The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

poseidonadventureShould auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Nay, they should not. After all, it’s tough to rid your mind of people once you’ve witnessed them plummet to their deaths when a luxury ocean liner goes topsy-turvy. Such a fate befalls the revelers ushering in the New Year aboard a top-heavy ship heading from New York to Athens. If it’s not a party until something gets broken, then holy shit, is The Poseidon Adventure ever a blowout!

Shortly after the stroke of midnight, while the adults are still sloshed enough to wear stupid paper hats, a seaquake triggers a giant wave that flips that ship belly-up! Nature’s cruelty personified, the 180˚ turn transforms the opulent ballroom into a collection of broken glass and dead flesh as the passengers are hurled from floor to ceiling. So harsh is the force that Stella Stevens hardly can keep her breasts contained within her gown. And anyone who’s seen her flaunt the goods in films as disparate as The Silencers and Slaughter knows that’s no easy feat. Here, the stacked starlet plays a former hooker now married to the blustery cop who busted her (Ernest Borgnine, 1979’s The Black Hole).

poseidonadventure1Both are among a handful of survivors who reluctantly follow a faith-challenged man of the cloth (Gene Hackman, The French Connection) up and through a veritable obstacle course to the hull of the upturned Poseidon, in hopes of escape before the boat sinks to join Davy Jones’ locker on the ocean floor. Others on the unscheduled field trip include a one-time swim champion, now overweight (Shelley Winters, The Night of the Hunter); a confirmed bachelor with ginger hair (Red Buttons, When Time Ran Out …); and the groovy lead singer (Carol Lynley of Radley Metzger’s The Cat and the Canary) of the hippie band that plays “The Morning After,” one of the more wretched pop tunes to win the Best Song Oscar. In a story that boldly plays for keeps, not all of them live to see fresh air.

Something of a pet project for producer Irwin Allen (who followed with The Towering Inferno), this adaptation of Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel ditched the rape subplot and, with Ronald Neame (Meteor) at the helm, became a massive hit, kicking off a disaster-movie craze that helped define the decade and kept the Allen household well-fed. Today, The Poseidon Adventure and its brethren get knocked about as witless exercises in largesse — and sure, some are, like the 2006 remake — but, being the granddaddy, this one chooses sobriety over silliness, proving particularly strong in suspense, performances (especially Hackman, giving it his usual all) and special effects. Post-Love Boat, the all-star, kitchen-sink cast began looking unnecessarily bloated, but dammit, that flip-flop sequence has aged wonderfully. —Rod Lott

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