- Directed by Ronald Neame
- December 12, 1972
- Based on Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel The Poseidon Adventure
On New Year’s Eve a rogue wave capsizes an aging ocean liner and now the passengers must struggle to survive.
The Poseidon Adventure is a classic disaster movie produced by the master of disaster himself Irwin Allen. With a unique idea and creative special effects, it places interesting characters in a unique situation. This all takes place on an aging ocean liner called the SS Poseidon on a fateful New Year’s Eve.
As is often the case we have an all-star cast taking up assorted roles. Gene Hackman is the disillusioned Reverend Frank Scott. Ernest Borgnine is Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo and Stella Stevens is his new wife (and former prostitute) Linda Rogo. Red Buttons is single health nut James Martin. Carol Lynley is singer Nonnie Parry who is singing her way across the ocean with her group to get to a jazz festival in Europe. Roddy McDowall is ship’s waiter Acres. Shelley Winters is Belle Rosen and Jack Albertson is her husband Manny who are both on their way to Israel to meet their two-year-old grandchild for the first time. Pamela Sue Martin is Susan Shelby and Eric Shea is her brother Robin who are travelling to meet their parents already on vacation. (Why not a plane ticket?) And Leslie Nielsen plays it straight as the doomed Captain Harrison. A heady and conflicting mix that comes together for some fine drama.
With a rather sizable cast, The Poseidon Adventure does not to feel overstuffed. Perhaps because each character is given a little something to do or something that contributes to the overall narrative of survival. Nobody was so big here and the era was not such that ego could cause unnecessary spotlight to be put on one particular actor.
No performance is too hammy or too over the top. Borgnine’s accent gets laid on a bit thick and Hackman’s God-helps-those-who-help-themselves reverend leans into the philosophy a bit heavy. It’s nothing groan worthy. Both could have been pulled back a bit. Borgnine always looked blue collar and giving him an accent to drive that home was unnecessary. And we got what Rev. Scott was all about pretty early on so it was unnecessary to push it as hard and often as they did.
The worst actor/character of the group is Eric Shea who plays Robin. In appearance he is your generic cute kid. Here he has about the same acting ability as Jake Lloyd did in The Phantom Menace. It is all wooden and stiff.
The sets are absolutely amazing. Nothing special other than there was close attention to detail and that the characters are moving through a flipped boat. My only issue is that I would think the weight of the people stepping on the ceiling would push through to the actual floor below-at least in the passenger areas. I’m not sure there’s enough physical strength in the material compromising your general ceiling for you not your weight to not push you through to what would essentially be the be the floor above now underneath you. Just a thought that I cannot shake.
What helps The Poseidon Adventure is that there is a balanced presentation to things. That may sound a little silly but hear me out. The reasons for staying behind in the ballroom are understandable and perhaps to an extent logical. Staying put and being easily found is not an illogical thing to do given the situation. It makes sense. But there are also reasons to follow Reverend Scott. Doing as he says and going with him makes sense. He comes off pretty quickly as a good and convincing leader but also heading to where the hull is thinnest and rescue would be fastest makes sense. Given the unstable situation it might not be good to wait far from where help would come from.
How they move along and survive the things that happen and what they must do all proceed organically and are played straight. There is no forced levity or generally ill placed moments. The script is well written and the actors as well as the director squeeze everything they can out of the story without really overreaching.
Despite being a quality production, The Poseidon Adventure also manages to be a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s just a fun and enjoyable watch. The closest you get to a deep message is to be strong by Reverend Scott but even that’s not much. This movie’s ultimate goal is to entertain and impress and it does that in spades. And much of what we get in the way of special effects looks as good today as it did back then even though special effects have advanced by leaps and bounds.
The ultimate finale of the movie is just kind of like an end. It’s not particularly rousing yet it is not particularly downbeat either. Our remaining survivors are freed from the hull and get on a helicopter and that’s it. No attempt at a moral of some type or anything grand. And it works. It makes it feel more like the characters arrived and are on their way home but nothing more.
The Poseidon Adventure is a classic disaster film. It’s entertaining and interesting and filled with characters you will actually care about. There are no deep messages but rather the film seeks to entertain and succeeds in that. I highly recommend this!