Wednesday, August 09, 2006

A Few Of My Favourite Things - 1970's Disaster Movies

No not raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens! This monthly random post is about some of my favourite things. Some I'm passionate about others just tickle my fancy and make me laugh.

What do you do with a Hollywood star who hasn’t had a hit since 1954?
Well in the 1960’s buoyed by the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane you cast them in Grand Guignol shockers and turned them into Scream Queens. In the 1980’s you cast them in soap operas like Lana turner and Jane Wyman in Falcon Crest but in the 1970’s you cast them in Disaster Movies.

They were big block busters with a host of legendary stars. Who can forget Ava Gardner and Chuck Heston swaying about on wobbly sets and showered in papier mache rubble in Earthquake! Or Fred Astaire, William Holden and Steve McQueen covered in fake soot for The Towering Inferno. Even classy Olivia De Havilland and Henry Fonda got in on the act, getting savaged by killer bees in The Swarm. Then Shelley Winters famously capsized and sank in The Poseidon Adventure and a whole slew of stars were hysterical at high altitude in Airport 1970 and its spin off’s Airport 75, Airport 77 and Airport 79 The Concord!

The Airport films are my personal favourites the plots got sillier as they went along and the calibre of stars smaller (From Gloria Swanson and Myrna Loy to Charo and Martha Raye!)But Airport 1975 is a gem of a disaster movie and my personal number one. It boasted Gloria Swanson (re-united with Sunset Blvd co-star Nancy Olson) Dana Andrews, Sid Caesar and Myrna Loy amongst it’s petrified passenger list, whilst the fabulously boss eyed Karen Black was the stewardess forced to land the plane with help from good old Chuck Heston on the ground. Who can forget Gloria Swanson (playing herself) screaming “The Mountains, we’re too close to the mountains” as a blatantly projected piece of footage wobbled past her window!

Olivia De Havilland in Hysterical Disaster Movie Mode!

Special mention should be made of Chuck Heston who almost single handed, saved the day in half of the 70’s great disaster films, or so it seemed! He landed the stricken plane in Airport 1975, stopped the sniper threatening a football stadium in Two Minute Warning, rescued Ava Gardner in Earthquake, saved the plane in Skyjacked (a poor man’s Airport) and was the only survivor after a deadly plague in the Omega Man. Not bad for a man who also found time to battle his way through the Planet Of The Apes franchise all in the same decade. Hardly a week in the 70’s went by, when he wasn’t found with jutted jaw, covered in fake blood/dirt/soot (toupee askew) and with his clothes in tatters.

So why were these films so popular? Well part of their success lay in their crowd pleasing plots. The people responsible were always killed and often horribly. Richard Chamberlains faulty wiring in Towering Inferno got him fried. There was also, always one of the cast favourites killed off, to ensure a tear-jerking reaction, like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure and finally there was always a chance for some “ordinary Joe” to become a hero. Like Fred Astaire as the con-man who saves the children in Towering Inferno and simple stewardess Karen Black manoeuvring the plane through the mountains, single handed, in Airport 1975.

The other reason people loved them, was the chance to see great stars in distress, in the same way they had loved them a decade before devoid of make up and as demented purveyors of horror in the 1960’s. In the 1970’s they got to see them dirty, wet, and bleeding, with their clothes in tatters and under duress and what fun it was. Add to this, huge special effects, outlandish scripts and high drama and you have a recipe for success that lasted a whole decade.

They sure don’t make em like that anymore! Mores the pity!

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