Hackman's Ernest Endeavours Leaves them all at Sea
Despite various remakes and different versions of Paul Gallico's novel the 1972 disaster movie "The Poseidon Adventure" starring Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine remains the best. Although saying that it is also a very stereotypical 70s disaster movie which runs through pretty much a set formula that most disaster movies from the 70s followed. But despite this "The Poseidon Adventure" works, it delivers atmosphere and entertainment getting you gripped by the battle which a small group of survivors go through to try and escape the sinking ship.
As the passengers on the S.S. Poseidon celebrate New Years Eve they are unaware of a huge tidal wave heading their way which causes the floating hotel to capsize. With the likelihood of death Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman - Runaway Jury) leads a small group of survivors including Det. Lt. Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine - The Wild Bunch) and his wife Linda (Stella Stevens - The Ballad of Cable Hogue
) through the wreckage of the sinking liner in the hope of finding some way out. But with the Poseidon sinking fast their chances of escape are slim.
In classic disaster movie style "The Poseidon Adventure" goes through the set up of introducing all the main characters which will battle for survival whilst interlacing it with drama that indicates to the main disaster as the Poseidon's Captain, played by a serious Leslie Nielsen, realising that they are in trouble. We get the minor dramas, the personal issues, the obstacles that they have to battle through as well as the acknowledgement of life, love, death and even religion on the way along with a couple of surprises as they attempt to find a way out. Plus there is the humour, scenes are crafted to provide a laugh but not in a forced manner almost natural as people interact with each other, almost laughing in the face of danger.
But whilst "The Poseidon Adventure" is for the most predictable it's not disappointing as it manages to deliver moments of tension and drama without the use of big budget special effects, well not compared to the modern equivalent of disaster movies which trade on special effects. Director Ronald Neame and Irwin Allen who co-directs the action sequences manages to convey the sense of fear, even impending doom as are intrepid band of survivors crawl through pipes, navigate through fires and falling metal work as the water continually rises up behind them as if it is purposefully tracking them down like a murderous stalker. It is at times over the top, but it works when someone goes missing for too long, you do almost fret for their safe return. One of the best moments is whilst the passengers are singing "Auld Lang Syne" speeding up to an almost frenetic pace oblivious to the huge tidal wave heading their way, it's a heady mix which delivers a huge amount of adrenalin filled tension.
"The Poseidon Adventure" also delivers characters which we like, care for and so champion, from the lovable, kind old couple Manny & Belle Rosen played by Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters, Nonnie the singer who's brother died, James Martin played by Red Buttons the kind single man who feels that he will never find love and a couple of obligatory children. They are all characters which you surprisingly feel for; that you honestly hope will manage to find their way out of what looks like an impossible situation even though you know that some will end up dying in the carnage.
But it is main stars Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott and Ernest Borgnine as Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo who make it all work. Both powerful leaders whose similarities cause arguments as Rogo does not like to be ordered around by Scott and both Hackman and Borgnine carry the movie perfectly delivering the heroic performances that this sort of movie demands. But they also deliver moments of humour especially Borgnine who's moaning is particularly entertaining.
Although it's a good movie "The Poseidon Adventure" has it's flaws most notably that although just short of 2 hours it feels much longer as the number of obstacles which the plucky bunch of survivors encounter is literally never ending as they weave their way through the maze of rooms and corridors. It becomes a little repetitive as they encounter yet another problem and although there are surprises along the way they do little to distract from that feeling of did we really need yet another dramatic obstacle to navigate through.
Plus there is the dialogue; at times it's clever and also humorous as arguments boil up both between Scott and Rogo as well as Rogo and his wife. But it is also at times forced as the writers seem to search for those emotional moments which inspire as one of the heroes delivers an empowered speech about fighting for life. It ends up causing certain parts of the movie to feel almost cheesy, even laughable as they go over the top with the inspiration, such as when Reverend Scott argues with God along the way.
What this all boils down to is that "The Poseidon Adventure" is a very entertaining movie, although completely typical of the disaster movies which were flavour of the month during the 70s. It follows a well worn formula and as such is predictable but it manages to deliver drama, tension and likable characters to make it worth watching. On top of this the combination of Gene Hackman and Ernest Borgnine which works well as the leaders of the small group of survivors.