Tonight on TCM: a program of films from one of my favorite cinematic subgenres: the sinking ship flick.
8:oopm (EST) The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The first movie I ever saw in a cinema and my second favorite movie of all time. I’ve already written my thoughts about it here. I’ve probably seen it 20 times, most recently about a month ago, so I’ll likely skip the honor tonight. However, I most certainly will watch —
10:15pm (EST) Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979)
Believe it or not, I’ve NEVER seen this one (apart from a few minutes on television)! It tanked (pun intended) upon release and seldom gets shown. A brilliant producer, Irwin Allen was a terrible director, and this was during his period of hubris when he was doing both. (Have you seen The Swarm? It’s almost totally incoherent). At any rate the plot of this one has the crew of a tugboat jumping aboard the doomed ship to claim salvage rights, and a bunch of Greek medics (secretly looters) jumping aboard to “save lives”. Along the way they meet surviving crew and passengers of The Poseidon we never met in the first film: The cast includes Michael Caine, Telly Savalas, Sally Field, Karl Malden, Shirley Jones, Peter Boyle, Mark Harmon and Slim Pickens as a Texas millionaire! Wild seahorses couldn’t drag me away.
12:15am (EST) Juggernaut (1974)
This one doesn’t fit in the program at all — it’s not so much a ship disaster movie as a bomb disposal and defusing suspense thriller, and like most ticking time bomb movies, it’s a whopping bore. Richard Harris is the bomb expert, Anthony Hopkins a detective whose family just happens to be on board the ship, Omar Sharif the ship’s captain, and Ian Holm is the guy who runs the shipping company. All they do is sweat a lot and look real nervous for two hours. And I suppose this amounts to a spoiler, right? Because if the bombs sink the ship the movie wouldn’t be…a whopping bore, right?
2:15am (EST) A Night to Remember (1958)
This British film is the least best known of all the Titanic films nowadays, yet happens to be one of the best in quality, for it is quite true to Walter Lord’s incredible book of the same name. Naturally everyone knows James Cameron’s 1997 love story. Before that, the one Americans knew best (I think) was the 1953 film of the same name with Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb. At least that was one I knew best until then.
I never got to see A Night to Remember until about two years ago, when they screened it at Loew’s Jersey City on a double bill with The Poseidon Adventure. And it is indeed incredible. It’s told pretty much from the point of view of Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More), the most senior officer to survive the disaster. One bit I recall loving in the film, is a recurring shot of an old man sitting in a chair reading a book all through the ship’s last moments. His identity and the identity of the book are enigmatic. It’s just how he is choosing to spend his last minutes. Not with craziness, but with calm. You can be sure I’ll watch this one again. As I will this one:
4:30am (EST) The Last Voyage (1960)
This is an amazing movie! I had never heard of it til I saw it on TCM in 2010. It seems seminal to me, solving a lot of the technical and special effects problems that would later come into play in The Poseidon Adventure, Towering Inferno and Earthquake. Furthermore it was shot on a real ocean liner so it actually looks more realistic than the The Poseidon Adventure. (Yes, I know parts of TPA were shot on the Queen Mary, but the rest was done on Hollywood sound stages. ALL of this one was shot on a real ship)
The predicament: a fire breaks out on an ocean liner. The stubborn and foolish captain (George Sanders) scoffs at certain safety measures (like stopping so the crew can see to some things). Meanwhile some safety valves have fused shut, causing a boiler explosion that rips through several floors and puts a fatal hole in the hull. A woman (Dorothy Malone) is trapped under wreckage. Much of the film concerns the efforts of her husband Robert Stack to free her, aided by stoker Woody Strode, and later an engineer played by Edmund O’Brien (who spends most of the film trying to save the ship itself.) Malone and Stack’s daughter is a creepy-devil child…very strange casting.
Student film-makers! This movie teaches an interesting cinematic lesson. Sometimes realism is NOT the best solution. A case in point: Whereas, yes, in real life an explosion only takes a second, in a film, it has to be stretched out into several shots and take a little bit of time, otherwise it lacks drama. In this film the explosion only takes a second and thus seems underwhelming though the plot informs us that it’s really catastrophic. But otherwise there are so many amazing scenes in the film done right on the ship. It bears repeated viewing.