The Poseidon Adventure

Gene Hackman and the cast of The Poseidon Adventure


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



23 April


Ronald Neame born, 1911

On this day in 1911, a remarkable figure in cinema was born. Ronald Elwin Neame lived until 2010 and in his time was a cinematographer, a producer, writer and director. There are probably plenty of people who could line up a similar list of credits. But Neame was a cinematographer on Powell and Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft Is Missing, a producer of Oliver Lean’s Oliver Twist, the writer of Lean’s Great Expectations and the director of The Poseidon Adventure, each one of them an important film, for different reasons. He also directed Judy Garland in her last film, I Could Go On Singing and won an Oscar for Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Having been born to a photographer and an actress, Neame had got an early leg-up in the movie business thanks to his mother’s contacts – she got him a job as a messenger boy at Elstree Studios. From there he rose on his own merits, working for Hitchcock on Blackmail as a camera assistant and then spending the 1930s honing his skill before making the unusual (at the time) slide sideways into producing as well as directing. He was a success at everything he did, proudest of the 1960 army drama Tunes of Glory, but always claimed that The Poseidon Adventure was his favourite film, because it made him a lot of money. He lived until he was 99 and put his longevity down to “two large vodkas at lunchtime and three large scotches in the evening”.




The Poseidon Adventure (1972, dir: Ronald Neame)

A huge old liner is crossing the ocean on New Year’s Eve. On board is a motley collection of idiosyncratic characters. And way below them are two tectonic plates, about to suddenly slip and cause a tsunami which will flip the ship over. Some people are going to live; some are going to die. Who exactly is going to survive is what the film is all about.
The Poseidon Adventure is a disaster movie, perhaps it is the disaster movie. Certainly there had been Airport two years earlier, which had a chunky disaster element and featured big name actors in a soapy drama with interlocking plots. But in The Poseidon Adventure the formula was perfected. The film is all about the disaster and it is all about the efforts to survive it. And it’s all about fading Hollywood glamour too. If you’re in the mood for meta-analysis – big ageing ship slightly past its glory years being threatened by forces unquantifiable at the end of an old year – it’s being offered on a slightly tarnished salver. If you’re not then there’s the cast, which consists of onetime stars, character faces who could never open a film, a few disposables, plus the magic ingredient – a rising talent. Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Stella Stevens, Leslie Nielsen and Roddy McDowall are the recognisables, Gene Hackman the emerging star who is going to lead them all to safety. Except they’re not all going to make it, not even with one of the few action-hero priests of cinema cajoling them. Even at this extreme distance from the making of the film it feels churlish to reveal which big name was going to croak before the end. But the Poseidon Adventure set the trend for that too – the “oh no, not Fred Astaire” moment when a much loved star drowns/fries/dissolves/whatever.



Why Watch?


  • Hackman, one year after The French Connection, two years before The Conversation
  • The archetypal disaster movie
  • It’s still a good, tense ride
  • A guilty pleasure


© Steve Morrissey 2014



The Poseidon Adventure – at Amazon





4 thoughts on “The Poseidon Adventure”

  1. If you have three and a half hours to kill, do NOT watch Titanic. Take the three and a half hours and watch the Poseidon Adventure twice. Okay, it’s campy and it’s the consummate 70s disaster flick, complete with ensemble cast.

    But when you put them up against each other, Poseidon Adventure is just leagues better than Titanic. Titanic is over three hours, and centers around two characters. In that time, the two characters are hardly developed at all, they’re terribly one dimensional and probably could be summed up in about a sentence each.

    Compare this to Poseidon Adventure. Stars off with a dozen main characters, and in half as much time, they all have their own personalities, quirks, and are real identifiable people. And far from the Titanic tendency of stamping "I’m gonna die" on people’s foreheads, in the Poseidon Adventure you don’t know initially who’s going to die- or at least not how or when anyway.

    The Poseidon Adventure is just a more interesting movie. It may not be as glossy or as pretty, but it’s got it where it counts… it’s just a better film.

  2. Anyone who has seen as many disaster movies as I have knows that this is absolutely the best one ever made. For a film nearly thirty years old, Poseidon Adventure is still so effective that it would cause anyone planning to take a cruise to think twice. You probably know the plot–luxury liner capsized by a tidal wave. This synopsis is brought to life with suspense, drama, and sometimes, terrifying reality. One of the most effective cinematic touches is that in nearly every scene, the camera is slowly swaying back and forth to give us a sense that we really are at sea. Something "Titanic" completely missed.

    We follow the journey of ten survivors through the inverted ship to their hopeful rescue–narrowly escaping fires, explosions, and flooding corridors every step of the way. The sets are epic and nothing less than spectacular. Especially the inverted dining room when the Atlantic Ocean comes crashing in, and the engine room which is now a horrifying twisted metal inferno. The cast is good, however Gene Hackman, Shelly Winters, and Stella Stevens are best. Hackman is our handsome hero, Winters is our unselfish caring mother, and Stevens is absolutely radiant (pre-capsize) and adds a welcome touch of humor to the mess.

    No, the movie is not perfect, and it is of course starting to look a bit dated. However the suspense and dazzling effects will keep you glued to your seat and you certainly won't be bored. Poseidon Adventure is a true classic. A must see for everyone–not just disaster movie fans.

  3. The aging liner Poseidon, on her final journey, is struck by a tidal wave that knocks her upside down. A small group of passengers realise that if they want to survive they must journey up into the bowels of the ship hoping for rescue from above.

    The idea is well conceived and the excellent cast turn in good performances despite getting little help from the somewhat corny script. With above average special effects for the time and excellent sets that convincingly realise the upside down half-flooded ship and its bewildering maze of passageways, the movie manages to be compelling and exciting viewing.

  4. The Poseidon Adventure is one of those movies I have seen at least once a year as long as I have been alive. I lived in Maine when I was a kid and we loved our natural disaster flicks. Of all the great disaster movies from the 70s, this has got to be the best one. Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelly Winters, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Neilson, and the list goes on.

    The basic plot goes like this. The Poseidon is a cruise ship out for its last voyage and it is New Year’s Eve. The guests are all celebrating while deep beneath the ocean’s surface an earthquake is happening. The earthquake sets off a huge tsunami and the ship is knocked upside down. In order to be saved, a small group of people heads for the engine room at the bottom (make that top, since the ship is upside down) of the ship. At first, the ocean claims hundreds of the passengers until they are whittled down to about 10 people left. From here there are plenty of tense moments and a power struggle for control of the survivors. Typical disaster movie fare but done rather well.

    This movie is a great main event for a disaster film weekend.

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