The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Irwin Allen was the “Master of Disaster,” making this movie, The Towering InfernoFlood!Fire!Hanging By a Thread, The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and When Time Ran Out. When he was asked if he’d ever run out of disasters, he said “No, I’m not going to run out of disasters. Pick up the daily newspaper, which is my best source for crisis stories, and you’ll find 10 or 15 every day. People chase fire engines, flock to car crashes. People thrive on tragedy. It’s unfortunate, but in my case, it’s fortunate. The bigger the tragedy, the bigger the audience.”

Based on The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico, this was directed by Ronald Neame (who also made Meteor) and written by Stirling Silliphant and Wendell Mayes, the movie starts with establishing that the SS Poseidon is not a seaworthy ship. Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) tries to tell the owners and is instead told to just sail faster.

That’s when we get to meet the characters over dinner. There’s Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and wife Linda (Stella Stevens) who he saved from the streets. Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) and Robin (Eric Shea) who are on their way to see their parents. Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), who is being punished by the church for his strange views on God only helping those who help themselves. Jewish hardware store owner Manny (Jack Albertson) and Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters), who have never taken a vacation and been hard workers all their lives. Ship singer Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), waiter Acres (Roddy McDowall) and hat salesperson James Martin (Red Buttons) are the other survivors who hang on when a tsunami hits the boat, flips it upside down and causes them to go on a long and deadly journey back through the body of the Poseidon.

This won two Oscars — for “The Morning After” and effects — and this led to a big wave — ugh, that pun — of disaster films. None of those have Gene Hackman screaming at God while being burned alive, but that’s the kind of magic you can only pull off once.

Except for the most dangerous sequences, all of the stunts were done by the actors themselves. And for those that love The Love Boat, Borgnine and Winters would play a married couple on an episode but the Pacific Princess did not capsize.

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