Earthquake (1974): Trashy Oscar-Winning Action Disaster Movie, Starring Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner

Universal (Mark Robson Filmmakers Group Production)

Guilty pleasure par excellence: a silly plot and one-dimensional characters, but some good special effects.

This commercial fil also offers opportunity to spot some attractive actors and some aging stars, including Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner (who plays Lorne Green’s daughter!), Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, George Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Victoria Principal, Waler Matthau.

The movie belongs to the disaster cycle, a trend that began with “Airport,” in 1970, and was followed by “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno.”

The New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael summed up the film as “an entertaining marathon of Grade-A destruction effects with B-Picture stock characters spinning through it.”

In their cynical approach, the producer, director and writer show contempt for the audience, because they know that no matter how cheesy the picture is, viewers would flock to see L.A. getting crashed and destroyed.

Ironically, the movie preceded the real-life disastrous earthquake in January 1993 by less than a decade.

The movie was originally released through the innovative technology of Sensurround.

Opening on November 16, 1974, “Earthquake” quickly became one of the year’s top-grossing films.

Reading the Trashy Movie Today

One scene that cannot be viewed today without irony involves the notorious O. J. Simpson.  Simpson is cast in the film as a security guard, who goes out of his way to save a cat from the scorching skyscraper. “Say, kitty,” he says, “I almost missed ya.”

Oscar Nominations:  4

Cinematography: Philip Lathrop

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Alexander Golitzen and E. Preston Ames; Frank McKelvy

Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer

 Sound: Ronald Pierce and Melvin Metcalfe, Sr.

 Oscar Awards: 2


 Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects: Frank Brendel, Glen Robinson, and Albert Whitlock

Oscar Context:

As a schlocky disaster film, “Earthquake” competed with “The Towering Inferno,” which was nominated for Best Picture and other awards, winning Best Cinematography for Fred Koenekamp and Joseph Biroc and Film Editing for Harold F. Kress and Carl Kress.  The Art Direction Oscar deservedly went to Coppola’s “The Godfather, Part II,” which won Best Picture and other Oscars.