Lockdown Movie Musts: 1970s Disaster Debacles

(L-R): Charlton Heston in 'Earthquake'; Dean Martin and Jacqueline Bisset in 'Airport'; Gene Hackman in 'The Poseidon Adventure.'

Welcome to Week 6 of Lockdown Movie Musts! Featuring weird subgenres of yore that’ll make you go, “Hey. At least I’m not trapped in a burning building with Charlton Heston right now.”

This week, hold onto your pants/a priest/a pilot because we’re diving head first into 1970s disaster movies. I know, I know—it seems counterintuitive to subject yourself to this right now. But trust me. You’ll not find another genre in which the tenacity of the human spirit shines brighter. Also—someone has to say it—there just is no balm more soothing than watching Much Worse Things happen to (fictional) Other People.

Need examples? Here’s a list of things that happen to characters in 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure that are way worse than sheltering in place:

  1. Getting crushed by a piano;
  2. Getting crushed by a giant Christmas tree;
  3. Falling from a great height into an ornate glass window/a fire/a flooded pipe;
  4. Taking orders from Gene Hackman;
  5. Crawling through a hot pipe with Gene Hackman;
  6. Dying of a heart attack because you saved Gene Hackman.

You get the idea.

Needless to say, if you’re one of the few people who hasn’t already developed a phobia of cruises after witnessing floating coronavirus quarantines, The Poseidon Adventure should finish the job.

Which brings us to another movie that’s excellent at making you feel just fine about not traveling: 1970’s Airport. This spawned three sequels and 1980’s Airplane! parody, starring Leslie Nielsen. (Nielsen, by the by, also played the captain in The Poseidon Adventure. I’d have mentioned it sooner but he dies after about two minutes, so ... y’know.)

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Anyway, Airport is a movie that’s modern enough to depict airports as the raging, overcrowded hellscapes they still are, but old enough to have a philandering pilot character played (of course!) by Dean Martin. At one point, Martin tries to coerce a flight attendant into sexual activity by saying: “If you take me up to full throttle then throw me into reverse, you could damage my engine.”

Sorry. Can you hang on a minute?

*puts fist through wall*

That’s better.

This film is also old enough to present The Time Before Airport Security. There are plots about un-ticketed passengers slipping undetected onto flights; men casually carrying bombs onto planes inside briefcases; and airport employees feeling suspicious about passengers’ bags but being told, “There’s nothing we can do about it on this end.” (If we’re ever allowed in airports again, next time a TSA agent asks me to take my shoes off, I’ll probably kiss them.)

In the end, Airport is basically a two-and-a-half-hour time capsule of a) how stupid we used to be, and; b) how tolerant audiences used to be of unnecessarily long movies featuring protracted scenes of snow shoveling.

Talking of which, almost nothing at all happens in the first 50 minutes of 1974’s Earthquake. You don’t really mind though, because instead of snow stuff, you get a variety of fun distractions like Geneviève Bujold’s pink-on-pink-on-pink-on-pink wardrobe and Walter Matthau’s cameo as a drunk. (Though, for some reason, in the credits he’s listed as “Walter Matuschanskayasky.” There’s obviously a joke here, but I can’t seem to find the punchline.)

Best of all, there’s Charlton Heston’s ridiculous car, which looks like this:

What is it? Where’s the roof? Did a 6-year-old boy design it? Does the orange stripe make it go faster? Regardless of the answers, it tells you everything you need to know about Heston’s character. Whose name is Graff, by the way. (GRAFF.)

Earthquake is a movie in which skyscrapers come with windows that can be broken by delicately nudging office chairs against them, and houses spontaneously explode for no reason. It’s a movie in which, on experiencing an Extremely Bad Earthquake, Charlton Heston still doesn’t put the roof on his car, cops herd civilians into basements, and high-rise office workers—this is my favorite one—pile into the nearest elevator.

So, yes. These people are even dumber than the ground staff in Airport.

All of which will make you happy to be on the ground, above the water and unimpeded by falling concrete slabs.

Until next week, stay safe and keep sheltering.

For other Lockdown Movie Musts, click here