Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three disaster flicks

It's Tuesday and it's time for yet another edition of Overlooked Films at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom.

This week I don't have a review of an overlooked or forgotten film, because I didn't get the time to watch any over the weekend. Now that's not entirely true: I did see a major portion of The Rosary Murders (1987) where the 6'4" Canadian actor Donald Sutherland plays Father Robert Koesler, a priest who hears the confession of a serial killer with a penchant for killing priests and nuns, and can't go to the cops because he is bound by the seal of confession. The movie is based on the novel by William X. Kienzle and is written by Kienzle, Elmore Leonard, and Fred Walton.

Last Tuesday, I had to dig into memory to write about Irreconcilable Differences starring Ryan O'Neal, Shelley Long and a little girl called Drew Barrymore.

This morning I dug again, with a pickaxe and a shovel, and managed to come up with three disaster movies I'd seen and liked in the early eighties. All three films were based on thriller novels, released in the seventies, had a fabulous cast, and were big hits. I have vague recollections of these films. Here they are...

In The Poseidon Adventure (1972), the ever-charming Gene Hackman plays Reverend Frank Scott who steers a motley group of people to safety after their passenger ship, way past its prime, is hit by a tidal wave and turns turtle.

"I said I was gonna get everybody out of here and goddamit I'm gonna do it!" the Reverend shouts.

In the end, I think, there are only six survivors but Reverend Scott is not one of them. I guess he wasn't counting himself.

My vague recollection of The Poseidon Adventure is the tidal wave as it approaches the ill-fated ship on a dark-and-grey night. On the bridge, the captain barks orders to turn the ship around but it's too late. It's not F1, you know.

The movie, based on a book by Paul Gallico and directed by Ronald Neame, also stars Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Pamela Sue Martin, and Leslie Nielsen. 

My second disaster movie is The Towering Inferno (1974) in which a 138-storey glitzy skyscraper in San Francisco erupts into flames on the night of its star-studded opening. The fire is apparently caused by faulty wiring. Fire chief Mike O'Hallorhan (Steve McQueen) and building architect Doug Roberts (Paul Newman) team up to save lives.

The memorable cast also includes William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire (can you believe that!), Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson (can you really believe that!), and the two Roberts, Vaughn and Wagner.

The only memory I have of this film is Newman's character which runs in and out of the building and up and down an elevator or something like that.

Directed by John Guillermin, The Towering Inferno is adapted from the novels of Richard Martin Stern (The Tower) and Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (The Glass Inferno).

I now come to my last disaster flick, Airport 77, which was one of three films inspired by Arthur Hailey’s 1968 novel Airport. The other two were Airport 75 and The Concorde…Airport 79.

Directed by Jerry Jameson, Airport 77 is the story of a hijacked luxury airliner that lands under water, in the Bermuda Triangle. Where else? How to bring up the plane in one piece and rescue the passengers as a whole is the focal point of this movie.

The 747 is piloted by Capt. Don Gallagher (Jack Lemmon) and the rest of the cast includes Lee Grant, Olivia de Havilland (61 at the time, 96 now), Joseph Cotton, James Stewart (he was 69 then), George Kennedy, Christopher Lee, and Kathleen Quinlan.

Not much of a memory, I know.


  1. I never saw any of these. Too faint-hearted.

  2. Great fun Prashant - I'm a complete sucker for these kinds movies and I suppose like everybody else I found THE TOWERING INFERNO to be the biggest and the best. Much as I do enjoy the genre, I'll admit to drawing the line at AIRPORT 79 and THE SWARM which are just incredibly stupid! What's weird is that none of the AIRPORT sequels are really set in airports ... By the by Hailey disn;t work on the scripts of any of these, though he did write script for the TV drama FLIGHT INTO DANGER, which was adapted into the movie ZERO HOUR, which served slightly as the basis more properly for AIRPORT 75 and most definitely the AIRPLANE spoof.

  3. The only one I really liked was the Poseidon adventure. Really enjoyable that one.

  4. Ron, these movies are quite realistic but far from scary. In fact, some of the modern-day disaster flicks like 2012 and THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW are over the top.

  5. Sergio, thanks very much. I like watching such films too even if they often make little or no sense. I'm hoping to see THE TOWERING INFERNO again. I haven't seen THE SWARM, though. Hailey's "Airport" is set inside an airport and not inside an airliner. Thanks again for pointing out that Hailey didn't write the scripts for the three AIRPORT sequels. I have made the necessary change. There was one other film called AIRPORT 81 or 82 (I'm not sure which) about the pilot and co-pilot who fall sick after eating poisoned fish and it's up to a brave airhostess to land the plane safely, with a lot of help from control tower.

  6. Charles, I liked THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE too, certainly over the 2006 version, which, in spite of its formidable cast, didn't work for me. I have a mindset against remakes, I guess. Promoters of today's disaster films have nothing to worry — however outlandish, they'll sell.

  7. THE ROSARY MURDERS really brings back memories since it was set in Detroit. Very good book and movie for me.

  8. Patti, THE ROSARY MURDERS is a well-crafted film with plenty of suspense. Sutherland and Dunning are such fine actors.