Turn Back the Clock
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
There are some movies you just shouldn’t allow your kids to watch when they are little. I’m not talking about the obvious horror flicks like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street . Some movies that simply don’t fit in the horror genre can be just as traumatic to younger children. For me, that seemingly harmless thriller was the 1972 version of The Poseidon Adventure.
It all begins aboard the SS Poseidon, an ocean liner slated for retirement. The ship is on a voyage from New York City to Athens, Greece. Just like The Titanic, the ship's owners decided to ignore warnings about the troubled waters ahead, insisting that the ship move onward towards its destination without a pause. On New Year’s Eve, the SS Poseidon encounters more trouble than it can handle on the stormy seas. An undersea earthquake sends up a huge tidal wave that causes the ship to overturn with no warning to the passengers or crew.
Many of the passengers are enjoying a special party in the ship’s Dining Room when the SS Poseidon flips upside down. Among the survivors in the Dining Area are Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and his former prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens); Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a man who is seriously questioning his faith and preaches that God helps those who help themselves; Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and her younger brother Robin (Eric Shea), who are en route to meeting their parents; elderly couple Manny and Belle Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winters), who are en route to Israel to meet their two-year-old grandson for the first time; clothing salesman James Martin (Red Buttons); the ship’s singer Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), whose drummer brother is killed in the aftermath of the ship’s rollover; and one of the ship’s waiters, Acres (Roddy McDowell).
Reverend Scott decides that the best plan of action is to head upwards toward the ship’s hull. Rogo, Scott and the rest of the group mentioned above use a Christmas tree to climb up to Acres who is injured and stuck near the galley. The rest of the folks in the Dining Room decline to join the group, but quickly regret their decision as water comes crashing in. A mad dash is made for the Christmas tree ladder, but to no avail as the tree falls under the weight of the crowd.
The group moves forward, facing many perils and doubts on their journey. They lose some of their number along the way thanks to the rising water, debris, explosions and more that impede their progress toward the propeller shaft room where the hull is thinner than anywhere else on the ship. By banging on the hull, they are able to rouse the attention of rescuers who cut them out and whisk them away aboard a helicopter.
Now, after watching this film for the first time, I had some horrible nightmares. At the time, I lived on the second floor, and after one such nightmare, I woke up and looked toward the window. Seeing the dark blue night sky, in my drowsiness, I believed it was the dark blue of the ocean and that I was underwater, stuck inside the SS Poseidon. I stumbled across the house to my parents’ room and began knocking on the door molding, attempting to get the attention of my rescuers. Needless to say, my parents woke up and stared at me as if I was crazy. For years after seeing this film, the theme song, There’s Got to Be A Morning After, gave me chills.
Despite the nightmares, the improbable ending and the spooky feeling I get every time I hear that song, The Poseidon Adventure was a very well-made film for its time, right up there with The Towering Inferno. The cast was amazing, filled to the brim with big name actors like Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell and more, including Leslie Nielson as the ship’s captain. The cast played off each other well and were extremely believable in their respective roles. I’m not a huge fan of Shelley Winters, but I actually really liked her character in this film. I especially enjoyed Stella Stevens as Linda, the former prostitute.
Eric Shea was extremely annoying as Robin, but he was meant to be. Years later, I read the novel written by Paul Gallico that the movie was based on. In the novel, Robin is exactly the same annoying know-it-all kid that Eric Shea portrays. However, in the novel, the kid meets his end searching for a bathroom, a ridiculous prospect as the urinals would all be upside down anyway. Also, you have to take into mind that at the time this film came out, the movie industry would never have allowed a young child to be killed in this way. Thus, in the film, the annoying kid survives despite everyone’s wish that he would drown.
The Poseidon Adventure plays on everyone’s greatest death fears - drowning, burning - painful and agonizing deaths that we all hope we never experience. The cinematography was incredible, beginning with bright and happy colors that turn to dark, steamy, shadowy nightmares after the ship overturns. The drama is intense and tempers are high along the journey as the characters begin to doubt themselves and each other. Sudden explosions of gushing water, gouts of fire and steam heightens the intensity as does the musical score created by the master, John Williams.
The Poseidon Adventure is a classic thriller with an exciting cast, great story and an incredibly tense rollercoaster ride of emotion. There have been remakes and sequels, but in my mind, there can only be one Poseidon Adventure - the original version that was released in 1972. There can be no other. This is a must see for fans of scary movies pre-digital enhancement and CGI effects. Just make sure the kids aren’t home when you watch it. I was pretty young when I saw this film - about eight or so - and have seen it numerous times since then, but I can remember my reaction to the first time I saw it as if it was yesterday, further testimony to just how good this movie really is.