Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Earthquake (1974)

Our family's tradition of the last several years is to watch a disaster movie on New Year's Eve. Whether it's an aviation calamity or a natural disaster, more often than not either Dana Andrews or Charlton Heston is involved!

Tonight it was Heston's turn, starring in the 1974 Irwin Allen flick EARTHQUAKE. Other than Heston, this film is really, really bad; at times the sheer awfulness provides amusement, while at other times it's yawn-inducing.

How bad is it? Let me count the ways...

...A haggard Ava Gardner is supposed to be Lorne Greene's daughter. In real life he was just seven years her senior, and at this stage of her film career, Gardner looks older than Greene. A nutty scene where a foreshock interrupts her faking a drug overdose sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

...The editing at times is nothing short of bizarre. One moment Genevieve Bujold is talking to Heston; the next minute, without a fadeout or any other logical transition, we're suddenly watching a completely different scene and the characters have just made love. There is no logic to some of the film's cuts whatsoever, leading to a jumpy, confusing story.

...Victoria Principal, a few years before DALLAS, inexplicably sports a huge Afro-style hairdo; it's so big several birds could build a nest in it.

...Walter Matthau has a strange multi-scene cameo as a drunk. Apparently he didn't want much credit, as his billing is under the name Walter Matuschanskayasky.

...Even in 1974, surely Southern Californians knew not to crowd into an elevator after a massive earthquake which is in the process of destroying buildings? The in-your-face gore which accompanies this scene clearly served no purpose other than shock value.

...Marjoe Gortner plays a National Guardsman who's a psycho who thinks nothing of machine-gunning three people to death. In fact, not many of the police or military are admirable in this film. Curiously, the most heroic policeman is a rebel who's been suspended from the force! He's played by George Kennedy, who, like Heston, was imported from the AIRPORT movies.

...After all the stress, the film has a pretty crummy ending with the pointless death of a principal actor.

On the plus side, there's Heston, Kennedy, the always-dependable Lloyd Nolan, and a cute little dog.

The cast also includes Barry Sullivan, Richard Roundtree, Monica Lewis, Kip Niven, John Randolph, and Pedro Armendariz Jr., who recently passed away.

EARTHQUAKE may be worth sitting through once if one enjoys cheesy disaster films, but all in all this was a low point in the careers of all involved. It's not really even successful as a "good bad movie"!

EARTHQUAKE was directed by Mark Robson. Robson's earlier credits included directing Dana Andrews in MY FOOLISH HEART (1949) and I WANT YOU (1951).

John Williams composed the score, but it's unmemorable. The next year he would hit it big with JAWS (1975).

The running time was 123 minutes.

EARTHQUAKE has had multiple DVD releases as well as a VHS edition. A DVD can be rented from Netflix. It's also available for streaming from Amazon Instant Video.

Previous New Year's Eve films: CRACK IN THE WORLD (1965) with Dana Andrews, THE CROWDED SKY (1960) with Dana Andrews, ZERO HOUR! (1957) with Dana Andrews, SKYJACKED (1972) with Charlton Heston, and TWISTER (1996).


Blogger Matthew Coniam said...

Aww, I love this movie! Wouldn't like to guess how many times I've seen it!
I recommend The Cassandra Crossing for next year!!!

Trivia: Heston insisted on the 'surprise death' ending as a condition of his appearing, overriding massive objection from the studio. He called it one of the most important structural decisions he was ever able to make in a movie.

12:54 AM  
Blogger The Siren said...

I agree with you on Earthquake. The emergency personnel are so uniformly hateful and useless that it's ridiculous even by the standards of disaster movies. For instance, Marjoe Gortner is usually fun--like, every time he pops up in a 70s movie my Campiness Geiger Counter starts clicking like mad--but here, yeeeeeech.

In short, I hated everyone in this movie, I even hated the buildings and the interior decoration, and I didn't want anyone or any structure in the whole of the Greater Los Angeles area to survive, not even Ava Gardner, and that reaction isn't really the goal of a disaster movie, methinks.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

I saw this one on release, as a teenager, and have always remembered it as being terrible! Sounds as if my memory was accurate - after reading your review I won't be rushing to see it again, Laura. I remember it was released with a gimmick called "Sensurround" which meant the seats in the cinema shook during the earthquake scenes - if memory serves so many years on, this made everyone laugh rather than being scared!

12:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I enjoyed all of your comments! That was very interesting, Matthew, that Heston made that decision.

I couldn't help laughing at the Siren's comments, as I agreed. Those rescuers were sure a surly bunch! Even "heroic" Kennedy wasn't a very nice guy (i.e., when he tries to commandeer Heston's vehicle). But at least he likes helpless little dogs. :)

Judy, I remember the ads for Sensurround when the movie came out. Never saw it then, though. Very fun to read your reminisces!

Best wishes,

5:57 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, as has been said before, the BIG draw for this thing was Universal's newest "gimmick" Sensurround....or, as "Mad" Magazine labeled it: "Senseless-Surround"! I saw this picture back in '74 when it first opened and I saw it at the Chinese on Hollywood Blvd. I can distinctly remember that they had "netting" hung all over the ceiling of the Chinese(!) Now, whether they actually needed it or not, or if it was just a gimmick (which it probably was) will never be answered (at least by me!), but I gotta tell you, when that earthquake hit I thought the building was going to fall down. I mean, we got our money's worth! It was as scary as all get-out! Only two other films were released with "Sensurround" soundtracks: "Midway" and "Rollercoaster" and then the process just faded out, as all "fads" usually do..... Perhaps one day "Earthquake" will be released in a blu-ray format with the actual Sensurround tracks included....which should give some "hi-tech" junkies a REAL run-for-their-money with their sound-systems! I must admit that the film is a "gulity-pleasure" of mine. I bought a 1-sheet poster which has a "blurb" for Sensurround on the poster itself and THAT'S the reason I bought it!

Happy New Year Laura, and here's to good (or bad) movie watching!


7:20 PM  

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