when '70s disaster movies faced a serious backlash in the media and in books and even among many film fans. (So many film history books would either skip it altogether or write one or two sentences about the whole genre when truly it did dominate the box office for a fair amount of time!) I wanted to keep the name out there as much as I could and perhaps draw people to the movie so that they could be converted to it. I think it - and others from around that time - began to regain a bit of its luster when the neo-disaster flicks, which were LOADED with CGI, came about and were soulless, dreary, under-dressed affairs with no staying power or dramatic legs. (The remake epitomizing this!) Suddenly, the ones with old-fashioned craftsmanship and TONS of memorable, beloved, famous performers didn't look too bad after all.

      Oh, and as you and others were tossing about name of "almost" passengers on the S.S. Poseidon, don't forget that the very first choice for Belle Rosen was (allegedly) Esther Williams, Hollywood's bathing beauty-retired!! Husband Fernando Lamas reportedly put the quash on it. That would really have been a sight...! (One might expect John Bromfield or Ricardo Montalban to come out from a deluged portal and join her in the big swim!! LOL)

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    4. I'm glad you brought up Genevieve Bujold! Though I don't know how she did it, she came through EARTHQUAKE really well. Even when playing opposite the almost otherworldly Charlton Heston, she never seems out of place, wrong for the genre, or acting in an entirely different film.
      Also, the point you made about the disaster film genre having come into its own is similar to the tact I initially had in mind for this piece. When I first saw it, critics hated it but audiences loved it. Then in the 80s, it was a huge camp thing to laugh at (I saw a stage production in which the "hot steam" preventing them from their final escape was a hunky actor with STEAM written across his chest, posed against the bulkhead and blowing smoke from a cigarette in everyone's faces). Finally, just as you note, so many big budget films proved that getting the tone of a disaster flick right was a lot harder than it looked, and all of a sudden POSEIDON and the others began to be treated with some respect. Certainly the bland kind of stars we have today make the stars of 70s disaster films look a lot more stellar.
      Much like how I felt a tad proprietal about XANADU because I was holding the mantle for it long before it suddenly became a cult hit and "cool" to say you liked it: I think your long-standing appreciation of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE during its unpopular phase through to its progression from punchline to classic, grants you a few privileges regarding the use of the name.
      And yes, I'd read about Esther Williams being considered! Can you imagine. What the film would have gained in nostalgic authenticity (at least we'd actually believe she was once a swim champ) would so totally throw off the arc of Belle's story and the surprise element of her heroism. With Williams in the role, from the moment the ship turned over the audience would be waiting for her to go into her stuff. You might know this, did Williams and lamas ever make an appearance on "The Love Boat"?

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    5. 'nando did a two-part ep of "The Love Boat" a couple of years prior to his death, but Esther never acted again beyond the early-1960s. She popped up in many documentaries, talk shows, specials, but no acting. So TPA would have been a grand, if bizarre, way to cap her career rather than the fizzle she did in '63 (whose name I cannot even recall!) It's surprising that she never took the bait and popped up on "Fantasy Island," "Hotel" or even "Murder, She Wrote." Lord knows practically everyone else did!

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  3. Excellently done article, five stars!

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    1. Wow! Thank you very much, Tommy! And thanks, too, for linking me on your terrific site amongst so many exceptional movie blogs. Much appreciated!

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  4. Always a treat to see a new post and one of my absolute favs from childhood no less! Love how you put the films into the context of their times. Wonder about Vietnam etc.. and the absolute heaviness of the other movies of that year you mention. Do we need the familiar actors & tropes of disaster movies to safely digest the horrors we need to process?
    Everyone has their Christmas ornaments out early in 2017. Thanks for the present!Adeferrer

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    1. Hello Ade
      I think you're totally onto something in explaining just why the disaster film craze even took off. Part was a response to the nihilism, cynicism, and overall heaviness of the more socially self-reflective movies of the era; another seemed to be a place to channel the uncertainty of the times.
      In a time of disillusionment, disaster films were oddly comforting in their way. Instead of the seemingly insurmountable man-made worries of war and corrupt government, disaster films featured natural calamities or situations in which individual effort triumphed. They made a lot of people who were otherwise feeling hopeless feel as though THEY could exert some influence over their fates.
      I don't doubt in the least that what we're seeing this holiday season is a bit of "We Need a Little Christmas!!" desperation in response to a 11 months of an absolutely dreadful daily onslaught of bad news.
      Pleased to hear this film is a childhood favorite of yours as well (I've yet to hear from anyone who saw this as an adult. I'm curious to know if it comes across differently). Thank you very much for reading and commenting!

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  5. Ken, I’ve been waiting for this one for so long!! I **LOVE** this movie!! This, along with HELLO, DOLLY!, CHITTY/BANG, AIRPORT, and SOUND OF MUSIC – how’s that for a “mix”? - were introduced to me early in life and have influenced my tastes greatly. The film is spectacular – no CGI HERE!!! Everything was done with good old Hollywood ingenuity. That capsizing scene is epic – surely one of the most memorable scenes in film history. The characters are endearing (this is one disaster film that doesn’t have a villain that you want to see “get it”, like Richard Chamberlain in TOWERING INFERNO or Robert Wagner in AIRPORT ’79). The music is SUPERB – what a score John Williams came up with. That opening main title music literally gives me chills (in fact as I’m writing, I’m getting them). I always get very affected by Borgnine’s scene after Linda’s fall, and the closing scene – all getting into the helicopter with the music swelling, and then the picture fading out to the credits - always makes my eyes fill up.

    As I mentioned above, my faves up to this point were those musicals I listed (AIRPORT came after I saw TPA). How odd that this 9 year old suddenly was swept away by this rather violent non-musical!! This developed an appetite for disaster movies (All four AIRPORTS, EARTHQUAKE, TOWERING INFERNO) which I still cherish along with my musicals.

    The casting was superb, the performances terrific. Did you know that Petula Clark and Gene Wilder were offered the roles of Nonnie and Martin? That was interesting!

    I agree about Olivia in THE SWARM (yikes! – the “public address” scene was a hoot in itself). I did think Jack Lemmon was terrific in AIRPORT ’77 though. I thought he brought his usual professionalism to the role, and it’s so easy to “ham up” a role in a disaster flick. I enjoy it when A-listers like Hackman, Lemmon, Newman, Holden or Lancaster are involved 

    Thank you AGAIN for another wonderful article about one of my favorites!!!



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    1. Hi Michael
      I like the fact that the one thing all those films you listed as your favorites have in common is the "Event" element of going to the movies when I was growing up. All were intended to be seen on the big screen as spectacles, some had intermissions and entr'acte music, all felt a little bit like being transported. If there is anything I miss about being young (and there's not a lot) it's that ability to be so totally caught up in the movie experience. no analyzing, no awareness of behind-the-scenes trickery, no idea of movie contracts and billing; just being taken to another work that exists with a magnificent movie palace that looks like a movie-lover's cathedral.
      THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is old-fashioned in all the best ways. I too love the lack of CGI, and you bring up an excellent point about their not being a villain!
      I'd never thought of that before, but I believe it's a contributing factor as to why kids took to this movie so strongly. Kids shouldn't be encouraged to wish for a bad guy's death. So much better that the film has kids rooting for all these people to make it. It's so compassionate.
      Old fogey that I am, I worry about movies and video games today that have kids rooting for a high body count. Amazing that this movie is one most people look back on and they all say that Shelley Winters' death really affected them as a kid.
      From your comments on this blog, you've always struck me as someone who has been able to keep your youthful wonder at the magic of movies alive. That's a great gift!

      While researching this piece I'd read about some of the early casting choices. I love the idea of Petula Clark & Gene Wilder. I think it was on the AFI site that I'd read Sally Kellerman was considered for the Nonnie role, as well. I guess she had her eye on a disaster film of another kind (LOST HORIZON).

      Incredibly, theres a news item somewhere (I think the FB Poseidon page) where Shelley Winters was is claiming (I hope tongue-in-cheek) that they had originally called her in to read for the role of Linda! That Shelley had a vivid imagination when it came to talking to the press.
      Lastly, even though I'm not fond of Lemmon in Airport 77, I really like A-list stars in disaster films, too. Once they started casting all those nondescript, B-list, disposable types (When Time Ran Out), i knew the genre was on its last legs.
      Always a treat hearing from you, Michael! Thanks for sharing your fondness for the big screen spectacle (musical or otherwise) with us!

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  6. Hi Ken, I so deeply appreciated and was touched by your comment about “keeping the youthful wonder” – yes, I do!! When I sit down to a musical or one of my favorite disaster movies, it’s like being on a roller coaster waiting for it to start.
    I loved it when movies were “events”. I only saw FIDDLER ON THE ROOF as a roadshow – at the Rivoli Theater in NYC in July 1972. My mom bought the tickets weeks in advance, and when the big day came, I was ecstatic. HUGE 70mm screen, intermission, and souvenir programs. Some of my other favorites like CHITTY or DOLLY were roadshowed, but I saw them in either the neighborhood theaters with my parents or on TV. Even non-roadshow movies like POSEIDON, EARTHQUAKE or THE GODFATHER were *huge* events then! Now, all we get are empty CGI laden, explosion filled action/superhero movies or rom-coms that close in less than a week. And all movies show up on home video mere weeks after being in (and out) of the theaters. The magic of the presentation is gone. TPA was also my first taste of a serious, dramatic movie.


    I fondly also recall when a big film would make its TV network premiere. The TV Guide Fall edition would list all the movies coming to TV that season, and before the showing, there would be tons of TV spots and “bumpers” announcing the showing. In fact, when TPA came to TV in October 1974, it was anticipated in my house like a holiday! Again, no more. Movies go straight to cable or to the local TV stations without a network showing.

    It was through the 70’s disaster movies that I became familiar with many of our greatest stars – Gloria Swanson, Shelley Winters, Myrna Loy, Jennifer Jones, William Holden, Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, Helen Hayes, Carol Lynley, James Stewart, Ava Gardner. I’m grateful for that.

    (POSSIBLE SPOILER)
    The two deaths that affected me most in disaster-dom were Shelley Winters and Jennifer Jones in INFERNO. I *did not* see those coming. They were both lovable, selfless characters that made ultimate sacrifices after performing works of mercy. In both films, I was heartbroken and shocked!

    Yes, WHEN TIME RAN OUT was dreadful. So was THE SWARM! Ugh. AIRPORT ’79 had flaws but it was enjoyable, although I’d love to re-work the SFX and do some editing. BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE – urrrgggh….

    Thank you so much for your lovely compliment about my posts! I always love your blog!!

    Mike



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  7. Hi Ken - yayyy, you have captured all the goofy charm of one of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time! It ignited in me a love of all-star disaster films that persists to this day...

    LOVED that one of your favorite moments is also one of mine--the passengers attempting to "groove" to the mournful "Morning After" ballad...always makes me laugh. And Roddy's muddled accent is another highlight...though it's such a pleasure to see him onscreen without his Cornelius mask!

    Thanks also for the historical context - 1972 was really a big big year for movies, in a league with 1939 - and it's understandable how the titanic Poseidon would get lost in the shuffle...

    I watch this at least once a year, and now it's time again, thanks to you! (New Year's theme!!)

    -Chris

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  8. Hey Chris!
    This movie pretty much lit the fire of affection for disaster movies for all of us, didn't it? Whether talking to those who love it or hate it, it's always such a pleasure for me to hear about reactions to THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE...it was such a phenomenon and it has endured for so long.
    Wonderful that you, too, found amusement in those poor soon-t-be-capsized revelers struggling to get-down to the easy-listening music of Nonnie's band. And given that this is a film with so many online tribute sites, has anyone ever nailed down McDowall's accent?
    And you're right about 1972 being such a big year for films, coming out at the end of the year as it did, it really was swallowed up (for me, anyway) in the hoopla surrounding those other releases.
    In talking to my sister about this time recently, she reminded me that we thought it might be a war film or some kind of boring sea epic. The name POSEIDON was meaningless to us then, and the roster of TV-familiar, but not 1970's hot cast members must have contributed to its invisibility for me.
    Like you, I seem to watch this one at least once a year. Thank you, Chris, for reading this and sharing your comments. This film is really in a lot of film fans' youthful DNA!

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  9. I don't think the special effects are cheesy at all. On the contrary. They are real, real fire, real water and the element of danger was visible. There are very few prefect movies but this damn near close and I like to call it the best "Popcorn Movie" ever made. When this opened in NY it was the first attraction of a brand new theater called The National (now the "Good Morning America" studio) located in Times Square in 70MM. The marquee had panels and it had the ship up and then flip to the logo upside down. I've been lucky enough to meet a lot of the cast and have the Special Edition DVD signed by Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Carol Lynley, Eric Shea, Pamela Sue Martin and Leslie Nielsen. When I gave the DVD to Mr Nielsen to sign I said, this is all your fault, you were too busy flirting with the blonde. He laughed and said "Oh no, I take no responsibility!" Lovely man. Great movie.

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    1. There is no denying that for a great many people, The Poseidon Adventure is indeed the ideal "Popcorn Movie." Time has been kind to this film, and even those who once felt it was far out of step with the times in the '70s, have warmed to it.
      That's a terrific memory of having seen it in 70mm at The National. There really is nothing like seeing this on the big screen. I also think it helps if one is relatively young the first time seeing it, and therefore not overly familiar with the tropes of the many disaster films that followed in its wake.
      Being such a big fan of the movie, it must have been a major thrill getting to meet so many of the cast members.
      Thanks for sharing your thought and memories of this beloved film!

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  10. Ken, Would you believe I have seen this since it was in the theaters back in '72? As a junior high kid, I was both thrilled and too cool for school! I remember when one of the extras died, a girl ahead of me shrieked. And I piped up, "Don't worry, he's just a nobody!" And my uncle's girlfriend, sitting in front of me, turned and said, "Everybody's a somebody!" My smart ass self was mortified! Cheers, Rick

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  11. Hi Rick
    Is your first sentence indicating you HAVEN'T seen this film since 1972?! This is one of the movies known for its high ratio of fans who've seen it multiple times. If that is the case, you owe yourself a revisit in Blu-ray...it looks like a totally new movie!

    Sounds like you were a pretty film savvy junior high schooler to have the presence of mind to reassure a patron that a "nobody" had died! Ha!
    With her rejoinder, it seems your uncle's girlfriend instantly became an indelible part of your memory of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Thanks, Rick! Great to hear from you.

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  12. This was the big Christmas movie of 1972. I was newly 16 and saw it during Christmas break. The suspense leading up to the wave hitting the ship was memorable, but once the ship capsizes, then what? I spent the rest of the movie engaging in a 16 year old gay boy's crush on dreamy Roddy McDowall. It didn't help that I had already discovered Ken Russell and "The Music Lovers," that Irwin Allen failed to get Roddy's shirt off, and that they killed him!

    With these huge problems against it, the film never captured my heart, despite being permanently a part of the culture from the day it premiered. A few years ago, I saw a DVD in a thrift store and laid out my 99 cents to look again and see if my youthful eye had missed something. It was certainly a well made movie and, to the best of my recollection, the best of the disaster films. Towering Inferno? No. Roller Coaster? Certainly not. And does anyone remember Black Sunday, where a Vietnam veteran with PTSD arms the Goodyear blimp, trying - and failing! - to blow up the Super Bowl? Heavens, no! Poseidon Adventure has a lot of beautiful performances and a lot of heart. It gave Shelley Winters her best role and she gave it her best performance. But the genre just doesn't work for me. Waiting around to see who is going to be next reminds me too much of the '80's and 90's. No thanks.

    But most importantly, in 1973 one could not escape that damned song. It was everywhere. It never stopped being played. That was another reason not to bond with this film. The song is toxic. The cheap slickness of the song is underscored by the way Maureen McGovern bleated it out. The very next year, she was back with another one for "The Towering Inferno," and the first one hadn't gone away yet. Manufactured music for mass marketing. Even at 16 I turned my nose up at it.

    McGovern eventually abandoned singing shitty songs in great big movies and came to Broadway where I had the great pleasure and surprise to discover she's a really great artist and a wonderful, wonderful singer. Her work as the replacement Luisa Contini in NINE was splendid, both as an actress and singer. She played Mabel for a long time in the Public Theater's "Pirates of Penzance." She has a very fine legit voice. On Broadway, McGovern subsequently played Polly Peachum in Threepenny Opera with Georgia Brown and Sting, and a musical version of Little Women. She's also sung jazz with some distinction. McGovern can probably do anything musically. Hollywood has a vexing way of not recognizing talent and skill, while focusing on type and whether one is photogenic.

    Thanks for the discussion on this film. It's good to consider the ways one connects, or not, to a particular film. Best wishes and a disaster free holiday for you, Ken, and all your loved ones.

    Tush

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    1. Argyle here. With all due respect to "The Poseidon Adventure" (and the great blog it inspired: Poseidon's Underworld) and the feeling that it was possibly the last film I was able to lose myself in, 14 years old and aging fast, I totally relate to George's comments. And the info on Maureen McGovern is so welcome. My sisters and I unfairly but thoroughly trashed her and Carol Lynley for years afterward. I guess a young set of fangs needs a soft target. I've really enjoyed this discussion. Happy holidays to all the "dreamers."

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    2. Hi Argyle
      As is so often the case when you comment, your words spark ideas for future essays. I think the challenge and dream of every true film fan is to maintain one's sense of wonder about movies even as we age and grow more cinema-savvy.
      For each of us there came a time when we were not able to lose ourselves as completely in a film as we once had, and your comment intrigues me because I now wonder what film that might have been for the readers of this blog.
      It's a gift to be able to suspend ones disbelief time and time again in the face of decades' worth of film exposure, but it would be fun to contemplate and discuss what particular film signaled the loss of ones innocence, or (as you say THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE was for you) what movie was the last we saw with "innocent" eyes.
      No one in my small circle of friends (myself included) saw anything particularly corny or camp about THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE when it came out, but how long did that kind of movie naivete last? Hmmm...bears some thinking about.
      A lot of interesting things were going on in music in the '70s, so I think all of us must have been a tad hard on Maureen McGovern and the kind of Lawrence Welk version of "youth" music this film's theme song represented. I still can't stand the song, but I no longer blame the dubbing messenger.
      Thanks for adding so tactfully to the balance of POSEIDON feedback here, Argyle, you're a welcome contributor and I wish you a very happy holiday!

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    3. Ms. McGovern from her concert at Wolf Trap. I cued it up for her Gershwin medley (which precedes a wee treat for the Poseidon Adventure fans.) She doesn't really have 'star quality,' but she has talent and skill to burn.

      https://youtu.be/XF_G0H0VBSY?t=1972

      To clarify my distant relationship with disaster movies, I would associate them with Science Fiction films, which also don't suck me in. Both genres create a world in which anything can happen. You either like that, or you don't. I find that it dilutes dramatic tension. Once the Poseidon rolls over... anything can explode, burn, collapse, or flood. Earthquakes have their own chaotic world. Fires do, too. Within them, once the regular order is tossed aside, the film makers can cause anything to happen.

      SciFi does that same thing. The ray gun in your pocket can do anything; cause any problem, or solve any problem. If a character survives, or kicks the bucket, it's up to the whim of the writer. It's all Sharknado to me, (but Sharknado made me laugh.)

      The menace of an out of control roller coaster or angry bee swarm is nothing like the menace of a place and time in which Nora has no choice but to go mad or abandon everything and go out the door.

      I may still be lost in The Birds. Hitchcock scared me to death with that one when I was eight years old. I don't like birds to... this... day!

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  13. Hi George
    Thank you for providing a little perspective and a welcome (to me, anyway) look at the flip side to The Poseidon Adventure love fest. I adore this film dearly, but fully recall that the current wave of affection for the the film is very different from the lack of respect it got in serious film circles back in 1972.
    When a film like this starts to enter the realm of "classic" in contemporary eyes, I like to hear a few counterpoint opinions to balance out the fandom.
    I know several people for whom the disaster film genre was never much of a draw, or those who rank this film far below "The Towering Inferno"...it just serves as a good reminder that no matter how much a film is taken to the bosom by the masses, there are others who hold solid and valid opinions to the contrary.
    As to your crush on Roddy McDowall, I often wonder (given how many films I saw him in while growing up) why I never developed a thing for him. He always had a boyish something or other going for him, but I just never connected somehow.

    As much as I like this movie, I've never been able to stand "Morning After" or the truly horrid "We May Never Love Like This Again" from INFERNO. So much so that I (from the sound of it, wrongly) wrote Maureen MmcGovern off and avoided her like the plague. Apparently there is considerably more to her than there very Helen Reddy-esque songs would indicate.
    Lastly, you mentioned Black Sunday...that one (due primarily to myinfatuation with Marthe Keller) is a favorite of mine. I just have such a lousy copy of it that I haven't got around to writing about it.
    I really did enjoy the whole disaster film craze up until "The Swarm" and "Avalance," but as I say, it's helpful to give some equal time to those who were around for these releases and found them to be very resistible.
    Wishing you and yours a Happy Turkey-Free Holiday (movie-wise, that is) and thank you very much for the sentiments!

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  14. A wonderful assessment of a movie that seems to get more entertaining with each passing year. (I try to do an annual viewing around New Year's Eve).
    I can remember thinking before it opened that it sounded terribly cheesy (I knew Irwin Allen from my "kiddie matinee" days at flicks like "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "Five Weeks in a Balloon").
    Then I saw "Poseidon" and loved almost every minute of it.
    I agree about the genuine horror of Stella Stevens' death (and Borgnine's reaction). It always chokes me up. It amazes me how many major characters died in the final reels of 1970s era movies!
    Thanks for stirring so many fond memories.

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    1. Thanks, Joe
      I'm surprised (although I suppose I shouldn't be) learning how many have POSEIDION as their annual New Year's film! I think had I been aware of this film pre-release, I likely would have had a reaction similar to yours. I enjoyed AIRPORT, but as movies grew more daring in the early 70s, I''m certain I would have regarded the premise and particulars of POSEIDON to be more suited to TV fare.
      Happily for both of us, we allowed ourselves to be swept up by the film's power to entertain.

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  15. Ken,

    I always enjoy reading about your experiences watching movies in the 1970s because they help me remember my own. I was 11 in 1972, a few years younger than you, and, as I recall, movies like Cabaret, The Godfather, What’s up Doc? and the others you mentioned were not on my radar that year. But The Poseidon Adventure? That was the movie event of the year as far as I was concerned.

    I still remember the trailer so well with the man falling into the ceiling light and the wall of water coming towards the ship, an overwhelming image that still makes me shiver. That winter, just about every kid in my class saw the movie and for a week or two the main topic during recess was developing a strategy to survive a ship capsizing. (The consensus was that you had to run down the tilting floor as fast as possible and avoid the rolling piano.) And “ There’s Got To Be A Morning After” seemed to be on every radio station and TV variety show.

    I watched this again on New Year’s Day last January and I was pleased to see how well it held up. Disaster movies are like murder mysteries or romantic comedies: there’s a formula for making them but the balance of ingredients is very difficult to get right. Happily, the Poseidon Adventure had a near perfect recipe. The “motley crew pulling together to overcome danger” cliché may be well worn, but when it’s done right, it’s compelling. The sacrifices were noble, the deaths were unexpected, the journey was truly harrowing and in the end, the escape was earned and a relief. I had forgotten how much the image of the lights going out on the capsized ship filled me with dread as a kid and how it still did today. And I am still haunted by the group of survivors going in the opposite direction. The idea of thinking you’re headed to safety but are really walking to your doom is too bleak to contemplate for any length of time.

    There are parts of this movie that are hokey, corny and campy, but at its core The Poseidon Adventure is earnest and it works hard to deliver on its promise to entertain and thrill us. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, which is refreshing. The movie reminds of the old saying, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you find the real tinsel underneath.” The Poseidon Adventure is a wonderful bunch of real tinsel. I think I'll watch it again on December 31.

    Michael


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    1. Hi Michael
      I got a big kick out of your memories regarding the release of POSEIDON. So many mirroring my own, especially the feeling that everyone in school had seen it and wanted to talk about it.
      The specifics of time and place easily come second to the emotional memories, and you capture very well what the pre-teen experience of this film was. Nice to know that after all these years you find it to hold up pretty well, too.
      Best of all, in describing the disaster film formula in terms of the detective film or romantic comedy, you shed light on the fact that these movies don't necessarily sink or swim based on the preponderance of cliches, but rather, as you put so well, the delicate balance of ingredients that is so hard to get right.
      Whatever POSEIDON had, Irwin Allen worked like a Trojan to recapture, and to my mind he never really did. Perhaps because after the success of POSEIDON he tried to cynically calculate and duplicate what worked with that film, which is akin to trying to capture lightning in a bottle.
      Oh, and you mentioned that unsettling shot of the survivors going the wrong way; that really bothered my sister at the time, too. Something rather ghostly about it.
      I've never read the novel (and most who have tell me it's not worth the trouble) but I always marveled at the right-headedness of the film adaptation jettison the novel's ending which revealed that many more survivors made it out alive by following that other fellow, casting an unpleasantly ironic pall on all those deaths brought about by following Reverend Scott's lead.
      Thank you for your thoughtful assessment of this film and for sharing the story of how you first came to know of it.

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  16. I still remember being TRANSFIXED, at the age of 9, by the glittering confetti Linda Rogo sported in her New Year's Eve cleavage. I thought it was the most incredible fashion idea ever.

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  17. Ha! That was a special effect in and of itself. Stella Stevens and that gown carried most of the film's glamour weight in the New Year's Eve sequence. I think that bit of decolletage glitter was helpful in POSEIDON maintaining its PG rating.
    Cheers, Foose!

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