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The Poseidon Adventure

July 14, 2012
RIP  Ernest Borgnine, the headlines read.  Yes the actor who had been one of my growing up cinematic memories, as a kid was no more. And as I saw the news, the memories flashed, one of The Wild Bunch, the drunken, abusive father in The Prince and the Pauper, the Russian defector Boris in Ice Station Zebra, the cabbie in Escape to New York, the Major in The Dirty Dozen.
But more than anything else, it was one movie of  Ernest Borgnine that stuck firmly in my mind. It was a movie special to me, as it was also the first movie I had seen in a theater on large screen. It was a movie that started my life long love-hate relationship with Hollywood, English cinema in general.  It was a movie that pioneered the trend of the 1970’s big budget, spot the star disaster movies. The Poseidon Adventure, was just the kind of movie Hollywood loves to make, big budget, multi star cast, big sets, thrills and throw in some high octane drama scenes. 
The Poseidon Adventure’s  tag line was “Hell Upside Down”, and in a way it did sum up what the movie was all about. The movie starts off with a captivating opening credits scene, set to John Williams  rather sombre, heavy sounding BGM, giving us an inkling of  what is to come. As the SS Poseidon is on it’s  fateful voyage across the Atlantic, we  get to see the characters.
So there is Captain  Harrison, one of the few serious roles played by Leslie Nielsen, who later on achieved  much more fame for his Naked Gun series. Harrison is reluctant to take the ship across in a rather stormy environment. Harrison has to put up with his business minded owners and their representative Linarcos, who orders the ship to run at full steam. This in spite of  the  fact that the ship does not have the necessary ballast.
You have  Mike Rogo( Ernest Borgnine),  a crusty, hard talking New York City cop, and his sea sick wife Linda( Stella Stevens).  Linda also happens to be an ex hooker, some one whom Mike had arrested  6 times and then in his own words “Well I had to figure out some way to keep you off the streets until you married me!”.

So what resolution should we make for the new year? Resolve to let God know that you have the guts and the will to do it alone. Resolve to fight for yourselves, and for others, for those you love. And that part of God within you will be fighting with you all the way.

Gene Hackman fresh from his Oscar winning triumph as the maverick cop Popeye Doyle in The French Connection,  again ends up playing a maverick here.  Actually a maverick Reverend  Frank Scott, who constantly questions faith and believes that God helps those who helps themselves. Wonder though if the role of the maverick Reverend  was written keeping in mind Hackman’s tough guy  image.  Scott is a very unlikely priest, he swears, he is tough, he is obstinate, hard talking. What else can you make of a Priest who  categorically tells “And sitting on our butts is not going to help us either”.
Carol Lynley
Pamela Sue Martin
You have the over smart kid  Robin( Eric Shea)  who loves exploring the ship, and his sister Susan (  Pamela Sue Martin), the singer  Nonnie(  Carol Lynley). Both Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin, do serve the purpose of fulfilling the leggy quotient, and of course enough of screaming later on in the movie.  Quite  a pity, because both of them were otherwise talented actresses.
Shelley Winters with Red Buttons( on right side) celebrating New Year.
Academy  award  winner  Shelley  Winters( The Diary of Anne Frank), is Belle Rosen, an elderly Jewish lady  travelling to meet her grandson in Israel along with her husband Manny Rosen. Comedian Red Buttons, is a shy haberdasher James Martin, who would be one of the survivors.
With the characters more or less set up,  the movie then moves into the real act, the disaster that strikes.  And  the disaster here  is in the form of a massive tidal wave, travelling at 60 mph. To those who  have been through  Titanic, The Perfect Storm, Pirates of Carribean series,  the  scene of the huge  tidal wave  striking the ship might seem quite tacky, more funny than actually scary. But in those days, on the huge screen, the scene did create an impact. The Captain sends a May day alert, and tries to turn the ship across, but it’s too late, as the tidal wave smashes into it. While the wave crashing the ship  does seem a bit tacky, the scene of the ship tilting is quite well picturized. As the ship  begins to turn turtle, we see the passengers, jolted out of their New year  reverie, dearly clutching on to life at  any thing they can. We feel their helplessness, as the ship begins to tilt back more and more. Considering the technology prevalent those days, I felt this was one of the best scenes ever shot.  More than the visual effects, director Ronald Neame, manages to convey the feeling of  fear, shock, helplessness, terror, that still makes an impact.
With the ship now turned upside down, there is only one way out for the passengers, to go from down to up.   Reverend Scott, makes the suggestion, and using the Christmas tree as a ladder, begins to get people out from the trapped area. However like in any good ole Hollywood movie, a whole lot of people begin to disagree with Scott’s idea, many calling it insane. The only characters who join Scott on his mission out of the Poseidon are the Rosens, Mike and Linda, Robin, his sister Susan, Nonnie and  Martin. In another  well picturized scene, the rest of the people reluctant to go along with Scott, begin to crowd up the Christmas tree, as the waters rush in, causing it to collapse.
Now  that  the survivors have been established,  the actual adventure commences. As the group makes it’s  way through  chimney shafts, narrow  alleyways, burning rooms, the tension is quite well maintained.  Again while some of the visual effects might look tacky, credit due to director Ronald Neame, for maintaining the tension quite well. It is not just the physical obstacles they face, it is also their  own conflicts they need to deal with. Especially the constant bickering between Scott and Rogo, two characters who seem to have no love lost for each other. In fact one of the major strengths of  Poseidon Adventure is the  face off scenes  between these two men, one a cop, another a priest, both equally egoistic, stubborn. The constant  bickering between them, is as much as a major source of tension for the group, as are the obstacles they face.
The Poseidon Adventure is pretty much popcorn entertainment, it is a kind of thrill ride, where you just need to sit back and enjoy, be thrilled.  The key factor of an entertainer is the way it is able to get the  viewers involved, and on that count, the movie scores quite well. Some of the action scenes  are quite  realistically shot, especially the one where the group tries to clamber up a vertical shaft, with swirling waters all around. The directors does manage to keep up the tension quite well, especially with  the  explosions going off at regular intervals, heightening the  sense of unease. More  important, this  is a disaster  movie where you do care for the characters, you feel the pain when some of them die. And this I guess is due to the performances of the lead cast.  Gene Hackman, taking off from where he left in The French Connection,  reprises his  maverick,tough guy act, turning out to be an unlikely leader and an even more unlikely priest. Ernest Borgnine, compliments him with his typical, over the top, gruff, performance, and he comes on to his own in the final scene. Shelley Winters  was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress, and deservedly so, she has one of the movie’s most poignant scenes. If  you are in the mood for  a good ole popcorn entertainer, go for it.

From → 70's Hollywood

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