Not long ago– on New Year’s Eve to be exact– I provided text from an article that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post before 20th Century Fox released the picture in late 1972. The writer had interviewed Irving Allen who made a name for himself during that decade turning out hit disaster films.
Truth be told, I had not yet seen THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE when I ran that column. I knew it was coming up on TCM and planned to watch it. I also knew there was supposedly a spectacular New Year’s Eve party scene where the ship is capsized and all the drama begins.
Well, now it is over a month later and I have finally viewed the film. What follows are my impressions of the movie. And then, after my review, I am going to quote Pauline Kael’s review, for comparison:
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is an entertaining and rather dated film. Some of the story’s flaws get in the way of totally enjoying it, though.
It’s pretty obvious in the beginning after the ship has capsized that we are going to be with these ten characters for the rest of the story, when nobody else is willing to climb up the tree to safety. I had a hard time believing that only ten people would be logical enough to realize which way to go especially if the captain and the other ship personnel were dead.
And why was Roddy McDowall the only employee who survived the capsizing? There were no other people working in the linen department with him, or in other areas on that level of the ship?
When the water started rushing into the ballroom and the crowd started to frantically climb the tree, we knew it had to topple over, so that we were left with only ten stories to follow.
As the survivors started to climb up through the ship’s levels, a great deal of the action was delayed. In other words, it seemed stretched out to accommodate a two hour running time, and also to save on sets. But in reality. I think they would have moved much more swiftly and made their way through various compartments (some of them dead ends).
The film also contained a lot of over-acting. Some of the bit players, even the extras whose death scenes were played out in the background, were done with a major dose of ham.
The top cast members, most of whom were method actors and disciples of the Actors Studio, seemed to think that if you screamed your lines, you were being dramatic and registering shock and/or panic as the plot unfolded. There was very little subtlety.
A minor complaint I have, but one that is worth mentioning, is that if this ship was en route to Europe, how come everyone spoke English? There should have been one person who spoke a different language, or spoke fractured English. And speaking of fractured, it’s hard to believe that none of the survivors wound up with broken arms, broken legs, cracked ribs, something. There were no injuries, no bad back or headache among them.
The sound effects were not as realistic as they could have been. Many times our main characters would barely escape a tide of rushing water, jumping up to the next level. But we seldom (almost never) heard water in the background. Only when the camera would cut to a quick shot of the rushing water would we hear it.
And finally, I thought some of the death scenes were played unevenly. Roddy McDowall’s character dies in about two seconds flat. But when Shelley Winters died, she was glimpsed motionless for nearly ten minutes.
It may sound like I am complaining. I did give this film an 8 out of 10 rating, so obviously it was an enjoyable motion picture overall. But I do think there could have been more flashes of brilliance (like the other survivors headed the wrong way) and a lot more subtlety with the performances.
Now, from Pauline Kael:
“Expensive pop disaster epic, manufactured for the market that made AIRPORT a hit. An ocean liner turns turtle, and the logistics of getting out of an upside-down ship are fairly entertaining; the script is the true cataclysm in this waterlogged GRAND HOTEL. The writers achieve real camp only once: just before the ship capsizes, a crewman says to the captain, he never saw anything like it, an enormous wall of water coming toward him. Ronald Neame directed, with dull efficiency.”