Disaster Movies: The Poseidon Adventure

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Greetings, readers! I hope you’re all having a splendid holiday season. This week I’m bringing you another installment of my spotlight on disaster movies. This week’s selection is my favorite disaster movie: The Poseidon Adventure. Over the top melodrama, preposterous dialogue, and a fantastic cast make this one of my favorite guilty pleasure movies. It’s become a tradition of mine to watch it on New Year;s Eve.

The plot involves passengers trying to escape a capsized ocean liner. In a way it was the Titanic of its day, in terms of the effects being groundbreaking and the drama taking place on a doomed ship.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the SS Poseidon is struck by a 90-foot tidal wave and is capsized. Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman) leads nine survivors. There is an elderly couple, Manny (Jack Albertson) and Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters), headed to Israel to see their grandson; a New York detective and his ex-prostitute wife, Mike (Ernest Borgnine) and Linda Rogo (Stella Stevens) on their second honeymoon to Italy; a young brother and sister, Robin (Eric Shea) and Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) Shelby going to meet their parents in Greece; A haberdasher James Martin (Red Buttons); a pop singer, Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), and a waiter from the ship (Roddy McDowall), They travel from the grand ballroom struggling through, steam, fire and rising water in the upside-down ship to reach the bottom (the propeller shaft), now the top.–IMDB

One of the great things about The Poseidon Adventure is that it showcases the special effects without overshadowing the actors. Granted, there are some laughable plot twists (the revelation of Belle being a former competitive swimmer at a very convenient time is a great example). But we are always invested in the struggle of the survivors to get to safety. That’s one of the hallmarks of a great disaster movie. The fire and steam wouldn’t mean anything if they didn’t put people we were emotionally invested in in peril.

The special effects of The Poseidon Adventure are not the only reason to see this movie. But boy are they ever impressive! The whole sequence where the ship capsizes is jaw-dropping. It may not look as slick as the scene in Titanic where the ship gets struck by the iceberg. But it’s pretty close. The moment when the ship’s dining room becomes flooded is pretty spectacular as well. Then there’s the special effects and stunt work on display when (spoiler alert!) the Roddy McDowall character falls to his death as the survivors attempt to escape via finding the engine room. The visual effects team won a special achievement award for good reason.

The Poseidon Adventure is the type of movie where actors could easily go over the top. There are overdone moments (Hackman’s rant against God, for example). But it never gets to the point of being campy. The cast is too talented for that. Of the cast, my favorite performance is the one by Ernest Borgnine. To this day I don’t think he gets enough credit as a dramatic actor. If you want to see why I regard him so highly, see his performance in Marty, for which he won an Oscar. I wish he had gotten more material like that. But I digress.

If you want a good disaster epic with some of your favorite actors, The Poseidon Adventure is a must. The effects are great, the cast is top-notch, and it has some riveting action sequences. For my money, it’s the best disaster film of the 1970s.

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