Poseidon Adventure, The (1972): Irwin Allen’s Oscar-Winning Disaster Film (New Year)

The film was produced by Irwin Allen, directed by Ronald Neame, with a script by Stirling Silliphnat and Wendell Mayes that’s loosely Paul Gallico’s novel about a cruise ship capsized by an enormous tidal wave.

The survivors, trapped in the upside-down vessel, try to find their way to the bottom of the ship, which is now its top.

The Poseidon Adventure is credited with catapulting, if not launching, the cycle of disaster pictures into greater visibility and box-office popularity; the first film of the cycle was Airport in 1970.

Many of the subsequent disaster movies were produced by Allen, the master of disaster schlock, including The Towering Inferno and Earthquake.

The movie boasted a top-notch cast: Gene Hackman, right after winning the Oscar for The French Connection, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson, Arthur O’Connell, Leslie Nielsen, Carol Lynley, and Pamela Sue Martin.

But it’s Shelley Winters, in an Oscar-nominated performance, who steals the show as a Jewish grandmother (with a kind but weak heart), who shows heroism by jumping into the dangerous waters.

The sets were modeled on Queen Mary, and the actual ship was used for some exteriors.

Nominated for 8 Oscars, The Poseidon Adventure won one legit award, Best Song (The Morning After) and Special Achievement Award for Special Effects since this category didn’t exist yet. (See List below).

Oscar Nominations: 9

Supporting Actress: Shelley Winters
Cinematography: Harold E. Stine
Art Direction-Set Decoration: William Creber; Raphael Bretton
Sound: Theodore Soderberg and Herman Lewis
Original Dramatic Score: John Williams
Song: The Morning After, music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn
Film Editing: Harold F. Kress
Costume Design: Paul Zatupnevich

he Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American disaster film directed by Ronald Neame, produced by Irwin Allen, and based on Paul Gallico’s 1969 novel of the same name.

The ensemble cast included five Oscar winners: Gene Hackman; Ernest Borgnine; Jack Albertson; Shelley Winters; and Red Buttons.

Premise: The plot centers on the fictional SS Poseidon, an aged luxury liner on her final voyage from New York City to Athens before being sent to the scrapyard. On New Year’s Eve, she is overturned by a tsunami. Passengers and crew are trapped inside, and a preacher attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

 

The SS Poseidon, an ocean liner slated for retirement, travels to Athens. Despite safety concerns, the new owner’s representative insists that the captain go full speed to save money, preventing Poseidon from taking on ballast.

Reverend Scott, a minister who believes “God helps those who help themselves,” is traveling to a new parish in Africa as punishment for his unorthodox views.

Detective Lieutenant Rogo and wife Linda, a former prostitute, deal with her seasickness.

Susan and her younger brother Robin are traveling to meet their parents.

Robin is interested in how the ship works and frequently visits the engine room. Retired Jewish store owner Manny Rosen and wife Belle are going to Israel to meet their 2-year-old grandson for the first time. Haberdasher James Martin is a love-shy, health-conscious bachelor. The ship’s singer, Nonnie Parry, rehearses for the New Year’s Day celebration.

Passengers gather in the promenade room to celebrate. The captain is called to the bridge in response to a report of an undersea earthquake. He receives word from the lookout that a tsunami is approaching from the direction of Crete. He issues a mayday distress signal. The ship is hit broadside and capsizes, floating upsidedown.

In the dining room, survivors take stock of their predicament. Acres, an injured waiter, is trapped at the galley door now high above. Scott surmises that the escape route will be found “upwards”, at the outer hull, now above water. Robin tells him the hull near the propeller shaft is only 1 inch (3 cm) thick. Scott attempts to convince the dozens of survivors in the dining room to travel with him to the ship’s hull. However, the ship’s purser tells the crowd not to follow Scott and tells them to wait. Most of the survivors side with the purser. The Rosens, the Rogos, Susan, Robin, Acres, Nonnie, and Martin agree to go with Scott, using a Christmas tree as a ladder. After the group climbs to the galley, there is a series of explosions. As seawater floods the dining room, those remaining attempt to climb the tree, but their weight causes it to fall. Water fills up the room and Poseidon begins sinking.

Scott leads his group toward the engine room. While climbing a ladder inside a ventilation shaft, the ship rocks from more explosions. Acres falls and perishes. Leaving the shaft, the group meets a large band of survivors led by the ship’s medic, heading toward the bow. Scott believes they are heading for their doom, but Rogo wants to follow them and gives Scott 15 minutes to find the engine room. Although he takes longer than allowed, Scott succeeds.

The engine room is on the other side of a flooded corridor. Belle reveals she is a former competitive swimmer and volunteers to go through, but Scott dives in. Halfway through, a panel collapses on him. The survivors notice the delay, and Belle dives in. She frees Scott and they make it to the other side, but Belle suffers a heart attack. Before dying, she tells Scott to give her Chai pendant to her husband, to give to their grandson.

Rogo swims over to make sure Belle and Scott are all right, then leads the rest over. When Rosen finds Belle’s body, he is unwilling to go on, but Scott reminds him that he has a reason to live.

Scott leads the survivors to the propeller shaft room’s watertight door, but additional explosions cause Linda to lose her grip and fall to her death. A heartbroken Rogo blames Scott. A ruptured pipe releases steam, blocking their escape. Scott rants at God for the survivors’ deaths as he leaps across a pool of flaming oil, grabbing onto the burning-hot valve wheel to shut down the steam. Scott tells Rogo to lead the group on before falling to his death.

Rogo leads the remaining survivors—Rosen, Martin, Nonnie, Susan, and Robin—through the watertight doors and into the propeller shaft tunnel.

They hear a noise from outside and bang on the hull to attract attention. The rescuers cut through the hull, assist the six survivors from the ship, inform them that no one else survived, and fly them to safety.

It is in the vein of other all-star disaster films of the early-mid 1970s such as Airport (1970), Earthquake (1974), and The Towering Inferno (1974).

Released in December 1972, it became the highest-grossing film of 1973 and grossed over $125 million worldwide.

The film won two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a British Academy Film Award, and a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.

A sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, also based on a novel by Gallico, was released in 1979.

Cast
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott
Ernest Borgnine as Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo
Red Buttons as James Martin
Carol Lynley as Nonnie Parry
Roddy McDowall as Acres
Stella Stevens as Linda Rogo
Shelley Winters as Belle Rosen
Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen
Pamela Sue Martin as Susan Shelby
Arthur O’Connell as Chaplain John
Eric Shea as Robin Shelby
Leslie Nielsen as Captain Harrison
Fred Sadoff as Linarcos
Byron Webster as Purser
Jan Arvan as Dr. Caravello
Sheila Mathews as Nurse
John Crawford as Chief Engineer
Bob Hastings as M.C.
Erik Nelson as Tinkham