Earthquake (1974)

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Earthquake (1974)

Post  BoG on Fri Dec 31, 2010 11:24 pm

I'll say this - there was a style of marketing back then that seems lost today; see what it says on the poster, just two words - An Event...
That's all it took; it spelled it out in an elegant, concise fashion and it did it well. People wanted to see this "Event." And they did.
This was the third of the BIG 3 Disaster Pictures of the seventies (there were also the successful Airport series of films but the scale of disaster in those was much less). The BIG 2 were The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). And then there was Earthquake. After these, the disaster film genre died out rather quickly. For awhile.

Earthquake was a city-wide disaster epic; Los Angeles was leveled in this one. The first hour introduces all the characters. Charlton Heston plays the last real man... oh, wait; sorry, that's The Omega Man. Heston is a successful construction engineer, but he's married to a pitiful woman played by Ava Gardner, who yells  "godammit!" for no discernible reason. Lorne Greene (from the western TV series Bonanza) plays Gardner's father and Heston's boss. There's an earth tremor early in the film, sort of a foreboding moment for what happens later, and it also underlines how pathetic Heston's marriage in this film is - it briefly interrupts what amounts to a complete sham.

Meanwhile, George Kennedy plays a by-the-book cop who does throw the book away when he loses his temper; which seems to be almost all the time. Genevieve Bujold is a small-time actress whose husband had been killed on the job while working for Heston; Heston has a growing fondness for her. Then there's Richard Roundtree as an Evel Knievel-styled motorcycle performer; even with all the disaster scenes, the one shot that sticks out is Roundtree failing to navigate a 360-degree turn on his special track; this was a real accident that was kept in. Oh, yeah, there's also Marjoe as the local psycho; he works at a supermarket but after the quake, we find out he's in the National Guard, so everyone watch out! - especially Victoria Principal, whom he has a fixation on.

In smaller roles are Barry Sullivan, Donald Moffat and Kip Niven as the Earthquake experts; Niven's character actually predicted this quake, which was an odd scripting choice and more sci-fi, since I think we still can't predict these things even today. Lloyd Nolan is the doctor who really has his hands full. John Randolph is the skeptical mayor - but very briefly; he calls the governor. Scott Hylands as a watchman/asst.caretaker who knows more about the dam than the experts. Jesse Vint as one of three punks. And, oh yes, there's Walter Matthau as the local drunk; yes, the real Walter Matthau, credited under a strange lengthy name (hard to spell). He spends all his scenes at a local bar and even the quake barely stirs him. Whatta role! (we do see him later dancing to entertain survivors but it's from the back and I don't think it's actually Matthau). After all this time, I still dunno why he took this loopy role.
The quake sequence has a hyper-reality to it and yet there are also scenes which are like out of some cheesy sci-fi picture of the sixties and seventies; there are mattes and miniatures and these can't escape a sense of out-of-this-world fantastic cinema. There's one really regrettable scene in an elevator, where cartoon-like blood is inserted flying at the camera (see below), but otherwise most of the FX are effective. There may be a shot or two of backscreen projection, of buildings falling while people run in the foreground that have that cheesy aspect to 'em, but the majority of the destruction is fine. There's a truck with cows falling off a highway, then the highway collapsing, a house crumbling down a hill, debris falling - it all looks real.

There was also the use of Sensurround when this was in the theaters; this was an amplified & enhanced soundtrack which actually shook the seats in the theater; it was used on a few other films like Rollercoaster (1977) but not much, and was soon discontinued (maybe because it was feared it would damage the theaters; Heston and others mentioned plaster falling off the ceilings). The path of destruction doesn't stop with the quake; later, a dam breaks, so the story adds in the water threat. There's one scene here of Roundtree racing the flood and it ends on an ambiguous note - I never really got this. The script isn't that bad, really; I liked the way several characters, such as Bujold's son, became endangered; it was fairly thrilling and not contrived; you didn't know who would make it.  The offical site:

As with the old-time epics, which these disaster pictures replaced, the films needed actors capable of playing larger-than-life characters, to hold our attention. Heston and Kennedy really fit the bill here; Gardner over-played it, coming across as hammy. The rest are fine, with Gortner an entertaining repressed weirdo. Bujold was not out of place as one might expect while young Principal, in an early role, though a bit overshadowed, was appealing - even with that afro hairstyle. This includes a surprising death at the end. BoG's Score: 6.5 out of 10

Quake Trivia this film's producers were thinking sequel even back then or they just wanted a standard happy ending for the audience, so the original story
did not have Heston's character dying at the end; Heston, who like many actors, likes to have death scenes for himself, is the one who got the script changed so that his character dies at the end. It was a bit of a shocker for me when I first watched it.
There's a longer version of this film for when it first aired on network TV; these were new scenes filmed just for the TV version and many of them, especially the ones on an airplane, were very dull. Another new scene involved the trio of punks who harass Marjoe's character; this shows them going through a wrecked store and has a definite TV-quality to it (then they run across Marjoe again..  Rolling Eyes ). This film is playing on a TV set in an early scene of Scarface (83), at about the 20-minute mark, when Al Pacino as Tony Montana enters an apartment to make his first drug deal; it's the scene of George Kennedy chasing after a suspect in his police car and, because the scene in the apartment goes on so long - 6 to 7 minutes - we also see scenes at the Seismological Institute and the actual earthquake in the film.
 Star Trek TOS actor alert: Gene Dynarski plays the caretaker at the dam who abruptly has an elevator accident way before the big quake hits; he appeared in two episodes - Mudd's Women and The Mark of Gideon
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