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Earthquake

Earthquake(1974)

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teaser Earthquake (1974)

Seismologists have been predicting a major earthquake for the Los Angeles area for many years but, except for the 1971 quake which did cause extensive property damage and killed 64 people, nothing on a truly catastrophic scale has occurred.......yet! But suppose L.A. was hit with an earthquake that registered 9.9 on the Richter scale? What would that look like? That's the basic premise of Earthquake (1974), an all-star disaster epic which stitches together several soap opera plots and then unravels them completely in an earth-shaking climax. The film was one of the top moneymakers of 1974 and the appeal was obvious. Who, after all, doesn't enjoy a good disaster flick and this one was the real McCoy. Crumbling skyscrapers, bursting dams, landslides, gaping ground fissures, and freak fires are the real stars of Earthquake.....and the stuntmen. The film was so popular, in fact, that Universal Studios decided to incorporate the experience into their famous Universal Tour.

When Earthquake was first released theatrically, it was shown in "Sensurround," a new type of sound system which made theatres appear to shake during the quake sequences. Unfortunately, TCM won't be able to duplicate that experience but you can still enjoy the sight of Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene, Richard Roundtree, George Kennedy, Genevieve Bujold, Victoria Principal, Walter Matthau, Marjoe Gortner and their stunt doubles getting tossed out of windows, falling into giant holes, and dodging falling debris. If you look closely in one scene, you can even see the special stunt cows - a carload of plastic toy cattle going over the side of a cliff.

Earthquake was filmed in and around Los Angeles except for the opening scene where the San Andreas fault ruptures on the Carrizo Plains, a hundred miles north of the city. Ironically, a few hours before filming actually began, L.A. experienced a tremor that registered 3.5 on the Richter scale and the epicenter was only five miles away from the movie set.

According to an article by John Daheim for American Cinematographer magazine, "Earthquake employed the services of 141 stunt people - more than have worked on any single picture at least in the last 10 years, and possibly ever...Probably the most challenging sequence, in terms of stunts, was the action staged on the breakaway skyscraper set...During the earthquake, the facade breaks away and some of the people trapped on top come running down the first stairway. They don't realize that the stairway has broken off and, when they reach that point, some of them are carried away by the momentum and can't stop. They fall off and others are pushed off by those behind them. They had to fall about 40 feet and one of the most difficult stunts to do is to fall from such a height without preparing yourself properly. These people couldn't prepare because they just had to keep right on going. I had two girls and a man doing that stunt. The man fell onto a window, but the girls were just pushed out into space. It was a great shot and it looked very realistic. To prepare for it I had watched films of a New Orleans fire in which women were dropping from the 20th and 30th floors. They were dropping straight down and, obviously they were killed. It was a terrible thing to watch, but our girls managed to duplicate the movement...For the sake of safety, we had big 15 to 20-foot airbags spread out everywhere under the set to break the fall of the stunt people who were jumping off."

Even some of the big name stars got in on the action. American Cinematographer contributor Booker McClay wrote that "Charlton Heston performed many of his own stunts, and the film's two female stars, Ava Gardner and Genevieve Bujold, won the admiration of the crew by attempting difficult physical scenes - Miss Gardner in churning, cold water that swept her over a hundred feet down the underground storm tunnel, and Miss Bujold climbing down a steep broken bridge and hanging by her hands, then dropping into a river bed, and again grabbing a tree and holding on for dear life as a house just above her collapses."

In his autobiography, In the Arena, Charlton Heston admitted that he had some reservations at first about working with Ava Gardner again after appearing with her in 55 Days at Peking (1963); the actress had been a major factor in the film's troubled production. However, Gardner was on her best behavior during the filming of Earthquake and Heston even insisted that the script be revised to feature the two of them in a climactic scene: [SPOILER ALERT] "In the early drafts of the script, our really very spectacular earthquake killed off several characters, including Ava as my wife, swept away in a flooded storm drain. In the classic tradition of male stars, I survived. Having considerable experience in dying usefully for the cameras, I held out for doing so yet again while trying to save my wife (I did have script approval)....Our death scene was one of the more spectacular screen demises. Ava slipped and fell from the iron ladder leading up from the sewer to safety; I turned and dove after her, struggled with her in the rushing torrent till we were both sucked under. The ending did what I predicted: it stunned audiences into shocked silence. Earthquake was a monster success. I know, for other reasons too, but my sacrificial death worked."

Earthquake was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound (It won the Oscar for the latter). It also received a "Special Achievement Award for Visual Effects" at the Oscar ceremony.

Producer/Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: George Fox, Mario Puzo
Production Design: E. Preston Ames, Alexander Golitzen
Cinematography: Philip H. Lathrop
Costume Design: Burton Miller
Film Editing: Dorothy Spencer
Original Music: John Williams
Special Effects: Frank Brendel, Mike Reedy, Glen Robinson, Albert Whitlock
Stunts: Buff Brady, Joe Canutt, Mickey Caruso, Tony Brubaker and others
Cast: Charlton Heston (Graff), Ava Gardner (Remy Graff), George Kennedy (Patrolman Slade), Lorne Greene (Sam Royce), Genevieve Bujold (Denise Marshall), Richard Roundtree (Miles Quade), Marjoe Gortner (Jody), Barry Sullivan (Dr. Willis Stockle), Lloyd Nolan (Dr. James Vance), Victoria Principal (Rosa Amici), Walter Matthau (Drunk), John Randolph (Mayor Lewis), Monica Lewis (Barbara).
C-141m.

By Jeff Stafford

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