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.