The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

Genre: Adventure, Drama, and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 57 min.

Release Date: December 13th, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Ronald Neame Actors: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Pamela Sue Martin, Arthur O’Connell, Eric Shea, Leslie Nielsen




resented as if a true story (not unlike the events of the Titanic), the opening titles state that the S.S. Poseidon, en route from New York to Athens, met with disaster on a fateful New Year’s Eve. This is the story of the handful of survivors. As midnight approaches and a storm brews, increasing the size of the violent onslaught of waves, Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) complains to evil company man Linarcos (Fred Sadoff) about the top-heavy nature of the vessel. “There’s nothing wrong with the stabilizers!”

Although 3/4th’s of the passengers are sick from the ceaseless rocking motion, Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and his former-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens) suspect food poisoning. No one really blames the lack of ballast and the irresponsible full-ahead order by the cold owner’s representative; most of the unwitting souls aboard concern themselves with their own issues – from unorthodox Reverend Scott’s (Gene Hackman) embracing of realism, to bachelor James Martin’s (Red Buttons) loneliness, to waiter Acres’ (Roddy McDowall) monotonous routines, to nosey Belle Rosen’s (Shelley Winters) people-watching habits, to singer Nonnie Parry’s (Carol Lynley) continual crooning, to teenaged Susan (Pamela Sue Martin) and her younger brother Robin’s (Eric Shea) childish bickering. An all-star cast composes a vast assemblage of differing perspectives from which to vicariously experience harrowing adventure.

Despite the extreme survivalist undertaking, there’s a lot of personal dramas in the plot; they’re designed to increase the character development, but end up stretching out the running time a touch. A few of the roles use this opportunity to become irritating or less than believable. It’s not enough to ruin the looming thrills, however, as a seaquake near Crete kickstarts the catastrophe of a tumultuous capsizing. Produced by the master of disaster films, Irwin Allen, the flipping over of the massive ship is brutal, deadly, and impressively shot; the destruction is immense and spectacular.

“Nobody’s going to help us except ourselves!” Amusingly, there are so many survivors that clashing strategies (and personalities) for perseverance are only natural. Some choose to stay put and wait for rescue, while, ironically, the man-of-action preacher insists that they daringly journey upward to the hull. He may need help from outside forces, but he’s not about to stay put and pray. It’s here that the character details from before play a larger role, splitting the remaining passengers and crew into factions (and opposing mindsets, as well as to isolate individualistic skills) – of which only one will fruitfully progress. And, of course, some laughable excuses are made to strip Lynley, Stevens, and Martin of some of their clothes (but not their heels).

“What makes you so damn sure about everything?” The special effects are extraordinary, along with the topsy-turvy sets, augmenting a nerve-wracking plot of distressing exploration, frazzled nerves, unending surprises, and creeping death. The threats of burning and drowning pair with claustrophobic passageways, acrophobic shafts, random explosions, and seemingly untraversable terrain; it’s a relentless salvo of escalating debacles that serve as a symbolic crucible for the faith-flagging reverend and his flock. It may not be the first of the great disaster movies, but “The Poseidon Adventure” is surely one of the best, becoming a paradigm for countless other undersea suspense epics (from “The Abyss” to “Titanic” to “The Impossible” to the 2006 remake “Poseidon”).

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10