Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Poseidon Adventure


At the time, the capsizing of the Poseidon was one of the greatest, most amazing sequences ever filmed. The whole movie was sold by a trailer that showed part of it, and it just stunned us all. The ballroom set was built with huge forklifts on one side, so that the whole thing could be tilted as much as 30 degrees. I’d like to have seen that. Then the whole set was re-dressed to make it appear to be upside down. You know, bolting tables to the ceiling, building “skylights” on the floor. The ship itself was a 21-foot model, and the wave was created with giant water tanks releasing their loads all at once. It looks fairly good, even today, though the smoke coming out of her stacks is the giveaway that it’s just a model.

The weakness of this film—and I felt this even at the time—is the characters. They are all clichéd, and in my opinion, most of them are real pains in the ass. That is even more obvious today.

Ernest Borgnine is a pain in the ass because he is always negative about everything. If Gene Hackman suggests something, he is always there to shout about how it’s a bad idea. If the little kid, the only one who knows his way around the ship, has anything to say he dismisses him by saying he’s only a kid.

The little kid is a pain in the ass because … well, because he’s a snot-nosed little kid. Okay, I’m a grumpy old fart who never had much use for little kids anyway, but this one is especially annoying.

Carol Lynley is a pain in the ass because she is a perpetual deer in the headlights, freezing up at important moments, totally unable to care for herself. I was sort of hoping she would die soon, but she had to be there for Red Buttons to look after. Red himself is a pain in the ass for his painful neediness.

Stella Stevens, Borgnine’s ex-whore wife, is a pain in the ass because she is always shouting at him.

About the only characters who were not pains in the ass were Roddy McDowell as the steward (so naturally he is the first to die), and Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson as the Rosens, on their way to Israel to see their grandson. They at least were game to try to get out. And even she got on my nerves sometimes.

But the all-time champeen pain in the ass was Gene Hackman as the preacher who advises everyone not to waste time praying, but to get their asses in gear and try to survive. While I completely agree with his philosophy, he didn’t have to be such an asshole about it. Would it have killed him to congratulate one of his tiny band of survivors to offer up a “well done!” when they did something right? In particular, when Borgnine dives into the water to try and rescue McDowell, the preacher was way out of line to chastise him for failing to bring Roddy back.

I still enjoyed it, but I probably won’t be seeing it again. And I did get to thinking … was going up to the ship’s keel really the best and only route out? Looking at the capsized ship from the outside, I could see many rows of windows and such. They were underwater, but not that deep underwater. Mightn’t it have been possible to put on a life jacket, swim through a broken window, and bob to the surface? I don’t pretend to be an authority on how far one can swim underwater, since I can’t swim at all, but I think it might work.

As for going up into the engine room … even though the annoying little kid says that the propeller shaft housing is where the hull is thinnest (and why? Why would it be thin there?), it’s still one inch of solid steel. Once there, you then have to hope someone is out there to cut you free. Just wondering.