Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Disastrous Debris!

While it's true that I did recently hold a clearance sale on a wave of stray photos from all sorts of TV and movies, including a few that stem from 1970s disaster movies, I still have even more from that realm and today am going to share those with you as well. My entire life (except for a few instances of sleeping and eating!) has been devoted to a love of those all-star disaster epics from 1970-1980, which dominated movie screens for a time before petering out. So I don't like to go too long here without ruminating on them and dredging up various pictures and details having to do with them. (Virtually all of them have some sort of tribute – occasionally more than one – that may be accessed by clicking on the title of the movie in question.) Now hold on tight, there's a wheelbarrowful of disaster debris coming your way!

First up is the 1979 misfire Meteor. Regardless of the money that was poured into it (not to mention the capable director and the requisite all-star cast), the movie helped lead to the demise of American International Pictures. As you can see in the poster above, there was opportunity for some of the snarkier critics in the country to remark on the fact that it looked like giant turds were headed for Earth! As is so often the case, foreign release posters (such as this one at left) tended to be far more explosive-looking and eye-catching.

This one kicks it up even one notch further with the rendering of a dramatic montage, though that's a pretty unflattering artistic depiction of Natalie Wood.
This one flips her around and puts Sean Connery over her shoulder, though it still doesn't really resemble her.
The actual photograph that artists were working from in creating these pieces of artwork is shown below. Somehow they completely failed to capture her essence the way they did Connery, Karl Malden and others.
Wood, who had passed on costarring in The Towering Inferno (1974) because she found the script “tacky” sure as heck didn't get it any better here! The potentially dynamic pairing of her with Sean Connery was about as scintillating as an ingrown toenail.
She had accepted the role in part because it utilized her existing ability to speak fluent Russian, but they gave her such a dowdy, frowsy, albeit pleasant, role to play that she was never able to get out from under the frumpy weight of it to demonstrate any excitement.
Really the only time she showed any sort of spark to speak of was at the tail end when Connery placed an unexpected kiss on her lips. I think I might have gone down that road sooner had I been trapped in an underground bunker with him and the world might be coming to an end! Ha!
Not only did she have to suffer the ignominy of starring in a huge stinker, but she was also repeatedly bludgeoned with a million pounds of imitation mud, requiring repeated eye-flushing, ear plugs, costume cleaning, hair-setting and hours upon hours spent in dank, cold, slimy muck! About that time, maybe Faye Dunaway's glamorous, windswept role in Inferno didn't seem so tacky after all?!
Henry Fonda had a role in Meteor as The President of the United States; certainly not a humiliating part. However, he also had popped up briefly in 1977's Rollercoaster, 1978's The Swarm and the 1979 debacle City on Fire. A person would have had to be clairvoyant to know that his career would rebound from this series of sub-par cinematic pursuits to his winning a Best Actor Oscar for 1981's On Golden Pond (thanks to the tireless efforts of his daughter Jane to get dad and Oscar before his passing, which came in 1982.)

City on Fire, containing one of Fonda's cameo roles, is the sole '70s disaster movie that I do not possess on DVD. A Canadian production, it's only been released as of this writing in German and Spanish versions. Since I haven't seen it in many years, my recollections are fuzzy, though I do recall thinking it was pretty bad.

Don't let the all-star cast depicted in this TV advertisement fool you. Ava Gardner only appears a handful of times and it is probably the very, very worse acting she ever gave in any project (playing an alcoholic TV reporter and seemingly on the sauce in real life!) Fonda is similarly set apart from the action. The rest of the cast scampers around an unnamed city as a saboteur helps to blow up building after building.

Barry Newman (of TV's Petrocelli, 1974-1976) is the leading man, playing a doctor, Susan Clark is the leading lady and Leslie Nielsen plays the city's mayor (gleaning the lion's share of acting accolades according to many viewers and critics, which is odd when you consider his dramatic career prior to Airplane!, 1980, and some of the costars he's paired with here!)
The poster shows a seemingly taller, slimmer Shelley Winters than one might have expected in the wake of her Oscar-nominated role as an obese ship passenger in The PoseidonAdventure (1972.)
However, a glimpse of the actual footage shows a personage more in line with reality...
In yet another example of foreign release posters that are so much more action-filled and dramatic than those we see here, this Asian one depicts a maelstrom of flames with the actors reacting in horror to the situations around them (while simultaneously adhering to my favorite format for a movie poster – the row of boxes with the cast members names and faces!) As this movie seems to be tied up in strange rights and tax issues, who knows when it will see the light on day on DVD in the U.S....

While we're still on the subject of Hank Fonda and foreign release movie posters, take a look at the one for Rollercoaster which was selected for release in the United States...
...then look at this foreign one, in which the movie has been redubbed “Toboggan” (how fun is that?!) and depicts people getting the front row rollercoaster ride of their life (or death, as the case may be!)
This is a fun promotional card that takes things even further, and appears to be American.
Rounding out our quartet of Fonda films is the infamous The Swarm (1978), in which he was cast as an esteemed research scientist attempting to concoct a serum that will enable those stung by killer bees to live through the experience (and his role is larger than those of the other films we touched on.) At one point, he injects himself with the serum to test it and begins enduring spasms and hallucinations, as seen here!

Practically the entire (huge) cast of veteran stars faced similar humiliation one way or another.
Director-Producer Irwin Allen loved to assemble ginormous casts of famous faces and then “treat' them to any and all kinds of physical punishment, be it swimming for one's life, burning up or being stung to death by killer bees.
Oscar-winner Ben Johnson is sent careening through a train window after an assault by the bees (referred to repeatedly – and hysterically – as “killer Africans” throughout.)
Two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland is tossed to the floor and covered in hundreds of bees (though for all her efforts, this shot never made it into the final cut of the movie!)
Perhaps one of the most striking injustices to Hank Fonda, though, came long after his demise when The Swarm was released on DVD. The special features are loaded with photos of the cast here and there including Irwin Allen's bio, but on one page, some unknowing idiot placed a shot of Laurence Olivier into the graphics instead of Fonda!! “Old man with a bow tie... what's the difference between one and another...” ?!?!

One of Irwin Allen's other stinkeroos, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), got really limited promotion in America. As I've stated here before (and others visiting this site have concurred with me), the movie had come and gone in theaters before I had ever even known of its existence! Here's a foreign release poster that, while odd, offers a little more drama than the one used here.

Child actress Angela Cartwright, who had done time on Allen's TV series Lost in Space (1965-1968) and had enjoyed a featured role in Oscar-winning Best Picture The Sound of Music (1965), was granted a part in Beyond, her first movie since 1965 (and last until the remake Lost in Space, 1998, in which she had a stunt-cast bit role.)

For her trouble, she was doused in water and saddled with a rather dowdy, torn dress in a movie that few people seemed ever destined to see, but at least her love interest was a young Mark Harmon.

This is a fun shot of three of the other ladies who costarred in the film.
Even rarer is this string of Spanish lobby cards for the movie, with color headshots of the cast that practically never turn up stateside.
I don't know if we ever truly see Shirley Jones with dry hair in the actual movie, at least not blow-dried out like this.
Of course, it was Miss Shirley Knight who rocked our world in this one. This was practically my first exposure to the woman and I never ever forgot her quiet elegance (while surrounded by idiotic squalor!)
This movie also marked the first time I'd consciously seen Veronica Hamel and she was dazzlingly beautiful. (She also is never seen in the movie with dry and curled hair the way it is in this photo.)
Hamel, a successful model in transition to an acting career, not only survived Beyond with most of her dignity intact, but she also costarred in Allen's 1980 debacle When Time Ran Out..., which put a nearly decade-long cap on her big screen career. In the following series of photos, in which she shows off one of her Paul Zastupnevich fashions for the movie followed by two of her new, lighter hair color, her career as a model comes in handy!
I always thought she was gorgeous and a better actress than some of her early projects deserved, but eventually she did find a great outlet for her abilities. She had a primary role on the acclaimed TV cop show Hill St. Blues (1981-1987), winning a Golden Globe in 1985 and being nominated for five Emmys along the way.

Before we depart When Time Ran Out..., look at this piece of publicity artwork. William Holden actually looks a little better here than the increasingly-ill actor did in the movie, but Jacqueline Bisset and Paul Newman look positively ghastly! Also, if you really look closely at Jackie and Paul's images, they aren't tremendously different from one another apart from the hair!! Ha ha! The artist also chose to depict the ONE helicopter of the film in sequence as if there were three. There weren't three, though I doubt that TEN could have brought much zest to the hackneyed proceedings.

One of the few '70s disaster flick that was a remake of an earlier movie was 1979's Hurricane, with a promising cast (Mia Farrow, Jason Robards, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Bottoms) that didn't wind up delivering much more than some wind, rain and hot air.

There was some compensation in the form of scantily-clad almost-actor Dayton Ka'ne as Mia's love interest, but the two never really create the sparks necessary to make this an epic love story (as the movie's poster kept trying to suggest.)
This hilariously stark poster (German?) has no flair. It's mainly just murky water with two waterlogged stars trying to hold their heads up under the wind and rain machines. A clear sticker with the names of some of the stars has been haphazardly adhered to the lower section of it.

Far more eventful is this montage poster below, spread across two pages in a foreign magazine. This one at least showcases some of the disaster set pieces of the movie while also featuring a couple of its familiar faces.
If you've ever wanted more info about Ka'ne, here is a teen magazine puff piece that offers a little bit about him and his life around the time of Hurricane.
The second (and last) movie of his career was changed from “Shark Boy of Bora Bora” to Beyond the Reef (1980), but renamed "Seakiller" for release in Australia and a host of other things around the world before sinking into oblivion... His costar in it was Maren Jensen, who some of you may remember as Lorne Greene's daughter on the original Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979.) The movie was filmed on the heels of Hurricane in the same basic locations.
One of my favorite of the less-heralded disaster movies is 1976's Two-Minute Warning, all about a deranged sniper at The Super Bowl (well, since they weren't allowed to use the name “Super Bowl,” it's “The Championship Game...”) This shot of John Cassavetes from the movie shows the term “Championship X” on the TV screen behind him. (Also, from the looks of it behind his right shoulder, he's more of a baseball aficionado than football!)

This poster is not the primary one used in the U.S. and serves up granite-jawed Charlton Heston in a standard police uniform even though, as a plainclothes detective, he is never seen this way in the movie! I do like the shot, if you'll pardon the pun, of the sniper, with Beau Bridges seen in the reflection of his site.

Here we find two different lobby cards for a foreign release of the film, showing Walter Pidgeon and his accomplice Juli Bridges, picking the pocket of David Groh. It amazes me that with a film starring a dozen people, someone made the decision to devote TWO lobby cards (usually released in sets of 8 or so) to this one moment, as if no one would get what was happening in the scene unless they showed the progression of the crime. Truth is, the top one would have sufficed just fine and the bottom one looks like it could be suggesting sexual imposition on the part of Pidgeon to Groh!

This was sort of neat... a gimmicky poster to help build some level of suspense/excitement in theaters. (Why anyone would want to enter a movie during the final fifth of it in the first place is anybody's guess, though!)

This is the cover of a Japanese program for Gray Lady Down (1978), a submarine rescue movie that starred Charlton Heston, David Carradine and Stacy Keach along with several other veterans and up-and-comers.
Check out this amusing foreign release poster in which it looks like Heston opened up a watertight door and then tossed the submarine out like so much jetsam!
As we prepare for (a crash?) landing with this post, we look to the skies for some interesting archival items from a few of the Airport movies. The final one, The Concorde...Airport '79 (1979) was such a bomb that the makers hardly knew how to market it after its initial release. By the time it was flown overseas to the foreign markets (hence the “'80” in the title), it was being treated almost as the unintentional comedy that many critics and audiences had perceived it to be! So while earlier “box posters” had worried or serious faces on them, this Asian poster features mostly awkward grins. (Would you know from this that Susan Blakely is in fear for her life from evil business magnate Robert Wagner??)

A later TV advertisement made a slight attempt to return to more serious photos, but the admen clearly figured no one would know the leads, Alain Delon or Sylvia Kristel, so they were dumped and Miss Cicely Tyson (whose role is eensy-weensy and she looks nothing like the picture chosen) was added in! I'm surprised they left out Charo...

The first Airport (1970) was a far cry from the last one. While it had some lightly comic elements to it, it was focused squarely on the drama and suspense of a snowed-in airport which happens to be grappling as well with a disturbed bomber aboard one of its international flights. Here we see the gargantuan collection of stars who were assembled, but, if you look closely. you'll see that Dana Wynter and George Kennedy weren't really there on set that day. They've been carefully cut out of other photos and pasted in!! Pre-photoshop, people...

Since the very first millisecond that I saw this movie, I've been in love with Jacqueline Bisset and her swingin' stewardess look. She is achingly beautiful in the movie, even with what some folks feel is a disastrous grey/mustard yellow color combination in her uniform. But I love everything about her and it.
This is a neat shot taken during rehearsals for a cockpit scene. Miss Helen Hayes hasn't put her hat back on yet and a techie is peering in from the doorway. (If you look closely, Miss Jackie is smoking, on set and in costume!! tsk, tsk...!)

Here are publicity photos of Bisset in her Airport wig. One has her lolling in bed while the other shows her in street clothes.
This one seems to be an early one for test purposes and thank Jesus they styled that wig better by the time of the actual shooting!!
Of course, by the end of the movie, her poor wig had taken quite a beating, as had her character!
Lloyd Nolan (shown seated behind Dean Martin in the cast photo up above) had to have been annoyed when some of the movie's posters came out and instead of his portrait alongside everyone else (literally EVERYONE except lower-billed Dana Wynter) there was a piece of clip art of the source novel instead of his face!

This peculiar situation reared its head in ads for the first sequel, too. This Japanese advertisement for Airport 1975 (1974) has a huge parade of faces along the bottom.
But when the same basic ad was printed in U.S. periodicals, Ed Nelson's photo was inexplicably removed and in its place were two small black bars on either side of the cast! (I presume that the publicity folks didn't want Linda Blair's face to fall dead center and be split by the pages or, God forbid, a staple!) and so they separated the performers down the middle instead and made room by kicking Mr. Nelson to the curb!

Similarly, the sheet music for the them from Airport 1975 also neglected to include Ed Nelson, though it has everybody else who'd earned feature billing. (“Get my agent on the line, NOW!”) Can you in any way imagine everybody gathering around the den to hear Timmy sit down at the family's upright set of ivories to play his piano solo, “Theme from Airport 1975”?!?!? The mind reels! I could almost understand the actual SONG from the movie, “I am a Best Friend to Myself,” but this one confuses me...

In a set of foreign lobby cards we have a few unusual shots not seen (or at least not often seen) in the U.S. These two headshots of Charlton Heston and Karen Black allow us to take a closer look at our leads' hairpieces. It wasn't until a fairly recent viewing that I figured out what was happening with Black's hair in this movie.

In the post linked in the prior paragraph, I go on about this extra who stood up and screamed her way to a featured position in some of the movie's foreign release posters! Here we see a lobby card in which Myrna Loy is shown hunkered down in the corner while this extra is given the focus. Never phone it in, folks, even if you're playing shrub #4...

This hooty lobby card shows Miss Gloria Swanson, who played a rendition of herself in the film, on set with (presumably) the director and producer of Airport 1975. Note the chairs behind them, belonging to the other stars of the project.

In a post about camp photos, I got to share some amusing headshots of the actors from Earthquake (1974) who were called upon to make scaredy-faces as if the big one was happening at that very moment. Here we have something akin to that with Myrna Loy relaxed and normal...

...then Loy reacting to the mid-air collision that happens in the movie.
Next we see singer-briefly-turned-actress Helen Reddy in her guise as a singing, guitar-strumming novice nun. (Strange that the lady who became a household name belting out, “I am Woman, hear me roar...” signed on to her first movie role as a subservient nun!)

Then we see Reddy in a more pensive moment, caressing her crucifix as disaster strikes. (We assume she's channeling its power towards rescue and not fending off little Linda Blair who just a year before did distasteful things to a crucifix in The Exorcist, 1973!)
It's interesting that singer Reddy played a guitar-wielding nun in Airport 1975 and then singer Maureen McGovern (who, as seen here, sang the Oscar-winning love song on camera in The Towering Inferno, 1974) was later recruited for 1980's Airplane! There, she spoofed Reddy's role as a nun who grabs a guitar and breaks into Aretha Franklin's “Respect” during the flight!
And finally I leave you with two more photos of Miss Gloria Swanson. For some reason, everything concerning her and Airport 1975 tickles me (and I even enjoy her ridiculously self-absorbed, self-written performance in the film, her first on big-screen celluloid since 1956 and her last!) This first one shows her attending her dressing room at Universal.

This last one shows a bit of the heraldry that awaited her when she came swooping in after that long absence from the cinema. In this instance, she certainly outdid her iconic counterpart Norma Desmond, who was invited back to the merely studio because they wanted her car for a prop! Here, Swanson was wanted for herself (after Greta Garbo declined) and her decision to say yes delights many of us decades later (so what if it's occasionally for all the wrong reasons?!)


Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm a big fan of disaster movies.
Back then, we used to stand in long lines to see the new disaster movie. To me, they offer not only some thrilling scenes and lots of special effects, but also the fortunate chance to see stars from the Old Hollywood, and the odd pleasure of watching two unlikely costars in the same scene. How else would Fred Astaire and Faye Dunaway end up in the same movie? Or Ernest Borgnine and Valentina Cortese? With The Hindenburg, the disaster genre had run its course, the quality of those movies and our expectations went down. The special effects in the movie had a lot to do if we liked it or not; I think that The Towering Inferno had the best effects of any disaster film of that era.I saw Meteor and although it wasn't very good, it wasn't as bad as Avalanche, The Swarm or When Time Ran Out, but even those were campy fun.
I don't remember ever watching City On Fire; I vaguely remember one about a tornado.
Thank you again. Greetings.

Poseidon3 said...

Oh, I so agree with you about the star pairings. That's been an obsession of mine, too, over the years. (I really belong in a facility somewhere....) I used to truly dislike "The Hindenburg" but, in a surprising change-of-heart several years back, came to enjoy it a lot, too! I think of my '70s disaster movies almost as one of those old sets of Encyclopedia Brittanica, all lined up in order from 1970-1980 and there for me to refer to any time I wish. Some are better than others, but I enjoy all of them! Thanks, Armando.

Knuckles Girlyskirt said...

I, too, am a big fan of star-studded disaster movies. Saw "The Swarm" in its entirety for the first time a couple of years ago. I LOVED how melodramatic it was. So much ham, this turkey was more like bacon!

Wish they were still making these type of films.

I can easily visualize "Airport 2015", starring Melissa Sue Anderson and Mindy Cohn as the pilots of a doomed flight. I'd shell out hard-earned money for it!

Gregory said...

Well, that was an EPIC posting!! Phew! I'm exhausted, just recalling the utter DISASTER of most of these "disaster films"! "Airport '75"'s got to be the greatest of them all, right? On so many levels. Your obvious affection for "A75" comes through HILARIOUSLY! I was howling through the whole of your best yet! GREAT JOB!!!

Poseidon3 said...

Knuckles, you are so hilariously warped... LOL Love it!

Gregory, I just took time to re-read my post and it was SO riddled with typos!! My GOD. Sorry about that. Busy day today at work. I think they're fixed. BTW, you should have continued your own blog. You are a talented writer with great descriptive elements. I use Facebook to rant and rave about all the loons out there and one of them was about a pair of twits who insisted on walking the wrong side of a Bike/Jogging Trail!! They nearly caused a dozen accidents and never did get it....

Scooter said...

I've always been fascinated by the Concorde (and disaster movies) yet, I agree that Concorde - Airport '79 was a bit of a stinker...but I really can't say why. Anyway, as always, loved this post!

NotFelixUnger said...

"Poseidon Adventure" will always be top of the list. "Airport" and "Earthquake" are kind of tied as a close second.

Here at home when we see those movies we often act out some of the more ridiculous lines. It helps to have a few drinks when acting them out!

I do have a comment and it reflects on the power of the casting director. It is interesting [in my mind at least] I would never be able to visualize most of the characters in these movies as anyone else.

Case in point: Bisset and Martin. Though I adore both, I would never have pictured the two as a couple. Yet the pairing in "Airport" is so fantastic that I don't think it would have worked with any other two actors. They look like they were made for each other.

On the flip side, Wood and Connery feel and act like brother and sister, and Farrow and Ka'an act look like a bizaro world version of "Lolita."

I'm still hoping one day you will pay tribute to one of the last, great disaster flicks, "Condominium." [I am only slightly teasing with that!]

Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

You know what we need? All of us disaster movie newbies? We need a list of Disaster Movies from best to worst.

Thinking about Poseidon's DVD shelf makes me also wonder how many are on that shelf? Are there 30 disaster movies? More?

From this list above, I know I've seen Airport, and Airport 75. Also, shamefacedly, Hurricane. (I loved the original with Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour in their, um, skimpy clothes). And that's about it.

Also, I am jealous of Poseidon's eye when spotting wigs. I would never have thought that Jackie Bissett was wearing anything other than her own hair.

Ken Anderson said...

So nice to be able to have the chance to catch up with you posts! This one is very enjoyable because I've seen all the films listed (in spite of the fact that I don't tend to think of myself as a fan of the disaster genre....I think I'm in denial). Your stuff on Airport 1975 is particularly amusing as I feel largely the same about it. Swanson can't stop talking about herself, Reddy looks anything but, and Karen Black's hair ALWAYS fascinated me in this. I think it was one of the first non-tramp roles I ever saw her in. Anyhow, reading this was a great treat, reminding me that I actually went to see "Hurricane" opening night...and I don't call myself a fan of disasters!

HarpoSnarx said...

"Two-time Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland is tossed to the floor and . . . "

Okay this may be mean but after seeing the photo of de Havilland's bee covered corpse, I wondered if sister Joan Fontaine ever repeatedly played then replayed the scene like Goldie Hawn did in "Death Becomes Her"? Just a thought.

I loved this post. One scene from original Airport that always makes me squirm (even when I think about it), bomber Van Heflin's widow Maureen Stapleton apologizing to survivors in the gate area. YIKES!

Poseidon3 said...

Scooter, I wanted to see "The Concorde" so much when it was released, but I recall there being a disconnect because part of the plot revolved around the Olympics and then we withdrew from them that year. Then there were just too many characters, even for a movie of this type, and too often played by comedic people like Avery Schreiber, Jimmie Walker, Charo, etc... it lost all sense of reality (not to mention how lunatic the plotline already was... George Kennedy OPENS THE WINDOW of the Concorde in midflight and fires off a flre gun?!?!)

Not Felix, you are so right about the actors. I know Irwin Allen liked to use all-star casts because often the performer's personality and image filled in a lot of the blanks and just by appearing gave a shortcut to who the person was and what he or she would likely be like. Bisset and Martin are perfect, yet Bisset and Sinatra (in "The Detective") were not (or maybe it was her heinous wig in that one!) BTW, I read the novel "Condominium" about two years ago and it brought back many memories of that miniseries (which I haven't seen since it first aired!) It's never shown!!!!

Dave, I really love "Airport '77" and heartily recommend it! if you are at all a fan of Lee Grant it is MUST SEE, but Jack Lemmon, Brenda Vaccaro, Christopher Lee and Olivia de Havilland are great fun, too, among others.

Oh, Ken, you are certainly in denial if you've seen all of these and don't think you're a fan! Ha! You must call 1-800-DIS-ASTR for some help. I would LOVE to read your take on any of the great (or not-so-great) 1970s disaster flicks on your wondrous site.

Harpo, that thought has crossed my mind before and I've even mentioned it here, I think. I always pictured Joan with a bowl of popcorn watching "Lady in a Cage" and Olivia enjoying some fine wine as Joan is nearly trampled by wild sheep in "The Witches!" LOL