Cast & Crew
Just before New Year's Eve, the ocean liner S.S. Poseidon hits choppy weather at sea. On the bridge, Capt. Harrison argues with Linarcos, the representative of the consortium that now owns the ship, who is insisting that they carry on without ballast in order to make up lost time. When young Robin Shelby bursts into the cabin, he impresses Harrison with his fascination with and knowledge of the ship, but is ushered out to await a safer moment to take his tour of the bridge. In addition to Robin and his eighteen-year-old sister Susan, the ship's passengers include police detective Mike Rogo and his wife Linda, meek haberdasher James Martin, older Jewish couple Manny and Belle Rosen and Reverend Scott, an unorthodox, rebellious clergyman who has been banished to Africa by his church. While the passengers endure the turbulent seas, Harrison orders that they take on ballast but is forced to back down after Linarcos threatens to have him removed from command. In the bar, singer Nonnie Parry rehearses her songs, watched appreciatively by a British waiter named Acres. Later, Scott delivers a guest sermon to the ship's passengers, preaching that God is not concerned with individuals, so everyone must have the tenacity and courage to solve his own problems. That night is New Year's Eve, and the passengers prepare for the ballroom gala. Linda, a former prostitute, worries that others disdain her, and when Mike tries to calm her, they spar briefly, then embrace. At dinner, while Belle worries that Martin is lonely and urges him to find someone to marry, Susan develops a crush on Scott. On the deck, meanwhile, Harrison learns of a subsea earthquake that is causing heavy swells nearby, and he and his crew wait tensely. Just as midnight strikes and the ballroom erupts in celebration, an enormous wall of water slams into the ship. The force of the water turns the Poseidon onto its side and then, as everyone and everything inside the ship slides downward, the ship flips completely over. In the ballroom, passengers are flung against the walls and slide down the floors to the ceiling, which is now below them. Many people are killed or crushed under furniture, while others hang for their lives from the tables, which were bolted into the floor. In the ensuing silence, the survivors rouse and search for their loved ones. Manny and Belle find each other, as do Linda and Mike. Scott tries to help the wounded and Nonnie cradles the dead body of her beloved brother, as the purser announces that they must stay where they are and await help. When Susan, trapped on a table, yells for help, Scott organizes the men to form a net out of a curtain and urges the terrified teenager to jump. After Susan lands safely in the net, Acres, who sits on a high platform with an injured leg, also asks to jump. Martin and Scott determine, however, that because the boat is now upside down, any rescue team will have to come from above them through the hull, thus everyone is safer joining Acres at his higher vantage point. Robin, who has amassed copious data about the ship, informs them that the hull is thinnest near the propeller shaft, prompting Scott to announce that everyone must make their way toward the shaft. Although Mike is reluctant to trust a child and chafes at Scott's officiousness, Linda insists that they go along. Scott leads some men in righting the huge, ornamental Christmas tree, which has a strong inner skeleton that can act as a ladder, and Acres anchors it from above. After the women remove their skirts, Robin, Susan, Linda and Mike climb the tree. Martin tries to convince the others to come along, but only Belle, Manny and Nonnie agree, although Belle is convinced she is too heavy to make it, and Nonnie is in mild shock. Before following Martin up the tree, Scott urges the ship's chaplain to join them, but the older man feels he must remain to comfort the others. Scott addresses them all, stating that climbing represents their only chance to escape drowning as the ship continues to sink, but they side with the purser and refuse to leave. Just as Scott reaches the top of the tree, an explosion rocks the ballroom and water rushes in. Panicked, everyone runs for the tree at once, and their combined weight topples it, trapping them below. With no other choice, Scott closes the door on their cries for help. The party of ten crosses the galley to a fire door, and although Mike is fearful of a flash fire on the other side, Scott pushes through and leads them toward a passageway, which Acres identifies as running the full length of the ship to the engine room. Looking for an entrance to the passageway, the group climbs broken, upside-down stairways. As they struggle to stay steps ahead of the water and debris rushing at them, each group member's strengths and weaknesses are highlighted, with Mike constantly chafing at Scott's domineering attitude, and Nonnie nearly collapsing with despair. When they find the entrance to the passageway sealed, Acres recalls that there is a duct into the central air shaft. They crawl through the shaft to its end, where Scott barely manages to open the door before water floods in. The shaft opens onto a vertical tube housing a steep ladder leading to higher doors. After Scott confirms that the next door can be opened, each climbs up precariously. During another explosion, Acres falls to his death, after which Nonnie freezes in fear and Martin must talk her into continuing to climb. The door leads to a deck of the ship, where they are thrilled to spot other survivors being led forward by the ship's doctor. Scott, however, informs the doctor that he is going the wrong way, toward the section of the ship that is sinking fastest. Despite the doctor's certainty that he is correct, Scott tries urgently to convince the others that the engine room is the only way out. When Scott blames Mike for failing to save Acres, Mike explodes, asking if Scott thinks he is God himself. After Martin breaks up the fight between Scott and Mike, Scott determines to go ahead to the engine room by himself to ensure that it is accessible, with Mike vowing to follow the doctor if Scott does not return in fifteen minutes. While Susan follows Scott, the others wander the deck looking for supplies. Belle tells Manny she hopes the children survive, and hands him her necklace, the Hebrew letter chai, meaning life. As Scott finds a hatch and climbs into it, cautioning Susan to return to the others if he is not back within minutes, Martin urges Nonnie to be strong, and Robin wanders into a bathroom. When Scott fails to reappear, Mike prepares to leave, but as Manny and Martin argue with him, Scott returns with the news that he has discovered the engine room. Robin cannot be found, however, and as another explosion rocks the deck, Scott searches for the boy. Locating him, he grabs Robin and reaches the hatch just moments before the water rises above their necks. The engine room is now one deck below them, and although climbing downward is frightening, they all do so, only to find the corridor now under water. Scott orders them to swim the short corridor, and dives in to lead the way. When the rope tied around his waist goes slack, Belle, a former champion swimmer, hurls herself in to rescue him. Underwater, she frees Scott from the debris pinning him down, and they surface in the engine room. Moments later, however, she suffers a heart attack and dies in his arms. Mike has followed and now Scott demands that he round up the others, revealing nothing about Belle. Nonnie, who cannot swim, holds on to Martin, and all reach the engine room safely. There, Manny weeps while holding his beloved wife, and although he does not want to go on, Scott convinces him that dying will only render Belle's death meaningless. The engine room is racked by fires, but Scott points out that the shattered machinery forms a catwalk on which they can climb to the propeller shaft. They all climb until a blast knocks Linda into the flames. Mike howls in grief, blaming Scott for taking from him the only thing he has ever loved. Another explosion sends plumes of steam up, blocking the propeller shaft door. Exhausted, Scott rails against God, asking how many more sacrifices He will demand. Leaping over the flames to jump onto the red valve that controls the steam pressure, Scott grabs the valve, which is directly under the scalding steam, and tortuously twists the valve closed yelling "You want another life, then take me." Knowing that he has no way back, Scott encourages the others to go on, then lets go of the valve and drops to his death. Susan threatens to jump, but Martin holds her back, then taunts Mike into leading them. The steam now subsided, Mike is able to pull the door open, and the group hammers on the thin hull. An answering bang is heard, and Mike realizes that Scott was right all along. The rescuers use blowtorches to cut a hole in the hull and escort the group, tattered and stunned, to safety.
Pamela Sue Martin
L. B. Abbott
A. D. Flowers
Harold F. Kress
Harold E. Stine
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Supporting Actress
The Poseidon Adventure
Having struck a three picture deal with AVCO Embassy, Allen persuaded the independent company to purchase the rights to The Poseidon Adventure. While AVCO deliberated on the prospect of mounting what would be, for them, an unusually expensive undertaking, Allen shopped the project at 20th Century-Fox. A regime change at AVCO took The Poseidon Adventure off the table there while Fox proved more receptive, albeit with reservations. As Allen laid out the proposed production via meticulous storyboards, Fox executives grew squirrely, hurting as they were from a string of expensive failures and wondering if their money might be better spent attempting to capture the cost-effective magic of The Graduate (1967) and Easy Rider (1969). Offering to raise half the $5 million shooting budget himself, Allen secured the support of former Monogram Pictures president Steve Broidy and cinema owner Sherill C. Corwin, who promised to match Fox's contribution, ultimately prompting the studio to give the green light. Prior to the start of principal photography in April 1972, Allen's differential casting choices included George C. Scott (to play the protagonist, a troubled minister), Petulia Clark (in the role of an entertainer who joins the survivors), and Esther Williams (offered the role of a Holocaust survivor whose swimming abilities come in handy in the clinch). Placed in charge of the production was Gordon Douglas, director of the science fiction classic Them! (1954), and fresh from three films starring Frank Sinatra.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972) that got under way in mid-1972 was an entirely different film, with Gene Hackman assuming the role of the faith-strapped clergyman, Shelley Winters given the part offered originally to Esther Williams, and Carol Lynley brought in to play the singer. Cast as a meek haberdasher who proves uncharacteristically steely when the chips are down was Red Buttons (a last minute replacement for Gene Wilder) while Allen's supporting cast ran to Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, Leslie Nielson, Arthur O'Connell, and young actors Pamela Sue Martin and Eric Shea. Early into shooting, Gordon Douglas was replaced (reasons vary, depending on the sources) by Ronald Neame, flown in from England at the behest of newly-appointed studio head Gordon Stulberg. Though the relationship between Neame and Allen was at first icy, the pair soon found their groove and filming resumed, with The Poseidon Adventure wrapping on schedule and within its budgetary parameters - largely because a more extensive closing shot revealing the capsized vessel surrounded by rescue ships was scrapped in favor of a cost-effective low angle of an ascending helicopter.
"Hell Upside Down" is how promotional art for The Poseidon Adventure enticed moviegoers in the weeks before Christmas 1972 - the phrase loomed so large on posters that the catchphrase was often mistaken for the film's title. Though the stellar cast of Hollywood players (among them, five Academy Award winners) was a lure for the curious, it was The Poseidon Adventure's then state of the art special effects that beget water cooler moments and playground buzz nationwide. The film's ship sets, constructed on Fox soundstage 6, were built inside a gimble that allowed the actors to experience the rolling of the ship at first hand. (Most of the stars did their own stunts as well, with Allen shooting in sequence as the characters and actors playing them became increasingly more disheveled, bedraggled, and oil-smeared.) Though the impressive capsizing sequence involved a scale model of the Poseidon (crafted from blueprints of the Queen Mary, which played the doomed vessel in establishing shots), the film's money shot - of a doomed passenger falling from the upended floor of the ballroom through an ornate skylight - was accomplished practically, and in real time, courtesy of stuntman Ernie Orsatti. With Fox executives still grumbling about the investment, The Poseidon Adventure was given a gala premiere at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre, where Groucho Marx not only turned up but played Santa Claus to boot.
Before the year was out, The Poseidon Adventure proved to be a wise investment for 20th Century-Fox. Made for less than $5 million, the film grossed more than $160 million. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, The Poseidon Adventure took home one Oscar for Original Song ("The Morning After," which became a Billboard Top 100 hit) and another special achievement award for visual effects. At the time of its network television premiere on ABC in October 1974, The Poseidon Adventure earned a 39.0 household share, which made it the sixth most-watched film ever to air on prime time network TV. The film's biggest coup, however, was jumpstarting an action-adventure subgenre, the disaster film. Though movies had been made in the past that wrung drama out of calamitous spectacle (from the silent Noah's Ark to Titanic to The Last Voyage to The High and the Mighty), Allen had hit upon a formula that clicked. While George Seaton's Airport (1970) had strapped its dramatis personae into its seats for an inflight disaster, Allen gave his characters free range, allowing what he considered to be Walter Mitty types to find their inner hero. As had The Poseidon Adventure, such like-minded disaster films as Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), Airport 1975 (1974), Allen's own The Swarm (1978), and Meteor (1979) attracted a host of A-list (or formerly A-list) stars such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Faye Dunaway, Henry Fonda, Michael Caine, and Charlton Heston.
Influential and trend-setting, The Poseidon Adventure's legacy also included a cash-in sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), which tanked with critics and audiences alike, and two remakes. The made-for-TV The Poseidon Adventure (2005) swapped out a tsunami for terrorist bombs as an inciting incident while Wolfgang Petersen's Poseidon (2006) merely supersized the spectacle with a post-9/11 over-emphasis on mass death that bordered on (some might even say eclipsed) pornography. (The budget for the Petersen remake was about what Neame's original grossed worldwide.) But it's the original that remains nearest and dearest to the heart of the disaster fan population, with Allen's The Poseidon Adventure inspiring fan groups, chat rooms, tribute websites, anniversary screenings, cast reunions (star Gene Hackman remains one of the few holdouts) and not one but two musical homages/parodies. In 2001, the American Film Institute's centennial celebration of "100 Most Thrilling American Films" ranked The Poseidon Adventure at 90, just below The Guns of Navarone (1961) and well ahead of Speed (1994).
By Richard Harland Smith
"The Gallico Adventure" by Paul Gallico, as told to Jerome Holtzman, New York Magazine, May 6, 1974
Encyclopedia of American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes, edited by Jill B. Gidmark (Greenwood Publishing, 2001)
Straight from the Horse's Mouth: Ronald Neame, An Autobiography by Ronald Neame
"Hollywood Trend: Spectacle is the Star" by Lloyd Shearer, The Spokesman-Review August 24, 1974
Ernie: The Biography by Ernest Borgnine (Citadel Press, 2009)
"Underwater, and Over the Top in 1972" by Thomas Vinciguerra, The New York Times, May 7, 2006
"A Return to the Poseidon Adventure" by Susan Grander, Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2012
The Poseidon Adventure
So what resolution should we make for the new year? It's to let God know that you have the guts and the will to do it alone. Resolve to fight for yourselves, and for others, for those you love. And that part of God within you will be fighting with you all the way.- Reverend Frank Scott
I'm going next. So if ole' fat ass gets stuck, I won't get stuck behind her.- Linda Rogo
We're sinking and nothings going to keep us from drowning.- Linda Rogo
Keep moving.- Mike Rogo
For God's sake, Reverend, what you're doing is suicide.- Purser
We're cut off from the rest of the world. They can't get to us. Maybe we can get to them. You've said enough, now get out of the way.- Reverend Frank Scott
Pray for us but don't do this.- Purser
Climbing to another deck will kill you all.- Purser
And sitting on our butts is not going to help us either. Maybe by climbing out of here we can save ourselves. If you've got any sense you'll come along with us.- Reverend Frank Scott
If you don't come with us, her death is meaningless- Reverend Frank Scott
Most of the external shots of the Poseidon were shot using a model built from the original blueprints of the Queen Mary. The model is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum at the Los Angeles harbor. The real Queen Mary is located just a few miles away in Long Beach.
Shot in sequence, taking advantage of the fact that the principals became dirtier and more tattered and suffered injuries - some real and some artificial - as they progressed.
Some of the pre-capsize sequences were shot aboard the Queen Mary, including the opening storm sequence, the pre-disaster scenes in the staterooms and hallways, the scenes above decks, and an early scene in the engine room.
In the scene in which Rev. Scott rescues Robin, the set was built on tracks which would slowly lower the inclined set into a large water tank. The set was supposed to stop moving once the set was half-submerged, but for some reason it continued until the camera crew was underwater. The film magazine was rushed to the lab, where immediate processing showed the film was undamaged.
The original script called for Rev. Scott to send Mrs. Rosen on her underwater mission, and for her to be trapped and need rescuing by him. Gene Hackman decided that his character would never ask her to do this, and suggested their characters' situations be reversed. Director Ronald Neame agreed, and they persuaded Shelley Winters that this was indeed better for her character.
The film begins with the following written statement: "At midnight on New Year's Eve, the S.S. Poseidon, enroute [sic] from New York to Athens, met with disaster and was lost. There were only a handful of survivors. This is their story...." The closing credits include the following written statement: "Portions of this picture filmed aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, with the cooperation of the City of Long Beach, California Museum of the Sea Foundation, Specialty Queen Mary Corporation and P.S.A. Hotels, Inc."
Paul Gallico's novel The Poseidon Adventure was published in 1969. As noted in studio press materials, the story was inspired by a trip he took on the R.M.S. Queen Mary ocean liner in 1937, during which the ship turned on its side in high waves. Filmfacts details the extensive research Gallico carried out to ensure that the disaster scenario was realistic and feasible. The film follows the same basic story of the novel, tracing a charismatic, rebellious preacher as he leads survivors of an overturned ocean liner toward the ship's hull. Unlike the film, however, the book includes additional characters, the character of "Robin Shelby" dies, "Reverend Scott" denounces God and commits suicide, and "Susan Shelby" is raped.
On March 26, 1969, Hollywood Reporter reported that Avco Embassy had purchased the novel. As noted in a June 1969 Daily Variety news item, producer Irwin Allen's production company, Kent Productions, signed a deal with Avco Embassy to produce three films, including The Poseidon Adventure. A June 24, 1969 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that the start of preproduction work and a finished script were due by October 1969. Although Sidney Marshall was credited as a script and story editor in a February 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item, he is listed onscreen as associate producer.
In July 1971, Hollywood Reporter announced that Allen would produce the film in collaboration with Twentieth Century-Fox rather than Avco Embassy. Allen noted in a December 1972 Variety article that he had first approached Fox with the idea of the film, turning to Avco after Fox turned him down. However, when Avco's new president canceled the production, Allen returned to Fox. An AMC documentary on the making of The Poseidon Adventure, included as extra material on the 2006 special edition DVD release, stated that the studio, hoping to cut costs, pulled out of the production just weeks before shooting began. Allen immediately persuaded Fox to provide half of the $5 million budget, then enlisted his friends Sherrill Corwin and Steve Broidy to match Fox's contribution. The film's first script was written by Wendell Mayes, but in November 1971, Hollywood trade papers noted that Stirling Silliphant had been hired as a writer. While the sources stated that Silliphant would rewrite the script completely, both he and Mayes received onscreen credit for the screenplay.
The following information was gleaned from press materials and extra materials on the DVD. The film, shot in sequence in order to follow the characters faithfully as they became more and more bedraggled, began production on location aboard the Queen Mary. The ship launched in 1934 as an ocean liner carrying up to 2,020 passengers. Upon its retirement in 1967 in Long Beach, CA, it was restored as a hotel and tourist attraction. For the storm sequence, Neame mounted cameras on gyros to create the illusion of a swaying ship. The scenes that occur after the ship overturns were shot on the Fox lot, where Neame and production designer William Creber used historical photographs and plans to build near-exact replicas of various areas of the ship. The dining room was built right-side-up, hoisted with a forklift so it tilted up to thirty degrees, then flipped upside-down, according to a 1997 AMC Magazine article. The filmmakers also constructed a miniature Queen Mary, measuring twenty-two feet long, that was photographed inside a studio tank. The replica now resides in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro, CA.
The stars personally performed most of the stunts for the film, and material on the DVD extras note that this was done by design as part of the studio's marketing plan. Much publicized was the fact that Shelley Winters gained thirty-five pounds to play the role of "Belle Rosen" and studied for weeks to learn to swim like a champion. According to a modern source, originally Scott was to send Belle on the underwater mission and then save her life, but Gene Hackman suggested that the situation be reversed. The scene in which the character of "Terry" falls from a table and crashes into the ballroom skylight has since become an iconic cinematic shock moment. Actor Ernie Orsatti was asked by the filmmakers to perform the fall himself, and despite his reluctance, recounted in modern sources, he went on to become a renowned stunt man.
The cast included multiple former Academy Awards winners, and during filming, Gene Hackman was awarded the 1971 Best Actor Oscar for his work in The French Connection. Modern sources state that Sally Kellerman was considered to play "Linda Rogo," Petula Clark was offered the role of "Nonnie" and Gene Wilder was originally cast as "James Martin." Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Craig Barley, Todd Bartlett, Craig Chudy, Orwin C. Harvey, Larry Holt, Marco López, Victor Paul, Allen Pinson, Bobby Porter, Lance Rimmer, David Sharpe and Tom Steele.
As noted in the AMC documentary, Allen and Neame planned for the film's final shot to be an aerial view of the sinking ship, but budget constraints forced them to drop the shot.
The Poseidon Adventure proved a critical success and was the top grossing film of 1972, at which point it had earned almost $100 million. The picture's success initiated a spate of disaster films, many produced by Allen, and is considered to be one of the genre's finest. The film received an Academy Award for Best Song and a Special Achievement Award in Visual Effects (L. B. Abbott and A. D. Flowers), as well as nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Winters), Art Direction (Creber and Raphael Bretton), Cinematography (Harold E. Stine), Costume Design (Paul Zastupnevich), Film Editing (Harold F. Kress), Sound (Theodore Soderberg and Herman Lewis) and Music, Original Dramatic Score (John Williams).
The film's theme song was officially entitled "The Song from The Poseidon Adventure," but became more widely known as "The Morning After." Although contemporary articles stated that Carol Lynley sang the song during the film, the voice heard was actually stand-in singer Renee Armand. A July 1973 Hollywood Reporter article stated that Armand had turned down the opportunity to sing the single, which was released by Maureen McGovern simultaneously with the picture. After composers Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn won the Academy Award in the spring of 1973, it was re-released and became a number-one hit.
Allen was a writer, director and producer who began his film career making spectacle films such as 1961's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (see below), then worked in television on such series as Lost in Space. The Poseidon Adventure marked his first film in ten years. The success of The Poseidon Adventure and his next film, 1974's Towering Inferno (see below), earned him the nickname "Master of Disaster."
Since its release, The Poseidon Adventure has gained a huge fan following, several fan clubs and has inspired myriad pop-culture parodies. When ABC bought the television rights to the film in 1973, as noted in a November 1973 Los Angeles Times news item, the network paid a then-record $3.2 million for one showing. One sequel was produced in 1979 entitled Beyond the Poseidon Adventure starring Michael Caine and Sally Field which followed a different group of survivors from the ship. In addition, a 2005 TV movie produced by Hallmark Presentations called The Poseidon Adventure starred Adam Baldwin, Rutger Hauer and Steve Guttenberg, and in 2006 a remake, produced by Irwin Allen Productions and Warner Bros., was released entitled Poseidon. That film was directed by Wolfgang Peterson and starred Kurt Russell, Josh Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss.
Released in United States Winter December 13, 1972
Re-released in United States on Video May 14, 1996
Formerly distributed by CBS/Fox Video.
Re-released in United States on Video May 14, 1996
Released in United States Winter December 13, 1972