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The Hindenburg

The vogue for disaster movies in Hollywood precipitated by Airport (1970) and popularized by the success of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), The Towering Inferno (1974), and Earthquake (1974) sent studio executives scrambling in all directions for inspiration - even to their history books. Placed into the capable hands of veteran director Robert Wise, The Hindenburg (1975) straddled the worlds of known fact and speculation as it attempted to chronicle the infamous 1937 German airship disaster and explain how the tragic event might have happened. Though the production benefited from an uncommon amount of preproduction research, meticulous craftsmanship (Universal Pictures shelled out for a 25 foot scale model of the doomed dirigible), and a topflight cast in George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, Burgess Meredith, Gig Young, and Charles Durning, The Hindenburg proved unpalatable to critics of the day, who were pointed in their disdain for a story whose heroes were all Nazis. The film earned back nearly double its $15 million budget but the bottom line fell below the standard set by The Towering Inferno, which had brought in over $100 million in domestic rentals. Seen in retrospect, The Hindenburg is less a disaster flick than a whodunit in the Murder on the Orient Express (1974) mode, with Scott's disillusioned Luftwaffe colonel attempting to ferret out a potential saboteur from a blimpload of potential suspects - small wonder, given that screenwriters Richard Levinson and William Link were the creators of the long-running TV detective series Columbo.

By Richard Harland Smith

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