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The Poseidon Adventure

film poster by Mort Künstler
Directed by Ronald Neame
Irwin Allen
Produced by Irwin Allen
Written by Paul Gallico (novel)
Wendell Mayes & Stirling Silliphant (screenplay)
Starring 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
Music by Music:
John Williams
The Morning After:
Joel Hirschhorn
Al Kasha
Cinematography Harold E. Stine
Editing by Harold F. Kress
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 12, 1972
Running time 117 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $5,000,000 (estimated)
Followed by Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

The Poseidon Adventure is a 1972 American action-adventure disaster film based on a novel by Paul Gallico. It concerns the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks.

It won the Academy Award for Best Song for "The Song from 'The Poseidon Adventure'" (also known as "The Morning After"), which became a hit single for Maureen McGovern, as well as winning an Academy Award for Special Achievement in Visual Effects. Shelley Winters was also nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a film for the role. The cast of the film includes five past Academy Award winners - Winters, Gene Hackman, Jack Albertson, Red Buttons and Ernest Borgnine. Parts of the movie were filmed aboard the RMS Queen Mary.

The plot centers upon the fictional ocean liner SS Poseidon, an aged luxury ship from the golden age of travel, on its final voyage from New York City to Athens before being sent to the scrapyard. On New Year's Day, it is overturned by a tsunami caused by an underwater earthquake. Passengers and crew are trapped inside and a rebellious preacher attempts to lead a small group of survivors to safety.

A huge box office success, it was the second highest grossing film of 1972, behind The Godfather. The success of this film is in the vein of other all-star disaster films in the 1970s such as Airport (1970) and later films like The Towering Inferno (1974), and Earthquake (1974). A sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), had an equally star-studded cast, but was a box-office and critical failure. The film was remade twice, first as a television special in 2005 with the same name, and a theatrical release with the name Poseidon in 2006.

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Cover of the DVD release, showing Reverend Scott and Lieutenant Rogo in a dispute superimposed on a shot of a capsized ship, not the SS Poseidon.

The SS Poseidon, an ocean liner slated for retirement and dismantling, is making its way across the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea from New York City to Athens. Despite the protests of Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen), who fears for the ship's safety in troubled waters, the representative of the Poseidon's shipping company, Mr. Linarcos (Fred Sadoff), insists that the ship makes full speed towards its destination, meaning that it is not allowed to carry additional ballast onboard.

Detective Lieutenant Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine) and his former-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens) —seasick, like many of the passengers — receive an invitation to the captain's table. Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a priest questioning his faith and believing God helps those who help themselves, delivers a sermon. Susan Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin) and her younger brother Robin (Eric Shea) are traveling to meet their parents. Robin is interested in how the ship works and frequently visits the engine room. Retired Jewish hardware store owner Manny Rosen (Jack Albertson) and his wife Belle (Shelley Winters) are going to Israel to meet their two-year-old grandson for the first time. Haberdasher James Martin (Red Buttons) is a love-shy, health-conscious bachelor. The ship's singer, Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley) rehearses for the New Year's celebration with her band.

That evening, New Year's Eve, passengers gather in the dining room to celebrate. Captain Harrison is called to the bridge because of a report of an undersea earthquake. Harrison receives word from the lookout that there is a huge wave heading towards them. He issues a mayday and commands a "hard left" turn, but it is too late. The wave hits the bridge, drowning Harrison, Linarcos and the other ship's officers on the bridge. With its lack of ballast, the ship rolls over, killing or injuring many of the people on board.

In the dining room, survivors take stock of their predicament. Acres (Roddy McDowall), an injured waiter, is trapped at the galley door now high above. With information from Martin, Scott surmises that the escape route will be found 'upwards', at the outer hull, which is now above water. Robin tells Scott that the hull near the propeller shaft is only one inch (2.54 cm) thick. The Rosens, the Rogos, Nonnie, Susan, Robin, Acres and Martin agree to go with Scott, using a Christmas tree as a ladder. Scott unsuccessfully tries to convince more passengers to join them. After the small group climbs to the galley, there is a series of explosions. As seawater floods the ballroom the survivors rush to the Christmas tree, but the weight of everyone climbing causes it to collapse.

Acres and Scott find the galley, and the survivors pick their way through the kitchen to a staircase. Scott climbs the underside of the stairs and he and Martin use a firehose to pull the others up. Scott leads them to an access tunnel. Rogo has been instructed to look after everybody, but just as Martin and Nonnie climb into the hole, water begins filling the corridor. While climbing up a long ladder inside the funnel, with Acres above them, the ship rocks from another series of explosions. Acres falls into the churning water and is lost despite Rogo's attempt to save him.

Climbing out of the shaft, Scott and Rogo argue over the loss of Acres. Their group meets a larger band of survivors led by the ship's medic, heading towards the bow. Scott is certain they are heading for their doom, but Rogo wants to follow them and gives Scott fifteen minutes to go aft to find the engine room. Although he takes longer than allowed, Scott finds the way to the engine room.

Survivors move inside the capsized SS Poseidon. From L-R: Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, and Pamela Sue Martin

The group discovers the engine room is on the other side of a flooded corridor, so someone must swim through with a line to help the others. Belle, a former competitive swimmer, claims she can manage it, but Scott refuses and dives in with the line. Halfway through, a panel collapses on Scott, trapping him. The survivors notice something is wrong and Belle dives in. She frees Scott and they make it to the other side. As Scott secures the lifeline, Belle has a heart attack. Before dying she tells Scott to give her "Chai" pendant (representing the Hebrew sign for life) to her husband, who in turn will give it to her grandson.

Rogo swims over to make sure Belle and Scott are alright, then leads the rest over. When Rosen swims to the other side and finds his wife's body he is unwilling to go on, but Scott gives him Belle's Chai pendant, reminding him that he has a reason to live.

Scott leads the survivors across a catwalk to the propeller shaft room's watertight door, but there is another series of explosions and Linda falls to her death. An infuriated and heartbroken Rogo blames her death on Scott. More explosions rupture a pipe that releases steam, blocking their escape. Scott, outraged about the three deaths and this final obstacle, rants at God for betraying the survivors. He leaps and grabs onto the burning-hot valve wheel to shut off the steam, then tells Rogo to lead the group before letting go of the wheel, sacrificing himself.

Rogo leads the remaining survivors — Rosen, Martin, Nonnie, Susan and Robin — through the watertight door and into the propeller shaft room. They hear a noise above the ship and bang on the ceiling to get the rescuers' attention. The rescuers cut through the hull and help the group from the ship. The survivors, the only six alive after the disaster, fly off to safety by helicopter.


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Quick Tip by . December 25, 2009
Follow Ernest Borginine (Mr. Negativity) or Gene Hackman (I'll get you out of here)? Preacher Gene gets the nod.
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