Disaster Movies: Earthquake

earthquake-1974-poster-1

It’s week three of my spotlight on disaster movies. I’ve covered Airport and The Towering Inferno. Now it’s time for a film about a natural disaster: Earthquake. Some of you may know the film from the ride it inspired at Universal Studios (one that I miss). But, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? It has a stellar cast led by Charlton Heston.

As you can probably guess from the title, it depicts an earthquake and its aftermath. But it also involves a lot of human melodrama.

Construction Engineer Stuart Graff (Charlton Heston) is estranged from his jealously possessive wife, Remy (Ava Gardner), and has an affair with Denise Marshall (Geneviève Bujold), the widow of a co-worker. Meanwhile, Remy tries to persuade her father, Sam Royce (Lorne Greene), who is Stuart’s employer, to use his influence to stop Stuart from seeing Denise. Rogue policeman Lew Slade (George Kennedy) is suspended from the L.A.P.D. for having punched an obtuse officer from another jurisdiction. Embittered, Slade contemplates quitting the police force. Jody (Marjoe Gortner), a lecherous  grocery store manager, lusts after Rosa Amici (Victoria Principal), sister of Sal (Gabriel Dell), the assistant to Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree), an aspiring daredevil motor cyclist. The lives of all these people are devastated when a major earthquake rips through Los Angeles and reduces the city to ruins.–IMDB

Earthquake is part special effects picture and part soap opera, as you can gather from all the overlapping story lines.I have to say that overall the effects part of the picture works much better. The characters are pretty ridiculous, even for a disaster movie. If it weren’t for a gifted cast doing their best with the laughable dialogue the film would be unwatchable. The actors are all to be commended for putting their best foot forward.

There are a few scene-stealers here. I got a kick out of Richard Roundtree as the motor cycle daredevil. Although every time I saw him I expected the Shaft music to start playing, since that film has become so iconic. I also enjoyed George Kennedy as the rogue cop. Kennedy it seems is required to be in these movies. You may remember him from Airport as well. He’s always fun to watch. Last, but certainly not least, I really was happy to see Lorne Greene. I’m a big fan of Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica. Even though this is nowhere near his best role, he brings gravitas to the part and is sort of the glue that holds everything together.

Even though Earthquake has dialogue that is preposterous, its special effects are to be applauded. In fact, the special effects team of Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, and Albert Whitlock won a special achievement award for the visual effects. When you watch this movie, it does feel like you’re in the middle of an earthquake. The recognition is deserved.

One final note (no pun intended). The score for Earthquake was done by John Williams. It’s solid as always. Sadly it was overlooked at the Oscars. But it’s another worthy entry in Williams‘ body of work. Earthquake is melodramatic, but it’s worth seeing for the actors I gave shout-outs to, as well as the great effects and stunt work.

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