Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Consider this Warning...

1970s film audiences could not seem to get enough of all-star casts facing some sort of epic peril! With airplanes, ships, skyscrapers and the ground itself already having failed to protect man from disaster, this suspense thriller posed the question: What would happen if the nation’s primary sporting event (The Super Bowl) were subject to panic caused by a deranged sniper?!

Trouble is, the NFL wouldn’t allow the makers of Two-Minute Warning to use their likenesses and logos, nor even the name “Super Bowl.” So the film had one arm tied behind its back from the start as two generic teams met up for the “Championship” game. Still, that aside, the conceit that a stadium could be packed to capacity with screaming fans who are held in the grip of an unknown, steely wacko who can start killing at any moment is enough to generate a significant amount of tension.

Putting a spin on the popular “box movie” style of poster format, this one has all the stars’ faces in circles representing the rifle site as seen through the eye of the gunman. Though he continually and randomly lands his site on the stars throughout the bulk of the movie, the film’s title should be an indication of when hell really starts to break loose.

The mainstay of 70s action and disaster films, Charlton Heston, is on hand as a police captain in charge of rooting out the mysterious and heavily armed assassin who has perched himself above the scoreboard at the L.A. Coliseum. John Cassavetes costars as head of the SWAT team brought in to take the guy out. These two gentlemen couldn’t be more unalike in career trajectory or acting style and it aids in their onscreen rivalry. Completing a triangle of harried officials is Martin Balsam, excellent as a Coliseum official.

A buffet of (then) familiar faces rounds out the rest of the cast, portraying ticket-holders for the big game, unaware that their lives could be snuffed out at any moment. Beau Bridges (a favorite of director Larry Peerce, having appeared in several of his previous films) and Pamela Bellwood are a married couple with two young children. Their family is under immense stress thanks to the economic situation at the time and they simply want to have a good time at the game. David Janssen and Gena Rowlands (Cassavetes’ real life spouse) are a battling couple, trying to make their relationship work despite obstacles in each of their personalities. Jack Klugman is a gambler in danger of being snuffed out and who has everything riding on the outcome of the game. A priest played by Mitchell Ryan is seated next to him, giving what support he can. Marilyn Hassett (the director’s wife at the time and, thus, even more of a favorite than Bridges!) is an attractive lady stuck on an excruciating date, but finding herself drawn to the man seated on her other side, Rhoda’s David Groh. Finally, Walter Pidgeon plays a pickpocket, eagerly taking the opportunity of a crushing throng of people to get his job done.

While the film does take a significant amount of time to work up to its explosive climax, there are a few eventful moments beforehand such as when the gunman decides to try out his weapon and when he is discovered by security officer Brock Peters. It’s mostly a steady build up to the big moment when the man opens fire, aided greatly by some Oscar-nominated editing. A creepy (if repetitive) score underlines the anxiety while the complete anonymity of the gunman, absent of even a clear motive, lends a coldness to the scenario.

Things get fun when panic ensues. Bridges (who is being shockingly mistreated by uniformed police officers) takes off running through the deserted, heavily littered pathways of the Coliseum only to be confronted by a rabid, terrified throng of people coming the opposite way. We’ve all seen people rush onto the football field after a big game, but in this film, they’re running because standing still can lead to instant death!

As the panic grows, Hassett (or her stunt double, rather) is knocked out of the relative protection of an escalator and is left dangling high above the tarmac. This was, for me as a child, an indelible image and one that I always wished to replicate at the local malls whenever I was on a similar device. Naturally, without the then-chic leather boots and hunter green skirt, I never could have achieved quite the same effect, though.

It must be said that the crowd scenes here come off as unnecessarily cynical and cruel. Would people really act the way they do here, crushing each other and knocking each other everywhere? Perhaps. Still, in the aftermath of 9/11 I was never made aware of this type of behavior as people tried to escape the Twin Towers. Rather, I heard of heroics and helping amongst the people trying to get out. Who knows if we just weren’t told about the selfish people or if there were none? Additionally, the police here come off as quite violent and unkind in their handling of the situation.

The overall callous brutality of the film and the vivid way in which several people are killed led to some serious problems for the network trying to air the movie on TV. Also, typical for the time, there was plenty of spicy dialogue that was deemed too vulgar for the viewing audience. (Naturally, by now, all this is tame stuff, however.) So the film was augmented in quite a hideous way with newly shot footage offering up a preposterous excuse for the gunman’s assault and a whole new subplot about an art heist taking place next to the venue! This rendition of the film is notoriously bad. Even those who hated the original (and there are plenty of people who did and do) admit that the re-fabricated version is worse.

Poseidon has never let such a thing as good taste stand in the way of his enjoyment of all-star spectacles that also include panic and destruction. The fact that real-life sports announcers Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Dick Enberg appear briefly and that The National Anthem is crooned by none other than Merv Griffin (!) only adds to the fun. This movie also cemented my fixation on Rowlands’ hair, her distinctive blonde wave falling over one side of her face as oversized sunglasses find differing ways to implant themselves within it. Then there’s Heston’s deadly unappealing knit tie and his sunglasses that appear crooked in the majority of shots.

If you can stomach the generification of the football game and its teams, chances are you will find yourself compelled by the aura of dread that hangs over the film until it all comes apart at the seams. A similar (some say greater, though I am not one of them) film is 1977’s Black Sunday, in which terrorists hijack the Goodyear blimp in order to explode it over The Super Bowl, this time the real Super Bowl!


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