Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Delving "Beyond" Again

New Year's Eve was only a while ago and - as is my yearly tradition - I re-watched The Poseidon Adventure (1972) once more. I never fail to do so sometime around every January 1st and rarely watch it in-between, though sometimes I'll stumble upon it and be unable to resist. The far lesser-known and far less-effective sequel Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979) is one that I view with rarer frequency, but this year I happened to watch it only a couple of days after my annual viewing of the parent movie and so it left me itching to discuss it in more detail than I did way back in November of 2009!

You may think I'm crazy to go back into this movie, but I'm certainly no crazier than the characters of the film who opt to descend into an overturned ocean liner, which keeps exploding and which is in imminent danger of sinking at any moment! (Yet none of us is crazier than the characters in the book "Beyond the Poseidon Adventure" - Mr. Rogo, Mr. Martin and Mr. Rosen - who, having just barely escaped with their lives, decide to RE-ENTER the belching Poseidon on a reconnaissance mission of sorts. This approach was completely dropped for the film adaptation.)

The 1978 book tossed in all sorts of things from scavengers removing jewelry from the dead passengers, a pair taking the time to have sex while inside the crippled, fiery liner and even a tiger loose and on the prowl!! Producer-director Irwin Allen eschewed the greater part of the storyline and went with his own rendition (with the aid of screenwriter Nelson Gidding, whose range went from The Haunting, 1963, to The Hindenberg, 1975!)

For a while, in the wake of the first film's unbe- lievable success, Allen considered a sequel in which survivors of the S.S. Poseidon would be called to testify in a hearing concerning the capsizing, but, while en route by train, a tunnel collapse has them stranded all over again and fighting for their lives! I can't say I think much of that idea either. Allen, a great planner, was in a constant state of flux over the storyline for Beyond. Everything from using the tiger idea to having Reverend Scott's (Gene Hackman) twin brother board the overturned ship (!) to having a volcano erupt and destroy the boat (!!) came and went during numerous script revisions. The tunnel collapse idea later formed the basis of the (non-Allen) Daylight (1996.)

The finished product gets off to an illogical and incongruous beginning from the very first frames. It depicts a violently stormy sea, with lightning and waves, as the Poseidon rolls onto its side and eventually upside down from a huge deluge of water. Um... there was no storm at this time in the initial movie. Yes, it opened with a big storm, but that subsided soon after and the sun came out, affording Reverend Scott the chance to give a sermon on deck! An earthquake caused the wave.

So we're already wrong-headed before we even meet the new cast, which includes tugboat captain Michael Caine, his older crewmate and father figure Karl Malden and kooky, nomadic party girl Sally Field, who Malden has befriended and asked aboard, to Caine's dismay. They are jerked around in the storm like a fake boat on a Hollywood soundstage in which water hoses are repeatedly shooting at them (which is precisely what is happening.)

Several tall boxes of freight (fastened by what looks to be a simple strand or two of thick, brown dental floss...) go careening into the ocean to their doom, leaving Caine & Co. without the collateral needed to maintain possession of the beaten up little boat.  The next morning, he spies a rescue helicopter and correctly assumes that it must be transporting passengers from a troubled vessel out at sea, so he sets a course and heads that way. He hopes to claim salvage rights to all the money stored within the ship.

He comes upon the exposed hull of the Poseidon, its propellers in the air and a square hole cut in it where the six survivors from the prior movie were lifted out. The S.S. Poseidon, an old ship on its way to be scrapped according to the original storyline, is shown to have a vibrant red bottom that is all but showroom new!! Not a stain or a barnacle to be found anywhere on it... It's even more spit-polished than in the first film, which was fairly clean itself!

Before Caine can land atop the hull and go after his much- needed loot, another boat pulls up, this one a highly-sleek, contemporary one carrying suavely sinister Telly Savalas and a gaggle of guys. He says he's a doctor, there to rescue or otherwise aid anyone who might be located inside. (God knows the rescue helicopter is OUTTA THERE, never bothering to check within to see who might still be kicking around inside!)

They all enter the original square cut-out of an entrance and begin their descent, though the propeller shaft does seem rather brightly lit and cleaner than it was the last time we saw it. The fiery engine room fares a bit better (and we even see a key corpse from the first film lying amid some flames!), but even it seems more illuminated.

For some reason, Caine doesn't think they can go down the way all the others came up (why??), so he conveniently finds an alternative passage way, just off to the side! This panel was not there in the first film (see below.) It was riveted steel, which has now morphed into a flimsy grate of sorts... ("He didn't get out of the cock-a-doody car!!")
The duct behind it leads to a screen (which he kicks in with his feet, just as Gene Hackman did) and a ladder that leads down towards a pool of bubbling water. (The retreading and rehashing of scenarios from Poseidon has only just begun.)

Near the top of the gurgling water, they find another screen and kick it in, soon finding themselves in an upside-down gymnasium. Unfortunately, a huge piece of machinery has fallen on the top of the ladder, not only injuring one of Savalas goons, but also blocking their return escape from this new passageway.

The ship suffers a series of explosions and suddenly the steam is kicked on full blast inside the Turkish bath, leading to screams from within! It turns out that three passengers had been idly sitting inside the steam room waiting to be rescued after having become separated from some other passengers. (How far back were they dilly-dallying and why would that lead them to just SIT in an enclosed, tiled room thereafter?) Luscious Veronica Hamel, blustery Peter Boyle and ship's nurse Shirley Jones are the bright bulbs who are now part of the new band of weary travelers.

Jones is supposed to be playing the very same nurse who appeared in the first film (portrayed by Sheila Matthews, who later became Mrs. Irwin Allen.) The stocky Ms. Matthews gained increasingly substantial roles in her husband's films, culminating in When Time Ran Out... (1980) when you were lucky to see anyone else, like William Holden, rather than her! Why she was overlooked in this instance is anyone's guess, but if you compare Matthews with the trim Jones, you can see why many people firmly believe in the benefits of steam as a weight loss tool!

Even though the ship is continually exploding and rocking, everyone takes time to sit around and make formal intro- ductions to one another. Then they belabor which way to go and choose up sides like it's for a dodge ball game (though, at first anyway, they all choose Caine in time.) On their way to the Purser's Office, a gaping hole appears in the floor (ceiling), which they must vault across or plunge to the fiery level below. And the rehashing continues as Jones cheesily informs Caine that she once one a medal in school for the long jump (something we KNOW that Matthews never did!)

In still another crib from the original, Caine informs Hamel that she can't proceed in her long gown. Rather than take it off (and, what, wear Boyle's pink shirt?) Savalas leans down and rips it apart along the front seam until we are almost at the promised land! The first time I saw this - as a kid on TV - I thought we actually saw her pubic region, but it turns out to be the top of her pantyhose. She makes a very dramatic jump, falling into Caine's arms gasping, "Hold me, please..." which prompts Field to exclaim, "Oh, brother..."

Savalas decides to abandon Caine and the passengers and set off in the opposite direction. So the leftover people file into the office when, conveniently, the safe falls from the wall and bursts through the level below (above.) They spy a wealth of gold coins, paper money and who knows what all, eventually climbing down to claim it and fill sacks with the pillage.

Everyone is stunned to suddenly be confronted with the chicken-friend voice of bedazzled Texas drunkard Slim Pickens! He's slurped down as much of the vino as he could handle and offers to pay Caine if he'll rescue him from the overturned ship. He also clings to a rare, prized bottle of wine he wishes to enjoy outside the ship. When Caine defers any more money, Pickens decides to throw in the other two survivors for another $50K. Which other two?!

In an utterly contrived twist of fate, Pickens has been hanging out with elevator operator Mark Harmon and, yep, Peter Boyle's daughter Angela Cartwright! The two share a frantic reconciliation which lasts about a hot second before Boyle notices that Cartwright's dress is torn (imagine that...) and seems to think that Harmon might have either done it or is looking at it too carefully!
While all this hubbub is happening, Hamel is still on the floor above. She heads over to an overturned file cabinet (much like the one shown to the left of her in this photo) and blithely sorts through a couple of papers before somehow coming up the exact thing she is looking for! I can't find anything I want in a properly organized file system, yet this upturned, spilled mess is no challenge at all for her...

Armed with information about some cargo on the ship, she hops back across the gaping hole and proceeds on to the storage sections of the ship where she finds Savalas. Turns out they are old friends and that she'd been on board the Poseidon at his bidding, escorting in a way, property of his. As sadly pitiful as this overlit, overly clean movie is, I can never get enough of damp, lithe, beautiful Hamel (with crazy eyes as a bonus) wandering through the corridors!

She gives Savalas the papers containing the location of the goods and then begs to leave. He'll have none of it, though. Still, she's hell bent on getting out of there (I'm glad someone is!), so she bids him farewell and walks off to go back to Caine and crew. I love the way her tan, oily skin reflects the emergency lights of the ship. She truly is luminous in this movie.

If you recall the original film, the water was forever bubbling up behind the survivors every step of the way. They constantly had to struggle to keep ahead of it. In this dunderheaded sequel, the characters continue heading down, down, DOWN to levels of the ship that ought to be totally submerged by now! While hurtling down some wrong-side-up stairs, Malden collapses. He's suffering from a severe illness he's attempting to keep quiet. He also loses his bags of loot, which Caine idiotically decides to leave one flight up even though there is no clear and present danger (like, for instance, water, which is notably absent for long stretches of the flick!)

Meanwhile, we get a dollop of continuity error as the other passengers come upon a hallway inexplicably filled with furniture, some of which looks as if it would have no place on the ship! case in point this silver stool. Field moves it out of the way, then Caine goes back for Malden, helps him, has a whole conversation with him and then we see Field move the very same stool AGAIN, minutes later...

One true "LOL" moment comes when Cartwright is clearing furniture and a cabin door opens to reveal the delicately glamorous Shirley Knight. Knight doesn't dare wave, clear her throat or make any noise, but opts to lay her hand on Cartwright's back, eliciting a petrified shriek! She then offers, in her best ladylike tones, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry..."

Field acts as if they've come upon an alien from outer space and can do nothing except call for Caine exasp- eratedly (this happens frequently in the script, "Mike... MIKE!") Caine bursts forth and asks who this woman (and her seated companion Jack Warden) is. She tells them they are Harold and Hannah Meredith. I love that name -- Hannah Meredith, for some reason.

Frankly, I love everything about Knight in this movie. Her regal posture and bearing, her softly piled-up blonde curls, her expressions, her voice, her tasteful jewelry, her hands with their perfectly manicured nails. I could go on and on... (didn't I just? Ha ha!) She's stuck in this dreadfully stupid movie, yet will not phone it in under any circumstances. Every glance, gesture and intonation is delivered with utmost commitment.

Another screaming howler is upon us when Knight tries to explain why she and her husband haven't left their compartment. She says she couldn't risk being them separated and how difficult it would be. Warden starts to finish off the explanation, but seemingly cannot tell the other weary travelers that he is in fact blind unless he takes out his dark glasses and puts them on his face simultaneously!! (They weren't going to take his word for it without the visual aid??)

He offers to stay behind (with Knight regally exclaiming, "I'm not going to leave the cabin without my husband.") and grouchy Boyle is of the same mind. He thinks the old coot will slow them down and pushes for them to leave him where they found him! Field hilariously tells him, "You're a creep..." Caine declares that he will muddy his rights to salvage if he leaves anyone behind so off they go, with Warden tapping his white cane against the overturned ceiling.
This movie catches a lot of heat over its sets, how clean and bright they are. It's true that most of them are too clean and that the entire movie is too brightly lit, but it's still quite evident that some work went into constructing the upside down rooms of the Poseidon. This crew's galley offers one example. But then the moment you think there's some quality on hand, the preposterousness takes over again.

That hood vent shown above? Caine and Field climb into it. This ventilation area should be caked with grease, grit and stains from years of cooking (this is the ship's final voyage), yet when they climb in, not only is it gargantuan, but it's squeaky clean (!) and, get this, comes complete with lighting!!! For what reason would a kitchen range hood have lights located up inside it? Field takes this time to have a mini-meltdown over their situation. She goes on and on crying while not one tear ever exits her eyes. Her face is bone dry and the most that is ever evidenced is a little moisture over her corneas. (She should have focused on the critical backlash and box office of this turkey and dredged up some real tears!)
Back in the kitchen, things are coming undone. Boyle rages at Harmon for paying too much attention to his "daughtah!" They he starts to lash out at the others. He looks at Jones and bellows, "You're readin' a book fer chrissakes!" In the theatrical cut of the movie, this is never explained. WHY is Jones sitting there reading a book? The reason is that Warden and Knight are actually novelists and they've brought along a satchel with their latest manuscript. Jones is a huge fan of theirs, of course. But you only know this if you've seen the expanded TV edition of the movie! Otherwise, it's never once mentioned. Anyway, Knight gets off another of her wonderfully upper crust exclamations when she looks at Boyle and says, "Don't you think we have enough problems without this type of foolishness?"

Since the air duct led nowhere, Caine and Field return and the gang heads off to find another way out. Unfortunately, what they find nearby causes them to believe that a mad killer must be on board! Rather than find the quickest route up and out of this ship, they decide to go find Savalas and warn him!

On their way, they come to another set piece, which might have been impressive had it not been lit to the hilt and also squeaky clean. There is precious little smoke or steam in this flick either. They have to climb up this series of pipes, rails and makeshift ladders, hoping to get through a passageway above. (No one here knows the layout of the ship, yet they proceed on and on...)

Unfortunately, Warden begins to fall off the ladder as he's climbing and Knight is the only one able to grasp his hand. He dangles there for a while, long enough to wrest Knight's arm from its socket (!) until Malden finally grabs him and realigns him on the ladder. Thanks to her shrieks of agony and the way she contorts her arm, YOU WILL BELIEVE that Knight has truly gotten her arm out of joint. You will also titter as Jones earnestly informs her that putting it back into place is "going to hurt a great deal!"

For what seems like the hundredth time in this movie, everyone takes a seat. There were brief rests here and there in The Poseidon Adventure, but here it's like everyone is waiting for a bus and then occasionally feel the need to stir for a little bit. Also, all along, one person or another keeps losing the money they're carrying!

They finally meet up with Savalas, who has located what he truly came for, but there is quite a snag for Caine and his followers. What Savalas has risked life and limb for, he can't let anyone one else in on. This means that he has to kill everyone there who knows about it! (Warden has a hysterical moment here since he doesn't even know who Savalas is. Out in the corridor, he exclaims, "Who is he? What does he want?" in exactly the same manner one might use following a knock at the door only to find a pimple-faced kid selling something for school!)

Savalas opens fire on the others and, though Caine, Boyle and Harmon do manage to grab some guns themselves, they still have to retreat asap down the corridor. They all shimmy down the companionway, occasionally squealing at the sound of gunfire to the sounds of "Flight of the Bumblebee"-ish music, before darting into a storage compartment. For reasons known only to Jones, instead of taking the open way, she guides the sightless Warden into a large set of crates, forcing herself and him to slither in-between them snugly as one-armed Knight struggles to pull them out through the other side. Talk about the blonde leading the blind!!

Now they are all trapped in this storage unit with Savalas and his gunmen outside the door. Spying a porthole near the entrance to the room, he instructs one of his henchmen to toss a grenade towards it and then slam the door shut, forcing them to drown to death in a flood.

The porthole springs a leak (and Field catches some shrapnel in her lower back) and at last we start to see some water in this nearly-bone dry movie! They struggle to find a way out until the surprisingly helpful Warden exclaims that the upside-down car is banging not against a wall, but a door! This allows them to clear away boxes and use it. (What no one associated with this movie ever thinks about is that this room is only shown to have two small, hinged doors to it. No other entrances. So how did these huge CARS get in there???)

I do love this part, in which Caine swings open the door to find a rushing river of water. Grant you, it never rises even an inch. It's just flowing water (?!), but at least there's a bit of a thrill in getting everyone wet for once. Knight, caught up in a sling, is merely flung into the whitecaps without any care or assistance from anyone.

They all clamber over to a ladder and head up. Up and up they go... Field, Jones, Malden, Harmon, Cartwright, Pickens, leaving the injured and exhausted Knight to languish with the water licking at her face as she hangs on, barely...

Finally, it's up to Caine (as always) to try to get her up the damn thing now that she's almost completely wiped out. Apparently, a force field prevents anyone already topside from coming down even a skosh to help her the way she did when she hurt her arm in the first place! They just sit and watch the struggle through a grating, missing only popcorn for the show.

As the movie finally crawls to it climax, we at last get a shot of underwater swimming. Caine has found a way out and gives it a little test run.

He comes back to find - what else? - everyone sitting down and carrying on various in-depth conversations. The lack of urgency running throughout this movie is unbelievable!

Caine takes the pack over to the hole in the floor/ceiling, which is filled with politely clean and clear water and never threatens to overrun its little square opening. Then he has Malden and Field bring in some scuba gear for everyone to wear as they exit the side of the ship.

I won't go into all the details of the finale, but I do have to point out a glaring gaffe that takes place near the end. As the scuba-clad survivors are swimming up and out of the overturned ship, instead of a rock hard hull, they are seen swimming next to a wafting, fabric TARP! Apparently all the material used to fabricate the bottom of the ship was used up and so someone just hung some material under it to simulate the side of a cruise liner?!
At the very end of the film, We find that Field and Caine have at least one thing to celebrate as they head off into the sunset. In the expanded TV edition (as seen here), we do get to hear from a couple other people as to what their plans are. These moments are not contained on the DVD. I don't know what it would take for there to be a DVD release that includes these the way The Towering Inferno (1974) deluxe package did. You see, that movie was a major hit...

Look at this oddball foreign release poster, which almost, but not quite, gets an aspect or two right with regards to the setting, plot, characters and motivations...
This being the period when Michael Caine said yes to practically any movie, good or bad, his output was highly-varied to say the least! For every California Suite (1978) or Dressed to Kill (1980), there would be two of something like this or The Swarm (1978), Ashanti (1979), The Island (1980) or The Hand (1981.) Only Nostradamus could have predicted that in the wake of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure he would win two Oscars, one for Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and the other for The Cider House Rules (1999.) He's still hard at it today with three movies in the can for release this year.

Field had finally, finally established some legitimacy as a serious actress with her Emmy-winning turn in the harrowing Sybil (1976) and was progressing even further with the biting drama Norma Rae (1979) when she took this role. Burt Reynolds, her then-lover, turned down Caine's role, but suggested (along with her agent) that she take this one for "commercial" reasons. It wound up as a terrible move since she wound up winning an Oscar for Norma Rae and then having this gurgler as a follow-up! Fortunately, movies like Absence of Malice (1981) put her back on track to where she was another two-time Academy Award winner with Places in the Heart (1984) and could exclaim that this time they really liked her.

Caine and Field reunited on-screen in 1987 for the (all but forgotten now) comedy Surrender.  Even Peter Boyle was along for the ride again in that one. It must stick in their craw that even Beyond is probably recalled by more people that Surrender is and Beyond was an unmitigated flop!

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure couldn't begin to compete on any level with its prede- cessor, though Allen did try to stack the deck with, if not Oscar-winners, then at least Oscar bridesmaids. Going in, it did have Malden, a winner for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - also a nominee for On the Waterfront (1954) - and Jones, a winner for Elmer Gantry (1960.) Savalas had been nominated for Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Warden was nominated twice, for Shampoo (1975) and Heaven Can Wait (1978) and Knight twice as well, for The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (1960) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962.) Yet this remains the only Irwin Allen '70s disaster film to receive no nominations whatsoever come Oscar time.
This is an inept movie on so many levels, but said fact doesn't diminish my enjoyment of it. I love disaster, I love water, I love bad movies, I love famous actors and I love practical special effects versus computer-generated ones. And since I am so deeply enamored of both Hamel and Knight, they serve as a sort of relay-race tag-team with one taking an early departure as the other shows up, so that helps get me through. I would LOVE to see a DVD with the extra 20 minutes reinstated. I just doubt that enough people give a hoot for there to be a demand for it.