The Poseidon Adventure (1972 )

Directed by Ronald Neame

Cinematography by

Harold E. Stine

The plot centers on the SS Poseidon, an aged luxury liner on her final voyage from New York City to Athens before being sent to the scrapyard. On New Year’s Eve, she is overturned by a rogue wave. Passengers and crew are trapped inside, and a rebellious preacher attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

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Not a dull moment in this timeless adventure.

15 May 2004 | by karen_g32 (Perry, NY) – See all my reviews

It is hard to believe this movie was made over 30 years ago. Don’t let the fact that it was made in 1972 influence your decision to see it. It is as exciting today as it was then. I never miss a chance to see it, as I pick up new details each time. The scene when the cruise ship turns over is especially awesome. The actors are well cast. There is just a sprinkling of comedy to take the edge off the drama. Gene Hackman plays his part well. I have never been disappointed by this actor. The main characters compliment each other well. They are all familiar faces, but they become the people they are playing. Hollywood has not remade this movie because they can’t improve on it.

The Best Natural Disaster Film

8/10
Author: AVES-2 from Manchester, NH
3 April 2000

The Poseidon Adventure is one of those movies I have seen at least once a year as long as I have been alive.

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I lived in Maine when I was a kid and we loved our natural disaster flicks. Of all the great disaster movies from the 70s, this has got to be the best one. Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelly Winters, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Neilson, and the list goes on.

The basic plot goes like this. The Poseidon is a cruise ship out for its last voyage and it is New Year’s Eve. The guests are all celebrating while deep beneath the ocean’s surface an earthquake is happening. The earthquake sets off a huge tsunami and the ship is knocked upside down. In order to be saved, a small group of people heads for the engine room at the bottom (make that top, since the ship is upside down) of the ship. At first, the ocean claims hundreds of the passengers until they are whittled down to about 10 people left. From here there are plenty of tense moments and a power struggle for control of the survivors. Typical disaster movie fare but done rather well.

This movie is a great main event for a disaster film weekend.

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Irwin Allen had been an extremely successful television producer during the 1960s but had a hard time making the break into feature films. Upon coming across the book, Allen immediately secured the rights and financing from 20th Century Fox to produce and distribute the film version. Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes co-wrote the screenplay, removing some of the novel’s more unsavory scenes, including one where Pamela Sue Martin’s character Susan is raped in the aftermath of the capsizing, the sweeping away and loss of her brother Robin in a panicked crew rush (his fate is never known) and the seductive behavior of Linda Rogo toward the Reverend Scott. The writers concentrated on just a few characters, making them more sympathetic. In the novel almost all the characters were deeply flawed and in most cases unlikeable.

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A budget of $4.7 million was set, but on the eve of production the studio removed production support, the reasoning being that audiences were moving away from big-budget extravaganzas in favor of gritty, realistic, and cynical fare. Fox was also heavily in debt as a result of having produced several huge musical productions, most of which failed at the box office. Allen managed to get two wealthy friends to guarantee half the funding with their own money. The studio still had one stipulation, that the director be of its selection. Veteran British director Ronald Neame, who had directed the critically acclaimed The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie and Scrooge, was then selected.

The film was shot mostly in sequence to give the cast the feeling of actually going through the adversity of the characters. The cast reportedly got along very well. The two main characters, Scott and Rogo, were portrayed to the hilt by Hackman and Borgnine.

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In an interview many years later, Neame would comment that he let them loose a bit too much and they both “really chewed the scenery”, a theatrical term which denotes overly dramatic acting. Shelley Winters gave one of her very best performances as Mrs. Rosen, a role that would bring her great praise. She even performed her own underwater stunts swimming for extended periods.

Both in the book and film, the Poseidon itself was closely based on the Queen Mary and many early scenes were shot aboard the actual ship, permanently moored as a floating tourist attraction in Long Beach. The sets built to simulate the capsized liner were designed as closely to the actual ship’s design as possible. For the capsizing sequence, a full-size dining room was designed by Art Director William Creber in such a way that it could be re-dressed to appear upside down.

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Built on Stage 6 on the Fox lot, it was also designed to be lifted by large forklifts to simulate the ship being drawn into the giant wave. The set would be lifted to a 30-degree incline, allowing a convincing slide for actors and stunt performers. This was enhanced by tilting the camera in the opposite direction to exaggerate the effect. Once filming for the first half of the scene was completed, the set was completely redressed with tables being bolted to the inverted “floor” which had begun as the ceiling. Skylights with special padding for stuntmen to fall through were then built on the inverted “ceiling”, which began the scene as the dining salon deck. Other sets like the engine room, kitchen, and barber shop were built inverted.

In order to give the movie a visual feel for being on the open ocean, a special double mount was built for the cameras used, moving up and down and side to side. This was subtly done throughout the film both before and after the capsizing which gave the subliminal effect of rocking back and forth to the audience.

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For scenes with more action such as the opening sequence on the bridge the actors were coached to lean in the opposite direction of the camera tilt for more effect.

The scene of the tidal wave striking the ship was all done with practical effects with thousands of gallons of water and a large model. In order to convincingly shoot the ship turning over in the ocean Special Effects head L. B. Abbott obtained blue prints for the Queen Mary in 1/48th scale and based on this built a scale model at a cost of $35,000 which was 21 feet long and weighed several tons. The ship had working lights rigged all throughout and was attached to a mechanical mount below the water to control the movements of the ship as it turned on it side, struggled to right itself, then fully capsized.

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The scene was shot in one of the largest water tanks available at the time, measuring 32 feet, with two large 1,200-gallon dump tanks built above it. The tanks were then tilted into the main tank creating the wave effect. The cameras filming the scene were run at seven times normal speed to achieve the effect of a huge amount of water hitting the ship. When run at normal speed the slow motion effect simulated a much larger scale to the action. The scene where Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) looks out over the ocean and sees the approaching wave was actually a shot of the high surf at Malibu and also filmed in slow motion. The model was then filmed from below fully capsized for several more scenes showing explosions blowing out of the funnels as the boilers blew and the ship settled deeper into the sea. The sequence still convincingly holds up today even though it was filmed more than 40 years ago and with no digital effects.

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The model of the ship was used in several other productions over the years, including a television film produced by Allen entitled “Adventures of the Queen”. That film was a pilot for a never picked-up series starring David Hedison, with whom Allen had worked on the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea television series, which allowed him to make use of stock footage from The Poseidon Adventure as well. It was also re-dressed for a Titanic television film before being donated to the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro, where it is presently located.

The #1 70s disaster movie that started it all

9/10
Author: Casey-52 from DVD Drive-In
15 August 2000

The 1970’s were the heyday of disaster films and this was one of the better ones. An overacting all-star cast graced the screen in all of them. THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE was the very first big-budget moneymaker that spawned a whole slew of knock-offs involving tidal waves, fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes. It is also arguably the best. Producer Irwin Allen was the mastermind behind most of them, known for spending millions of dollars on special effects and his big-name stars.

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A simple plot: a tidal wave knocks a ship upside down and a handful of survivors have to climb to the bottom of the ship at the surface before the ship sinks. They are led by a fanatical preacher (Gene Hackman) who conflicts with an ex-cop (Ernest Borgnine) and his ex-hooker wife (Stella Stevens). Jack Albertson (WILLY WONKA) and Shelley Winters are an elderly Jewish couple who are on their way to see their new grandchild. Pamela Sue Martin (TV’s Nancy Drew) and Eric Shea (like Bobby Brady, but more annoying) are brother and sister on their way to meet their parents. Roddy McDowall (a fantastic actor) is wasted as a ship hand who dies rather quick. Red Buttons (PETE’S DRAGON) is an elderly gentleman who helps the ship’s lounge singer (Carol Lynley) retain her sanity. Arthur O’Connell is a strict reverend who refuses to go along with Hackman. Leslie Nielsen makes a cameo as the ship’s captain who dies during the tidal wave.

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The cast really isn’t very important, it’s the special effects and on-going tension that makes the film so much fun. I absolutely love the claustrophobic and wet feeling that is so important to the execution of the film. While a lot of the acting hasn’t aged well (Shelley Winters, Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine are especially guilty of overacting!), the special effects aren’t too cheesy and the entire set of the ship is wonderfully well-made, still standing as an achievement on its own. Lots of unintentional humor abounds (the obese Shelley Winters swimming underwater, displaying her underpants clinging to her bulbous buttocks), which makes the viewing experience all the more enjoyable. The theme song, “The Morning After”, won an Oscar and is rather lightweight, but highly listenable.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE definitely does have some twists and turns that surprise the viewer (not everyone gets out alive) and holds the audience’s attention throughout the entire thing, even though things do get a little soap opera-ish at times. This makes a great double bill with THE TOWERING INFERNO, which I find a better picture, but POSEIDON is a very fun viewing and is, if anything, a great movie to watch if you have 2 hours to kill.

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Excellent Hollywood Hokum Afloat

Author: FilmFlaneur from London
5 December 2003

First the bad news – Irwin Allen’s film is full of overacting, stereotyped characters, cheesy 1970s’ décor and allegorical content, and at times is hard to sit through with a straight face. The good news is that it is still hugely entertaining, remembered fondly by many viewers over two decades after it was first released, when it gained two Academy Awards (music and special effects). On its own terms, it is a film which remains highly successful, the sort of Hollywood product at which it is easy to sneer but compulsively watchable once started.

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Allen’s surefooted career began with another Oscar (that for the 1953 documentary The Sea Around Us), before he graduated onto the more profitable world of fantasy. The Lost World (1960), was followed by Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1961) and Five Weeks In A Balloon (1962). He really found his stride with a series of now-cult TV shows like Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, Land Of The Giants, and so on. The Poseidon Adventure, which marked his return to the big screen, is credited by some as marking the start of the disaster-film boom, a slew of titles such as turkeys like Allen’s own The Swarm (1978) and co-director Neame’s Meteor (1979), as well as what is now seen as the finest achievement of the genre, The Towering Inferno (1974). Arguably Allen also helped kill off the cycle he helped start, as those who have sat through the appalling Beyond The Poseidon Adventure (1979), in which a bored Michael Caine reworks the original, can testify.

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Chief among the cast here is Gene Hackman, who plays the non-nonsense Reverend Scott. His own brand of muscular Christianity has caused him to be exiled by the church. Terming himself “angry, rebellious, critical and a renegade” Scott has no time for the meek of his flock, as is evident from his very first line in the film “Get down on your knees and pray God for help? Garbage!” He wants “winners, not quitters!” and, outside of disaster, it is the driven nature of his religious conviction that propels much of the film’s narrative. As events will prove, Scott’s self-help philosophy is just what is needed, although Hackman is occasionally guilty of chewing the scenery to show it, bringing little of the acting class he exhibited in the recent French Connection (1971). Along with the polo-necked reverend are a range of characters introduced quickly in scenes reminiscent of TV’s later The Love Boat: a gruff and bitter cop named Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), travelling with his wife the former prostitute Linda (Stella Stevens), an elderly Jewish couple the Rosens (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters), a teenage girl and her young brother (Pamela Sue Martin and Eric Shea, a juvenile role parodied memorably in Airplane!), pop singer Nonnie (Carol Lynley), and Acres, a conveniently knowledgeable crewman (Roddy MacDowell).

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There’s also Martin, perhaps the most interesting supporting character, one who perhaps “has been a bachelor too long” – but who nevertheless strikes up a pathetic relationship with the shell-shocked Nonnie. In a film without a token black face to represent other minorities, and whilst Martin fondly considers marriage, he is instantly recognisable as a coded gay – a role which, in different times, would surely have been made more explicit.

Allen’s films are noticeable in that they often include strong religious or quasi-religious allegories. Thus the plagues of Egypt hover over The Swarm, shades of the Tower of Babel rise up in The Towering Inferno, and the film Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea asserts the truth of prophecy and revelation. Poseidon is the most explicit of this group, offering a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress, complete with its own version of earthly travails or hell, even including a final ascension of the chosen ones to heaven. For Allen, the disaster genre came complete with worldly ordeals to be borne with the possibility of final salvation, a narrative frame repeated from project to project. Convinced by providence, one can never imagine him making a film with an open-ended conclusion such as Hitchcock gave The Birds.

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The Poseidon is more than just a boat; it is a ship of some 1400 souls, a human world turned upside down. Transformed from a luxury liner to an environment full of torment, flames and death, though which the principals have to make stark moral choices, it is this landscape that makes the film so compulsive. Beginning with a climb up a gigantic Christmas tree as the first step to saving themselves, the main movement of the film ends with light beaming in through the opening of the ship’s ‘sky’, down onto Rogo’s now-believing, ecstatic face. Between times the assorted characters battling to survive have chosen between the words of the Purser (who urges survivors to stay put) or the Reverend Scott’s plan to work their way towards the bottom of the inverted ship. A case of God over mammon perhaps, for those who remain behind are quickly punished in a flood of almost biblical proportions. Scott has clearly found the right path, although it is hard for us to forgive his slowly closing the door on those drowning souls he abandons. At the end of the film this controversial cleric appears to abjure God entirely (“leave us alone!”) in a death scene strongly suggestive of crucifixion and hellfire.

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As others have rightly observed, where other directors like William Castle “used gimmicks implanted in theatres to increase the cheesy fun of his pictures… Allen made the movies themselves the gimmick.” This is noticeably true of The Poseidon Adventure, and the recreation of the stricken vessel is still impressive today. (The scene in the vertical shaft, where Acres meets his end, might easily have inspired a similar one in Alien: Resurrection, 1997.) Amidst the flooding deck ways Allen even manages a couple of truly surreal moments, as when the boy investigates the topsy-turvy barbershop, or the mysteries of the ship’s urinals.

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Generally the Oscar for special effects still seems well earned, although there’s surely a glaring mistake in the representation of the 90-foot wave bearing down on the ship, which appears to be breaking before impact! Cultists will enjoy the sight of serious Leslie Nielsen as the captain of the doomed liner, while some will regret that more is not seen of ex-Playboy playmate Stella Stevens, whose flimsy clothes remain stubbornly intact and opaque throughout each ordeal. Borgnine is, well, Borgnine and provides a suitable down-to-earth foil to Hackman’s driving optimism. Shelley Winters, who put on pounds of weight for the film and gained an Oscar nomination for her pains, is less impressive, although playing half of the self-absorbed Jewish couple was an uninspiring part.

Caveats aside, this is still an entertaining enough cinematic vessel to wonder around in and while away an hour or so, and there are surely much worse films out there with higher reputations. The DVD is cheap and can be recommended, although a special edition is sorely needed..

Pamela Sue Martin - Susan Shelby

The Classic: Accept No Substitutes

7/10
Author: ArchAngel Michael from Sword Of The Protector
21 November 2015

Spoilers Ahead:

This is the movie that really made Irwin Allen. He had been dominating television with Lost In Space, Time Tunnel and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. The cast is the star of this move; admittedly, the special effects are shaky compared to the remake. But again, as in the original Omega Man, we see that character development and a good script beats effects. Borgnine never gave a better performance in his life: here as Rogo, a policeman married to a prostitute with a big chip on his shoulder about it. Hackman is quite young here as an Iconoclastic preacher very much the personification of the Counterculture that is intensely strong outside the theater right now. Like Dirty Harry, another anti-Establishment Antihero, Hackman defies authority with deep, obvious contempt, pronouncing the ship steward an ‘idiot.’ This culminates in his verbal assault upon the Deity, at the end, with his recriminations about the suffering that his group is enduring.

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Cool Hand Luke, Harry and this preacher leave little doubt what time period this was made during. The movie has little exposition before the wave hits. While the outside effects of the wave are shaky, the inside ‘upside down world’ still looks good after all these years. The tour of the kitchen with burned up people inside remains creepy.

The supporting cast is excellent with McDowell, Albertson, Winters and Buttons. There is a real heartbreaking scene with Winters that shocked audiences when it was released but it adds to the realism of the ascent up towards the engine room. Rogo and Hackman are constantly fighting all the way until the end.

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You see, again, as in the Towering Inferno, that Allen is punishing morally flawed characters. In Towering, the most horrific death was married Wagner, after hours, fooling around with his secretary; here, Linda, Rogo’s wife, the ex prostitute suddenly is killed. Also, Hackman is judged for his blasphemy and constant yelling at God. I agree, it is not as salient as with Hitch or DePalma, but the deaths are not random. Acres, McDowell’s waiter, is a stand in for the evil shipping company who is bugging Nielsen, the captain, to go faster. You have probably heard the critics attack this as a ‘floating soap opera’; I admit, I prefer Towering to this one for that very reason. Yet, it has an excellent cast, is much shorter than Towering and is still quite intense. Do not be scared away by the bad effects of the wave, the interiors are quite well done.

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It is worth owning for the performances: Hackman dominates a group of excellent actors with his angry, defiant preacher. Most of the climb, the rest of the group is serving as referees between these two. It is not perspicacious to grasp what Allen is up to with Rogo’s unrelenting hostility to the preacher. This is why we have the earlier scenes, in Rogo’s cabin, with his embarrassment about his wife’s former occupation and their foreboding about running into any of her previous ‘customers.’ He is always finding fault with Hackman to assuage his paranoia that people are judging them. William’s score is well done with foreboding before the disaster and good eerie music on the climb.

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The acting is good even into the children who do well here. There is some light banter but, on the whole, this is one relentlessly grim well made movie. When you watch it over you will see why Allen went into films with this under his belt before he stumbled with The Swarm. Like all of this genre, it reflects the social upheaval of Watergate and The Withdrawal From Vietnam in America. The protests in the streets gave the country this ‘world turning upon us’ fear you see reflected here. Nothing was safe or stable anymore, this is the core of this collective nightmare. A Good Movie.

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