“You are doing WHAT?” asked my brother-in-law, when he rang the other night. I was watching the end of The Poseidon Adventure. It is one the greats of the naff disaster movie era kicked off by The Towering Inferno. It is guaranteed brain draining. But I think we all need a bit of formulaic nonsense in our lives. I must have seen The Poseidon Adventure once from start to finish, and in snippets ever since.
The formula is as old as the hills. Take x number of people, and make sure that the number has been reduced to y within 25 minutes. And then chip away at the numbers, and see if you can outwit the audience. The Poseidon Adventure isn’t quite so bold as The Towering Inferno, which sensationally kills off Robert Wagner before half an hour is up (at which point, you know they mean business), but it has got that pleasingly upside-down set, and it does have Gene Hackman with an impossibly bad haircut and a truly terrible roll-neck sweater. It takes genius (which Hackman has, of course) to take on such a desperately badly written part, and still hold the screen.
My favourite bit in the film occurs when Hackman decides to swim underwater with a rope, to reach the far end of the hull. Shelley Winters, who has until this point been reduced to having to be the butt of various fattist and Jewish momma jokes, suddenly announces ‘I was the underwater swimming champ of New York two years running’ – and flashes a medal to prove it. One of the best nick-of-time moments ever.
Perhaps the most curious role is that of “Nonnie”, the singer who happens to be wearing hot-pants and boots at the time the liner is turned upside down. The actress, Carol Lynley, was, I’d assumed, never seen again, but in fact she seems to have been working constantly from the age of sixteen in 1958 to this day, although mainly in TV shows (no shame). According to ImDb, the internet movie database, she owned the said boots, and complained that water caused them damage. This is such an unlikely story that I suspect it of being true.
Maybe they can’t make films like this any more because Ernest Borgnine is no more. His I-will-lamp-you-at-the-slightest-provocation look was one of the delights of schlock like The Poseidon Adventure (which was based, I had not realised till now, on a novel by Paul Gallico – a name one seldom hears of any more, but very famous in his day).