The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 9/12/16
Producer: Irwin Allen
Music: John Williams
Cast: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley, Pamela Sue Martin, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Nielsen

An underwater earthquake in the Mediterranean Sea causes a huge wall of water to capsize the ocean liner S.S. Poseidon. With the ship upside down and slowly sinking, a disillusioned reverend (Gene Hackman) leads nine passengers on a dangerous trip to the engine room, while the rest of the survivors take their chances elsewhere. It's a tense disaster thriller with a surprisingly grim and downbeat ending, as Hackman's crisis of faith commands a heavy toll. The other characters are an interesting collection of personalities, including a blustery ex-cop (Ernest Borgnine), a brash ex-prostitute (Stella Stevens), an elderly Jewish couple, a lonely and eccentric bachelor (Red Buttons), a couple of kids (including a very young Pamela Sue Martin), and an injured crewman (Roddy McDowall). Hackman, Borgnine, and Stevens spend most of the film yelling at each other, which turns out to be A LOT of yelling. I don't think I've ever heard that much yelling before. Pamela Sue Martin nearly steals the show as a charming young woman who finds herself dangerously attracted to Hackman's masculinity, strength, and charisma.

The visual effects are quite good for the most part and the sets look great. The film does a wonderful job of creating a claustrophobic and disorienting environment where the rising water relentlessly chases our desperate heroes. The stunt work isn't especially perilous, but the actors do a convincing job of selling their fear and uneasiness. There are a few underwater scenes that go on way too long, which can be really uncomfortable to watch. An interesting observation is the large number of piercing blue eyes that are in the film. It's extremely apparent and just a bit distracting. While the downbeat ending is definitely a bummer, it's made worse by the use of an awful matte painting (the worst effect in the entire film) and a complete lack of closure for any of the characters. It's like they ran out of film right at the end. Even though the characters, attitudes, dialog, and presentation come across as dated, it's a solid action film that's supported by interesting personalities and excellent performances.