Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Poseidon Adventure


Absolute disaster, darlings; break out the sackcloth and the ashes. Helmut called me this morning and told me that my services would no longer be required on Fillies, the musical version of Equus upon which I have been working so hard. When I demanded to know why, he mumbled something about my not putting out. Not putting out? I put out more energy in my tap numbers than the Nicholas and the Ritz brothers put together - they should call me 'Feet of Flames'. I have called my attorneys, Fajer and Hellmann and put the whole things in their hands. I have a pay or play contract and will receive my fee no matter what they ultimately decided. In case the project dies, I have asked Joseph, my manager to start looking for new material. I can't stand being idle.

I called that darling Rob Lowe, my co-star, to ask him about the whole affair. He said he was just as shocked as I was. When I asked what actress thought she could possibly replace my special talents, he told me that Helmut had cast that Anna person, whose full name appears to be Anna Nicole Smith, who has been nursemaiding him. Rob said she puts out more but I find it hard to believe that anyone could give more than I have to the project.   The hussy!  She's nothing but a little tramp, and I don't mean the Chaplin variety. I'm absolutely shattered by the whole incident and have booked myself into a hideaway in Palm Springs for a few days. I feel a need for a few facials to recover my composure. My publicist, Madame Rose, has been instructed not to tell the tabloids that I will be staying at the Riviera and, while there, doing a special one time benefit of my solo performance piece Lester on Lister , celebrating germ theory and bacteriocidals, for the annual convention of the California Department of Aging.

As today was such a disaster, I thought it was necessary to view a film in which mortals are cursed with far worse problems than my current predicament so I pulled out my DVD of The Poseidon Adventure , the epic ship disaster film of 1972. The film is the story of a doomed ocean liner, which capsizes at midnight on New Year's Eve, following an undersea earthquake. (The way in which this is portrayed in the film is geologically and hydrologically impossible, but leaps in logic have never kept Hollywood down in the past.)

Following a stunning sequence in which the ship’s New Year's Eve party is turned turtle with stunt people flying all over the room, ten intrepid survivor types decide to climb the Christmas tree and break their way out of the keel of the ship before it sinks. They are balanced for maximum melodramatic conflict and include the rebel priest (Gene Hackman), the cop (Ernest Borgnine) and his sluttish wife (Stella Stevens), the mild mannered haberdasher (Red Buttons), the lounge singer (Carol Lynley), an elderly Jewish couple (Shelley Winters and Jack Albertson), a dining room steward (Roddy McDowell), a teen with a crush on the priest (Pamela Sue Martin) and her kid brother (Eric Shea). The majority of the movie is the formulaic 'Who'll make it to the top without croaking?' exercise.

The stars of such films are usually the stunt and special effects crews and they do not disappoint. There are scenes here every bit as good as the stunts in Titanic but this was pre-CGI and digital erasing of wires so most of it was shot in camera as you see it. In terms of the human performances, Shelley Winters (despite much lampooning over the years) is actually quite affecting as the elderly yenta with unexpected talents. Gene Hackman depends on bluster and rolling his eyes and Ernest Borgnine seems to be channeling his old sit-com character. Stella Stevens has a lot of fun as the floozy and wears a couple of eye popping outfits before she has to spend most of the movie in panties and a pink tuxedo shirt. This is the seventies after all.

The original novel, by Paul Gallico, was much more subtle and complex than the screenplay, with more characters and more imagination. It also doesn't feel as obliged to care for the rules of the disaster genre (such as thou shalt not kill a child) and is a good potboiler beach read. The script is much more paint by numbers in approach. We meet the characters in a few vignettes, watch the disaster, and watch them squabble under the survival pressures of escape.

I've always enjoyed the film, even the tacky seventies fashions that are drowned in the big party sequence but am wise enough now to know that enjoyable and good are not necessarily the same thing. And I will have to admit I did own one of those hideous pantsuits once upon a time. I’ve thought through the years that I should attempt a musical remake, but there are no real suitable female parts. I do not play either yentas or floozies and I’m much too svelte to play the ship.

Nausea suppositories. Falling Christmas trees. Gratuitous Leslie Nielsen. Evil Greek businessman. Tablecloth jumping. Underwater swimming. Myocardial infarction. Roasted extra. Escaping steam. Gratuitous Maureen McGovern ballad (The Morning After for the three of you who don't know).

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