(0056X) The Poseidon Adventure

The Poseidon AdventureDecember 17, 1972 | 6 weeks at #1

Seen by Martin before? No

What did I expect? A big, tacky, star-studded adventure about an ocean liner.

What did I get? With The Poseidon Adventure, we are firmly in the era of the disaster movie. Yes, there was Airport, but Airport was more of a stalwart melodrama in which the “disaster” was merely one of a number of elements. It’s impossible to summarize Airport in a coherent sentence, but you can express everything about The Poseidon Adventure in four words: A big ship capsizes. A hair better than Airport, it’s still overweeningly earnest and saturated in sodden silliness.

Mere minutes after midnight on New Year’s Eve, a tsunami rams the massive luxury liner Poseidon, causing it to execute a slow half-turn like a chicken on a rotisserie. Gene Hackman is Reverend Scott, a shouty, two-fisted, turtleneck-wearing priest who ferociously disdains the balm of prayer when manly action is available. (As the depth of the predicament becomes plain, Rev. Scott charmingly accuses a clerical colleague who insists on tending to the injured of wasting his life.)

Wearing a Scarlet A for “Agency,” Scott hollers for the erstwhile revelers to join him in his ascent to the (now-topside) hull as the only means of escape, but only a handful are game: those who don’t listen to Scott are mere sheep. The action is framed as a gauntlet of perilous, smoky challenges — vertical air shaft, engine room, who can remember.

Crammed with stilted attitudinizing, The Poseidon Adventure is as dogged in its pursuit of middlebrow mindshare as its bedraggled passengers are in their escape from the floating sepulchre. The stakes are so absurdly inflated that the movie can’t properly countenance the literally hundreds of corpses its protagonists have left behind or the ragtag group’s infinitesimal chances of survival. Maybe this shouldn’t matter, but it does end up mattering when so much rhetorical invective is invested in making the “right” choice.

Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters do a good job in a movie that doesn’t have a shred of fun about it. As you can probably tell, I find the main character something of an asshole, but that’s not Hackman’s fault. His gravelly baritone is ideal for the charged proceedings, and you believe that he damn well wants to save his little cluster of followers. To give The Poseidon Adventure its due, it delivers exactly what it promises, even if the visual possibilities of an upside-down ocean liner are not much explored. Its sappy, hard-nosed sentimentality has widespread appeal, although it hasn’t aged too well.

What here smacks of 1972? Roddy McDowall’s Harrison-esque Liverpudlian accent, perhaps.

IMDB score: 7.0

My score: 4

Director: Ronald Neame

Writers: Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes

Starring: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, Arthur O’Connell, Eric Shea, Fred Sadoff, Sheila Allen, Leslie Nielsen

IMDB synopsis: A passenger ship, on her way to the scrap yard is pushed to her limits by the new owners to save on the dismantling fees. A tidal wave hits her, flipping her over so that all the internal rooms are upside down. A priest takes a mixed band of survivors on a journey through the bowels of the ship in an attempt to survive.

Get it at Amazon!

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5 thoughts on “(0056X) The Poseidon Adventure

  1. Paula says:

    If it hadn’t been for Airport and The Poseidon Adventure, we wouldn’t have gotten Airplane – one the funniest movies ever made (IMHO)

    • I’m with you on Airplane, but remember, Airplane led to Airplane 2 and the Scary Movie franchise, so there’s no such thing as an unalloyed good in this world….

      I forgot to mention that the captain of the Poseidon (he perishes as soon as the tsunami hits) was played by a certain stony-faced actor named Leslie Nielsen, which in hindsight is pretty hilarious. It’s really funny to think that he was about 46 when he appeared in The Poseidon Adventure, and he had no way of knowing that he would become something of an international superstar in his 60s and 70s — he was 62 when the first Naked Gun movie came out. Pretty interesting career…..

  2. Joe Y. says:

    Hey Martin, I don’t know how much I have to add, but I wanted you to know I had never seen this before and I stayed up till 2:30 in the morning last night to watch this without commercials on HBO Family because I had just read about it on the blog.

    I stand by my general assessment that the ’70s were the greatest decade for movies. How else could you explain how even a ham-fisted mess like this is rendered watchable? However, I still don’t understand what happened to Shelley Winters. But it was late, so maybe her condition was telegraphed and I didn’t notice, or possibly something about her was revealed in the first 10 minutes, which I admit I missed.

    • I apologize, Joe — at the same time I’m pleased to hear it. I just went back and rewatched the first reel, and I don’t think there’s anything you missed, no reference to a heart condition or anything like that. And if there had been such a reference, in a movie like this you would have heard about it five other times before her demise. No, it’s just her age and especially her weight, which is mentioned about ten times. By 1972 standards, she was positively obese, I guess.

      • Paula says:

        Shelley Winters was great, and not just in size. Her autobiography (which she actually wrote) is one of the very few that is worth reading. She was a real babe when she first started out, and was friends with Marilyn Monroe in her younger days. I remember seeing her on Johnny Carson talking about how they would always send her 1st class plane tickets for her appearances, but that she would trade them in for coach because she couldn’t stand the kind of people who traveled in 1st class.

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