Monday, November 23, 2009

Beyond Comprehesion...

Poor old Irwin Allen. He just wouldn’t give up on a formula until he was certain that it was dead (and buried!) The stunning success of The Poseidon Adventure led to the development of The Towering Inferno, making Allen the undisputed Master of Disaster. Seeing a chance to wring just a little more success out of his first blockbuster, he urged writer Paul Gallico to write a sequel to his novel, the one that started the whole ball rolling in the first place.

In what was a very curious decision, Gallico wrote his sequel "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure," not strictly in line with his own novel, but rather in line with the movie version of his novel! Thus, the story of the novel didn’t necessarily jibe 100% with his own literary work but more with that of the film. He concocted a tale involving Mr. Rogo, Mr, Rosen and Mr. Martin going back into the barely afloat cruise liner and coming upon pirates, criminals and other survivors. It was a somewhat far-fetched scheme and an at times violent one.

Thing is, when Allen commissioned the sequel novel to become a film, he chucked virtually all of the characters and storyline that Gallico came up with and ran with a whole different scenario!! So Gallico may as well have just stuck to his own version of the story and not tried to match the movie.

The movie sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, was a cinematic fiasco, disappearing from theaters almost as quickly as it had been booked. Not only was it set the same day the first movie ended, but filmed seven years later(!), but it also bore precious little resemblance to the first film in look or continuity. Someone in the art direction department decided that, apart from some leftover party streamers here and there, the upside down sets should be pristine and lit with flood lights. Thus, the dank, burned, dirty passageways of the original film were exchanged for shiny, spotless, heavily illuminated areas with an occasional body or a hole in the floor to suggest that anything untoward has gone on!

None of the original cast was used, so a whole new raft of characters was created, though some of them adopt characteristics of their predecessors. Michael Caine plays a tugboat captain who decides to claim salvage rights to the capsized S.S. Poseidon and board her with his right hand man Karl Malden and his newfound lady friend Sally Field. Before he can even get inside, a sleek yacht pulls up containing white-clad Telly Savalas (in some most unflattering slacks) and a crew of “medical” personnel who wish to go into the ship and look for survivors.

These folks band together tenuously and soon find themselves every bit as trapped as the folks in the first movie were. A fairly lame contrivance places this gaggle of folks in an entirely different section of the boat than was shown in the first movie and so they come upon the gym, the purser’s office, a different kitchen, passenger quarters and a storage facility. They even stumble upon more survivors.

Among the newly discovered passengers are Peter Boyle, an insufferable loudmouth who is constantly trying to locate his “daughtah,” Shirley Jones, as a nurse whose first voyage this was (why? The ship was en route to be scrapped. Did they need to hire more staff?), Veronica Hamel, as a glamorous beauty who doesn’t seem to want to join in with everyone else, and Slim Pickens, as a boozy Texas big shot. Pickens' line readings offer some of the most amusing moments in what is frequently an unintentional laugh fest. My fave is “Who the devil’s Suzanne?”

Eventually, even more passengers are located (!) including Mark Harmon as a scrawny, but kind, elevator operator, Angela Cartwright, as Boyle’s “daughtah,” Jack Warden as a famous author and Shirley Knight as his devoted wife. Cartwright had worked with Allen for several seasons of Lost in Space, which explains why someone almost 30 years old is playing “daddy’s little girl” in her first feature film role in nearly 15 years. Granted, her prior film was the monumental success The Sound of Music, but she was not exactly right for this part and it certainly did her no favors in return!

I’ve already professed my devotion to the elegant and effortlessly classy Shirley Knight in a different entry on this blog. Her role in the film couldn’t be more thankless and yet she lends the project practically all of the scant prestige that it has. Her entrance in the film is hysterically funny as Field and Cartwright are clearing away debris when suddenly, like out of an old Scooby-Doo cartoon, Knight creeps out of a doorway and blithely taps Cartwright on the back, eliciting a blood-curdling scream. Rather than to acknowledge her or see what she’s all about, the two women either squeal endlessly or holler, “Mike!” until Caine comes forward to see what’s going on.

Later, Knight has another dilly of a scene in which her shoulder is wrenched from its socket (giving her the chance to prove her acting mettle by holding it all bent and awkward) and Jones has to pop it back in, offering her the comforting words, “This is going to hurt a great deal Mrs. Meredith. I’m so sorry!” Thanks!

Apart from Knight, my other favorite character (virtual obsession, truth be known) is Hamel’s. Apart from being drop-dead gorgeous despite all the disaster, she’s one of the few characters with any sort of dimension. She gets to act aloof, haughty, scared, melodramatic, sexy… You name it! At one point, she has to jump over a wide hole in the floor and she falls into Caine’s arms helplessly and utters, “Oh God, please hold me” forcing Field to exclaim, “Oh, brother…” Hamel was under personal contract to Allen and was placed in his next career-killer When Time Ran Out as a result. Thankfully, she would eventually land on Hill St. Blues to great acclaim.

Field, despite being stuck in an ugly outfit with goofy hair, manages to deliver her lines with measurable wit. She has a lot of corny comments to make along with shifts in emotion. Though the guts of a sinking ship may not be the place to go into some of the things her character does, she at least seems to know that she’s in a hopelessly lousy action flick and keeps a light head and heart. Amazingly, this piece of garbage was her follow-up project to Norma Rae, for which she won a Best Actress Oscar! No wonder she didn’t “feel it” the first time (that people liked her!)

Caine, for reasons that can only be explained in terms of dollars, had already been stung career-wise by The Swarm and yet went back to the Allen well for more. That he ever appeared on film again after these two lulus, much less won an Oscar, is downright miraculous. Once again, he’s here stone-facedly barking out orders to everyone and romancing someone while in the face of immediate danger. At least he attains a certain level of camaraderie with Malden and struck up enough chemistry with Field to warrant their later pairing in the marginal Surrender.

Eventually, for reasons I won’t spoil, there’s not only the sinking ship to contend with, but also gunplay! Finally, the remaining survivors must don facemasks, flippers and oxygen tanks in order to swim out from under the ship. This provides some unintentionally foolish-looking visuals as the hapless actors flop around in the water and cling to each other on the overturned hull of the (apparently spanking new?!) Poseidon, which is cherry red even though the boat was so old it was on its way to be dismantled for scrap.

A thoroughly idiotic, senseless, tired, ludicrous piece of film-making (with a completely forgettable score by Jerry Fielding), this bomb entertains in spite of itself, but for all the wrong reasons. Just try to keep a straight face as it plods along. I’ll never forget my first exposure to the film. I was sitting in my 6th grade classroom looking through a catalog of films available for rent when I saw the ad for it. So hopelessly dire was its box office performance that I, a diehard fan of the original, had never even HEARD of it before! It blew my mind that such a sequel even existed (and the same thing has happened to many a person upon being told that there was a Poseidon sequel filmed thirty years ago.) I had to wait a long time to actually see it for myself. When I did, it was in an expanded television edition that, sadly, is not readily available at present. The DVD doesn’t include the extra 20 minutes, which fleshed out the characters of Warden, Knight and Jones a little bit more among other things.

All that said, I have a certain affection for it, like for a wounded bird. Allen wanted to entertain. He wanted to make audiences jaws drop open. Unfortunately, they didn’t always fall open for the intended reasons. Fan of cheesy all-star casts that I am and for watery special effects, I can’t help but enjoy that dang thing. At least the goings on in the film were created by stuntmen and craftsmen and contained real fire and water rather than the pixilated stuff that’s all the rage now. For this alone, I like it better than the soulless, hyped-up, generic Poseidon remake that came out in 2006.


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