The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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"Gene, put your clothes back on."
“Gene, put your clothes back on.”

Twitter Plot Summary: It’s New Year’s Eve! There’s a wave coming and a ship completely unprepared to deal with it! RAMMING SPEED!

Genre: Action/Adventure

Director: Ronald Neame

Key Cast: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson, Leslie Nielsen.

Five Point Summary:

1. He is serious. And don’t call him Shirley.
2. Hah, it’s Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory!
3. Ernest Borgnine makes pink look macho.
4. Seeing Gene Hackman with hair is weird.
5. Someone punch that kid in the face.

“The Poseidon Adventure! Gene Hackman plays a priest in it!” And thus, I received my introduction to the Poseidon Adventure via the genius that is Father Ted. Sadly for Ted and his priestly chums, watching the film didn’t solve their problem, that of rescuing Father Dougal from a “speeding” milk float, but it’s a classic of the disaster movie genre and if nothing else they’ll have had an entertaining couple of hours.

Gene Hackman does indeed play a priest, and the parallels to Father Ted become apparent – Hackman’s Reverend Scott was “banished” to the outskirts of the priesthood, yet unlike Ted Crilly he’s thoroughly enjoying himself and is a bit of a maverick. It’s probably a good thing, if he was your typical priest he may have insisted they all have a bit of a pray and probably would’ve drowned within five minutes.

Ensemble pieces are hit and miss depending on how the characters are introduced, how they’re presented within the context of the film, and so on. In quick succession we establish a multitude of characters within the first 15-20 minutes. Then we’re straight into the new year celebrations just as a huge wave approaches and, somewhat amusingly, flips the ship upside down. Unlike a lot of similarly-rated films, they’re not afraid to show death, injury and a smattering of the red stuff (blood, not ketchup.).

My mind has been tainted by Airplane and the Naked Gun movies, but seeing Leslie Nielsen in a serious role was confusing. I know at this stage he was still in “serious actor” mode, and Forbidden Planet was and remains a classic of the sci-fi genre, but hearing him say lines like “It must be mountainous!” just made me giggle for no apparent reason.

"This isn't what it looks like."
“This isn’t what it looks like.”

Ernest Borgnine does his usual shtick of shouting his lines., at first anyway. He slowly gets more nuanced as the film goes on and it’s actually a strong performance. I was too quick to judge him, it seems. As for Gene Hackman, he’s a commanding screen presence, and performs admirably in the lead role. Everybody else provides support in the form of a motley crew of survivors, all having distinct enough personalities to create conflict, but without delving too much into making them fully realised. Most are cyphers just so the group will argue at various essential points.

As is often the case in these big disaster films, they have to get from A to B while bickering all the way. Characters are randomly bumped off as the journey goes on. Fun is had seeing all of the normal sets flipped the opposite way round, watching the group slowly implode, and seeing everything get progressively more dirty and damaged. At times it’s genuinely shocking, and it’s nice to see a film and a script have the courage to do some of these things to its characters.

If I could go back in time and request one thing, it would be to have an option added to Gene Hackman’s contract optioning him to appear in “The Poseidon Adventure 2: The Sinkening”. It would be a direct follow-up to this film and see Hackman wondering around the empty corridors of the upturned liner like a 70s Phantom of the Opera. I’m sure it would have been excellent.

Favourite scene: The ship flipping over. Very nicely done for a 1972 production.

Quote: “They’re suppositories Mr Rogo. You don’t swallow them.” “Then what the hell do you do with them?”

Silly Moment:  A man trying to climb up a Christmas tree to escape the oncoming water. And failing.

Score: 3.5/5

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