Sunday 8 November 2020

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)


SOS Poseidon kalder

The first off-List movie of 1972 is “The Poseidon Adventure”. The List editors, like the Academy, have their preferences. Some genres (dramas and art films particularly) are well represented while others are not. Disaster movies definitely belong is the later category with only some token representatives. I suppose they are considered pulp, and while I tend to agree, they are often very entertaining pulp.

“The Poseidon Adventure” is most likely not the first disaster movie ever (“Airport” is often mentioned as an earlier exponent of the genre), but it is widely considered the mother of the big-budget disaster spectacles of the kind Hollywood inanely continue to crunch out to this day. It has all the classic ingredients except one: the complete absence of CGI.

The SS Poseidon is an almost derelict ocean liner (think Titanic) on its last voyage from the US to Greece. Shortly before reaching Greece, on New Years night it is toppled by a tsunami wave, leaving it floating around bottoms up.

In classic disaster movie style, we are introduced to a seemingly random host of characters who only have this in common that eventually they will meet up and try to get out together. The premier of these is Reverend Scott (Gene Hackman) whose mantra seems to be “If you want to get thing done, do it yourself”. Sort of an action priest. When the ship capsizes, he tries to gather people around to go the stern, hoping to get out that way. Most people however decide to be sheep and wait around to die. The team he does assemble is a very uneven affair. An elderly Jewish couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters) on their way to Israel to visit their grandson. Two children, brother and sister (Eric Shea and Pamela Sue Martin). Mr. Lonely and singer, James and Nonnie (Red Buttons and Carol Lynley). A purser, Acres (Roddy McDowall) and newlywed, former prostitute Linda Rogo (Stella Stevens) and policeman Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine).

Through the bulk of the movie we have essentially an escape room scenario where each room holds their own challenges, each character get a chance to shine and ever so often one of the characters will succumb to the challenges as the ship breaks apart.

On the positive, this is a grand spectacle. The setting, the upside-down ship, is simply astounding. Every single detail is reversed and there is no cheating here. We are talking real fire, water and toilets upside down. Without CGI all the special effects are analogue, and it shows in realism. It is even so that many of the stunts where done by the actors themselves (Shelley Winters gained a lot of weight and learned to dive to do her own underwater stunt without artificial padding!). Technically this movie is top notch.

Where it falls apart is the usual place for disaster movies. An all-star cast could not prevent that all these characters become incredibly cliché. They are almost archetypical of the type of person they are supposed to represent, to the extent that there is absolutely no individuality in any of them. It is all surface, no depth. It is no wonder when you have this many characters and the focus is on the disaster itself, but it makes the movie feel very dated and almost involuntarily funny. There were periods where I was thinking that the movie tried hard to be a family movie with comical relief and all (the mis-matched Rogo couple), but then, the tragedy of all the death around them makes this a fairly poor choice for children to watch.

I probably have more tolerance for this kind of pulp than most people. Give me an interesting setting and I can put up with a lot of crap. Had the child been less annoying, the Rogo’s less comical, Nonnie less scared of everything and the preacher less gung-ho this could have been a great movie. Now I will settle for it being a good representative of a disaster movie and a must see for fans of the genre.

Incidentally, the public loved it. Following its release in 72, it became the highest grossing movie of 73 at the box office.

I think the editors should have carved out a space for this one. It would add a bit of adrenaline to the List.



  1. You know I watched that yesterday! It sounded like fun. Instead I watched something ... else.

  2. Well, that is being in sync.
    It is more entertaining than most. You may like it.

  3. It is loaded with cliche, but it's a lot of fun for what it is.

    1. A lot of fun indeed, and you don't really need more than that.

  4. I'm with you all the way! This movie screams disaster movie so loud it almost becomes a parody of a genre that it is founding. Airport, where we only fear a plane crash, is nothing in scale compared to this one.

    1. That is the thing. There were times where I was wondering if this is a spoof on itself, but then it pulls back and get serious again.
      I think a lot of it is the spectacle. They really outdid themselves with that inverse ship.

  5. I'm a disaster movie junkie and I LOVE this film! It does really have the grimy feeling and the sense of its realness down. That pulls you in much more than the shiny junk that looks like a video game being churned out nowadays.

    I can't dispute that the characters are archetypes but maybe because of the skill and familiarity of the performers or the fact that the movie takes its time at the beginning and lets us get at least an inkling of who they are we are involved in their plight adding another layer to the film. Maybe its a combo of the two. Though honestly they could have left Nonnie and her incessant whining back in the ballroom! They are certainly a more compelling group than the ones in the truly wretched remake from the early 2000's where the characters were an interchangeable and faceless blob so devoid of personality that when one of them die you were neither sure nor did you care who they were. In this you feel every loss.

    Just one more thing I can't agree about the Rogos. I was crazy about them and their bickering. Stella Stevens' Linda was my favorite character. I'll grant you the kid Robin was an annoying little twerp.

    1. Thank you for your comments. It is great to hear new voice here on the blog.
      I can only agree that "The Poseidon Adventure" is great entertainment. I had a wonderful time watching it. But I suppose the reason I am not a disaster movie junkie is that I usually start rolling my eyes at some point from the stereotyping of the characters. It somehow goes with the genre, so it is a common issue and I also understand why it happens. It is easier if each character has a simple function when there are so many of them.
      In the present case this stereotyping sometimes become campy, which is fun, but also risk breaking the magic.