Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Perfectly '70s

As the disaster movie genre gained momentum in the seventies, with those hilarious choices like AIRPORT 75 and THE SWARM and the very entertaining EARTHQUAKE, a rather overlooked one (I never got to see it at the time, but it must have played at my local cinema) this British film JUGGERNAUT depicted a grittier, more realistic and suspenseful alternative, and is also quite humourous with those subsersive Richard Lester touches (mainly provided by Roy Kinnear). This was an early example of a plot that sidestepped natural disasters in favour of man-made terrors - as in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, BLACK SUNDAY etc.
David and Richard discuss filming with Antonioni
JUGGERNAUT with an entire ocean liner held hostage, matched Hollywood for tension and accurately portrayed the stressfulness of the hostage situation. There’s a taut parallel race against time as the police desperately try to track down the identity of the bomber, while disposal experts tackle the seven booby-trapped drums of explosives - if any three explode, the ship will sink. The blackmailer calls himself ’Juggernaut’ and detonates warning blasts to prove that he’s not bluffing. Either pay up, or lose the ship and all onboard. The tension racks up as it all comes down to which wire to cut: the blue wire or the red wire.

Another gripping sequence is the bomb squad’s parachute jump to get to the liner. Rough seas prevent the passengers from abandoning ship, they also make getting onboard a lethal and hazardous task. It seems the "Brittanic" ship is cruising in the middle of winter in a storm in the North sea.

What is interesting about it now is the great cast: it stars Richard Harris and David Hemmings, who engagingly represent the best of the bomb squad. Omar Sharif is the increasingly desperate captain. They all look so young: Anthony Hopkins, Ian Holm, John Stride, and there are pop-ups by Cyril Cusack and Michael Hordern. A young Simon McCorkindale is also on the crew, but I did not spot him, and there's that guy who was on tv a lot then: Tom Chadbon. That 70s technology is a hoot now too.
Shirley Knight shows again what a brilliant actress she is, as - rather slimmer here - she does wonders with the non-existant role of the captain's lady friend; she is saddled though with a hideous 70s white dress with round holes in it and a silly feather boa.

Director Richard Lester, in between the brilliant THREE and FOUR MUSKETEERS films adds to the wry sense of gallows humour among the doomed passengers, in particular the attempts of the entertainment officer (the fantastic Roy Kinnear) to lift their spirits. Once again, Lester adds snippets of dialogue to almost every character onscreen, no matter how incidental, and makes it all riveting entertainment.
I presume too Harris and Hemmings got to talk about their Antonioni films - David enjoyed the whole BLOW-UP experience, as detailed in his autobiography while Harris it seems hated working with Antonioni in Italy on THE RED DESERT (above with Vitti) and more or less walked out of the film. I like Lester's 1975 ROYAL FLASH too, another great humourous costume drama, (as per review here - Lester label), with another great cast (McDowell, Bates, Reed, Bolkan and even Alastair Sim in his last role).

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