AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Poseidon Adventure
Director: Ronald Neame (Dir)
Release Date:   Dec 1972
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 12 Dec 1972; Los Angeles opening: 15 Dec 1972
Production Date:   4 Apr--early Jul 1972
Duration (in mins):   117
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Cast:   Gene Hackman (Reverend Scott)  
    Ernest Borgnine ([Mike] Rogo)  
    Red Buttons ([James] Martin)  
    Carol Lynley (Nonnie [Parry])  
    Roddy McDowall (Acres)  
    Stella Stevens (Linda Rogo)  
    Shelley Winters (Belle Rosen)  
    Jack Albertson (Manny Rosen)  
    Pamela Sue Martin (Susan [Shelby])  
    Arthur O'Connell (Chaplain)  
    Eric Shea (Robin [Shelby])  
    Fred Sadoff (Linarcos)  
    Sheila Mathews (Nurse)  
    Jan Arvan (Doctor [Caravello])  
    Byron Webster (Purser)  
    John Crawford (Chief engineer)  
    Bob Hastings (M.C.)  
    Erik Nelson (Mr. Tinkham)  
    Leslie Nielsen (The Captain [Harrison])  
    Ernie Orsatti (Terry)  
    Mark Tulin (Guitarist)  
    Charles Wachtel (Guitarist)  
    Stuart Perry (Teddy)  
    Charles Bateman (1st officer)  
    Maurice Marsac (Naval officer)  
    Jimmy Cross (Steward)  
    Phil Adams (Room steward)  
    Bob Golden (Wiper)  
    Ronald Cragg (Radar man)  
    Jim Galante (Assistant engineer)  
    George Sawaya (Boatswain's mate)  
    Freida Rentie (Indian woman)  
    Elizabeth Rogers    
    Roseann Williams    
    Connie Ducharme    
    Chris Howell    
    Bill Catching    
    Fred Dale    
    Kathryn Janssen    

Summary: 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. 

Production Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
  Kent Productions, Inc.  
Production Text: Irwin Allen's Production of; A Ronald Neame Film
Irwin Allen's Production; A Ronald Neame Film
Distribution Company: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.  
Director: Ronald Neame (Dir)
  Irwin Allen (Co-dir of action seq)
  Norman Cook (Asst dir)
  Les Warner (2d asst dir)
  Don White (2d asst dir)
Producer: Sherrill Corwin (Exec prod)
  Steve Broidy (Exec prod)
  Irwin Allen (Prod)
  Sidney Marshall (Assoc prod)
Writer: Stirling Silliphant (Scr)
  Wendell Mayes (Scr)
Photography: Harold E. Stine (Dir of photog)
  Tommy Morris (Cam op)
  Tom Kershner (1st asst cam)
  Joe Valdez (2d asst cam)
  Clyde Taylor (Gaffer)
  Bob Henderson (Gaffer)
  Lou Pazelli (Key grip)
  Hank Gerzen (Key grip)
  Jim Mitchell (Stills)
Art Direction: William Creber (Prod des)
  Ward Preston (Asst art dir)
  Tom Cranham (Prod illustrator)
  Dan Goozee (Prod illustrator)
Film Editor: Harold F. Kress (Film ed)
  William DeNicholas (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Raphael Bretton (Set dec)
  Bob McLaughlin (Prop master)
  Jerry Kobold (Asst prop man)
  Ricky Villalobos (Lead man)
  Charles Stevens (Const coord)
Costumes: Paul Zastupnevich (Cost des)
  Wally Harton (Men's cost)
  Dick James (Men's cost)
  Barbara Westerland (Women's cost)
Music: John Williams (Mus)
  Alexander Courage (Orch)
  Vinton Vernon (Scoring mixer)
Sound: John Bonner (Sd supv)
  Herman Lewis (Prod mixer)
  Theodore Soderberg (Re-rec mixer)
  Orrick Barrett (Boom op)
Special Effects: L. B. Abbott (Spec photog eff)
  A. D. Flowers (Mechanical eff)
Make Up: Ed Butterworth (Makeup artist)
  Del Acevedo (Makeup artist)
  Allan Snyder (Makeup artist)
  Dan Striepeke (Makeup)
  Carol Pershing (Hairstylist)
  Sheral Ross (Hairstylist)
  Ann Wadlington (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Hal Herman (Unit prod mgr)
  Jack Baur (Casting)
  Al Gail (Asst to the prod)
  Art Volpert (Prod coord)
  John Campbell (Unit pub)
  Teresa Brachetto (Scr supv)
  Art Volpert (Prod controller)
  Steve Marlowe (Dial coach)
Stand In: Paul Stader (Stunt coord)
  Renee Armand (Carol Lynley's voice double)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "The Song from The Poseidon Adventure (The Morning After)," words and music by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn; "Auld Lang Syne," words by Robert Burns, music Scottish traditional.
Composer: Robert Burns
  Joel Hirschhorn
  Al Kasha
Source Text: Based on the novel The Poseidon Adventure by Paul Gallico (New York, 1969).
Authors: Paul Gallico

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. 13/12/1972 dd/mm/yyyy LP42091

PCA NO: 23341
Physical Properties: Sd: Westrex Recording System
  col: DeLuxe
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Disaster
Subjects (Major): Ocean liners
  Survival skills
  Tests of character
  Tidal waves
Subjects (Minor): Adolescents
  Brothers and sisters
  Falls from heights
  New Year's Eve
  Police detectives
  Sea captains
  Ship crews
  Voyages and travel
  Wounds and injuries

Note: 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 26 Mar 1969, HR reported that Avco Embassy had purchased the novel. As noted in a Jun 1969 DV 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 24 Jun 1969 HR news item announced that the start of preproduction work and a finished script were due by Oct 1969. Although Sidney Marshall was credited as a script and story editor in a Feb 1970 HR news item, he is listed onscreen as associate producer.
       In Jul 1971, HR announced that Allen would produce the film in collaboration with Twentieth Century-Fox rather than Avco Embassy. Allen noted in a Dec 1972 Var 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 Nov 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 (see above). 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 Jul 1973 HR 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 Nov 1973 LAT 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.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
AMC Magazine   Aug 1997   pp. 4-6.
Box Office   1 Jan 1973   p. 4552.
Daily Variety   23 Jun 1969.   
Daily Variety   24 May 1972   p. 15.
Daily Variety   Jun 1972.   
Filmfacts   1972   pp. 477-81.
Hollywood Reporter   26 Mar 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   24 Jun 1969.   
Hollywood Reporter   17 Feb 1970.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Jul 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   18 Nov 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   31 Mar 1972   p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter   4 Apr 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 Apr 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jul 1972.   
Hollywood Reporter   8 Dec 1972   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jul 1973.   
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   15 Dec 1972.   
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   26 Dec 1972.   
Los Angeles Times   18 Nov 1971.   
Los Angeles Times   14 Dec 1972   Section IV, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times   12 Nov 1973.   
New York Times   13 Dec 1972   p. 61.
New York Times   14 Jan 1973.   
New York Times   21 Jan 1973.   
New Yorker   16 Dec 1972   p. 128.
Publishers Weekly   21 Apr 1969.   
Saturday Review   1 Feb 1973.   
Time   18 Dec 1972   pp. 79-80.
Variety   13 Dec 1972   p. 15.
Variety   27 Dec 1972.   
Variety   15-21 May 2006.   

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