The last time I wrote a “Growing Up with Movies” post, I spoke about three movies that have had a lasting impression on me, three very different films by three different directors. (Yet, oddly enough, two of them were released in 1972.) Last time, I discussed Bonnie and Clyde. In this post, I’ll discuss a movie that I saw at the previously mentioned Town Theater in Forest, MS. What makes this movie unique is the fact that I saw it on five consecutive nights (and once during the day) as a 10-year-old.
How in the world could this happen?
When I was a kid, my dad owned his own independent grocery store. This wasn’t a typical mom-and-pop grocery store, but a fair-sized franchise store. Tired of paying the franchise a large percentage of the profits, my dad went independent and did quite well. He did so well that one of the Memphis food distributors he bought from began rewarding him (and other grocers) with vacations abroad. One of the company’s rules stipulated that no one under 13 could go on these trips, which left me at home alone.
Well, not quite at home and not quite alone. In 1972, while my parents were either in Switzerland or Rome (I can’t remember which…) I had to stay with my aunt and uncle, which wasn’t too bad. I remember my first night there (a Monday), my Uncle Randy asked me what I wanted to do. “Go to the movies,” I said. He said okay, took me to the Town Theater, checked to see what time the movie ended, and dropped me off.
The Poseidon Adventure (directed by Ronald Neame) had been heavily promoted in theaters and on TV, so I had seen the trailer many times. “This is hell… upside down!” the narrator exclaimed. I’d been enthralled by scenes of the gigantic tidal wave engulfing the ship, tables hanging upside down, people hanging onto them by their fingernails, the upside down Christmas tree, everything. But the coolest scene of all featured a close shot of a guy who was clearly holding onto a table (or something) as he lets go, screaming and flailing into a gigantic light fixture below, which – when he crashes into it – causes a crazy electrical lightning flash that fills everything onscreen. I knew I had to see that!
Producer Irwin Allen had this 10-year-old right where he wanted me. If the theater had been turned upside down during the showing, I wouldn’t have looked away from the screen. I couldn’t look away, didn’t want to look away. Part of me was trying to figure out who was likely to survive this catastrophe and who wasn’t. Another part of me was terrified, yet captivated as these people weaved, crawled, climbed and swam from one dangerous situation to another, fighting and bickering with each other the entire time. All the while I was getting to know these characters, loving some, hating others, but realizing that none of them were really bad people. I really didn’t want any of them to die (especially Stella Stevens [above, far left], who I had a major crush on), but I knew some had to.
I also kept an eye on Eric Shea, since I figured we were about the same age. (He was 12 when the movie was released, probably 11 when it was filmed, so we were very close in age.) I thought he was something of a punk, but I knew that had I been in his shoes, I’d most likely have been toast early on, since he was such a ship nerd and I would’ve had no clue. I no doubt kept a closer eye on his sister, played by Pamela Sue Martin (two photos above, far right). And then there was Gene Hackman… More on him in a moment.
My Uncle Randy came to pick me up and I got in his Oldsmobile just as exhilarated as if I had just climbed out of The U.S.S. Poseidon and was being helicoptered to freedom. I asked my uncle to take me back to the theater the next night. And the next. And the next. When everything was said and done, I saw The Poseidon Adventure at least five times in a row and probably six (on Saturday). And I can honestly say I never got tired of it.
I’m not sure what kept me going back. Probably the action, the adventure, the drama. Maybe it was the hope that the next time, Roddy McDowall was going to make it, that I could yell to Gene Hackman that if he swung hard enough from that steam valve wheel, he might just be able to gain enough momentum to jump back to join the others.
And what about Hackman’s character Reverend Scott? As a kid, I didn’t understand him. I admired his leadership, but grew a little uneasy listening to a preacher use profanity and being angry at God. I didn’t really equate his sacrifice at the end of the film with being a Christlike act until I was older (and then it seemed terribly forced). Years later, the aspect of his character that I did appreciate was Scott’s anger at God, questioning why so many people had to die. This was something I did not understand at the time, but wish we would see more of in portrayals of ministers in TV and films. Far too often we see ministers either as naive idiots who can’t see the realities of the world they live in or men using their clerical trappings as camouflage for evil and/or inappropriate behavior. Here with Scott, we see a minister who appears to have a genuine love and concern for people, yet doesn’t fully understand the ways of God (And who among us does?) and isn’t afraid to question them.
I think people (and yes, Christians) often feel that it’s wrong to be angry with God, even to yell at God for answers to the injustices we see in the world. Christians and non-Christians alike often cry out things like “Where was God?” in this or that awful situation, or “If there’s a God, why do terrible things happen?” I think one of the best answers Christians can give is a two-part answer. The first part is probably more honest than helpful: we just don’t know. The second is a partial realization of the first part, but relies also on an understanding and acceptance of what the Bible – and the events of the world – tells us over and over: this is not the way things are supposed to be. There’s something wrong with the world and these events remind us that this is not the way things were originally designed. Questioning God can be a good thing, depending on where it leads you…
I haven’t seen it in years, but I’m sure The Poseidon Adventure is not a great film. I have no doubt it’s filled with clichés, stereotypes, dumb plot twists and a whole score of other cringe-worthy elements. Yet it taught me that sometimes one viewing just isn’t enough for some films, that you can see different things in subsequent viewings, and that even though you know what’s coming next, the emotional impact of those thrills and scares can still be effective. In fact, writing about it makes me want to see it again tonight. But probably not tomorrow night as well… And the next night… and…