U.S. Release Date: December 13, 1972
Distributor: Fox
Composer: John Williams
Cast: Gene Hackman, Leslie Nielsen
Running Time: 1 hour and 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG

Irwin Allen's Upside of Disaster
by Scott Holleran

Irwin Allen's production of The Poseidon Adventure is properly regarded as among the best of the late producer's movies, which include The Towering Inferno and The Lost World (1960). Poseidon is an entertaining movie, certainly better than most of the disasters being released in today's movie theaters. It's an old-fashioned, one-at-a-time popcorn picture: good writing, steady plot, large scale excitement, terrific special effects for its time and a great cast, notably Gene Hackman as a preacher who's losing his faith in God.

His doubting begins before ocean liner Poseidon capsizes after being struck by a tidal wave, despite captain Leslie Nielsen's efforts. Written by Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night) and Wendell Mayes (Death Wish), based on the novel by Paul Gallico, the 1972 dramatic thriller was directed by Ronald Neame (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), who uses visual effects to suggest a New Year's Eve disaster that suddenly tears the massive cruise asunder. As the wave crashes into the ship, turning it upside down, most of the passengers are gathered in the grand dining hall, where catastrophe begins to transform each character.

Mr. Hackman, as the brash, young preacher with a secularized playbook emphasizing life on earth, convinces a small band of survivors that to wait for rescue is to passively accept death. He makes his case, explains the evidence and tries to go by reason, not God, though he struggles with his faith as he leads his adherents to salvation high above them. It's a compelling journey from undersea depths, with incredibly realistic sets of spewing engine rooms and a twisted mass of glass and metal that's trapped its cargo alive—and of course the great ship still lurches and leaks underwater.

The cast of characters includes Ernest Borgnine (Marty) and Stella Stevens (The Courtship of Eddie's Father) as a bickering married couple, Red Buttons (The Longest Day) as the token geek, Roddy McDowell (How Green Was My Valley) as a crew member, and—famously—Jack Albertson (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) and Shelley Winters (Diary of Anne Frank) as an older Jewish couple, among others—including Arthur O'Connell (Picnic) as a chaplain who practices what he preaches.

With a simple goal to live, conflict between Borgnine's pessimistic policeman and Mr. Hackman's gritty preacher—in early 1970's sideburns, turtleneck and a dose of guitar mass religion—and with a strong supporting cast, The Poseidon Adventure holds together. Add the contrast of luxury travel and grimy danger, top production values and an Oscar-winning song by Maureen McGovern ("The Morning After") and Irwin Allen's production permits just enough heroic action to live up to its mythical name.

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DVD Notes
A two-disc edition DVD of producer Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure includes audio commentaries by director Ronald Neame, who also directed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and a separate track by the actresses who played some of the ship's female passengers: Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin and Stella Stevens.

The finest parts are buried in disc two. Mini-features—five to ten minutes apiece—are informative. A profile of the Oscar-winning song "The Morning After" features songwriter, singers and Lynley, who played the Karen Carpenter-ish singer. Other pieces sample cast interviews and, of its major living actors, only Mr. Hackman is missing.

Don't miss a short feature on the Queen Mary, which served as a model and set for the fictitious ship, where it's revealed that the picture's source, a novel of the same name by Paul Gallico, is based on Gallico's 1937 trans-Atlantic voyage on the Queen Mary. When the great liner was struck by three waves, causing her to lay on her side for what seemed like an eternity, Gallico was promptly horrified and decided to play "what if … ?" and write the book.

A tribute to writer Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night) (1918-1996) nets what amounts to the disaster genre's affirmative appeal. Silliphant tried to convey the value of an individual life in the face of adversity. Combined with the late Mr. Allen's passion for creating larger-than-life spectacles, the script made The Poseidon Adventure more intense. The DVD also includes lobby cards, photographs, a 3-D gimmick and an original feature boasting that the movie was a return to old Hollywood big-budget moviemaking. A ten-minute spiel comparing Stella Stevens' ex-prostitute character to Mary Magdalene—and Mr. Hackman's preacher and Ernest Borgnine's policeman to Christ and Peter—is a real stretch.

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