Monday, April 18, 2005

The Norwegian Dawn Adventure

Imagine my surprise when the Norwegian Dawn, the cruise ship I randomly happened to see in the Hudson River a week or so ago, was in the news tonight. Apparently the ship, weathering rough seas on a cruise to the Bahamas, was struck by a 70 foot wave which shattered windows and flooded cabins.

I'm glad no one was seriously hurt. And of course I immediately thought of The Poseidon Adventure.

The Poseidon Adventure, if you've never seen it, is the 1972 Irwin Allen film which ushered in the era of 70s all-star-cast disaster films like The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. The movie is about a luxury liner capsized by a freak wave on New Year's Eve; survivors Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Jack Albertson, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Carol Lynley and Pamela Sue Martin have to follow maverick preacher Gene Hackman to safety by climbing upward through the upside-down ship.

The scene where Shelley Winters, a former swimming champ, swims endlessly through an underwater passage to rescue Gene Hackman, only to die of a heart attack afterward, is a camp classic. Surprisingly though, the film is still very effective - you really do feel for the characters, who are much better drawn than the usual "rag-tag band of survivors" that you find in other disaster films.

For some reason this film fascinated me when I was a kid; I had the View-Master, and I remember my father more than once reading the accompanying story booklet as I sat with the View Master glued to my face - a bedtime-story substitute for the geekified. I used to float boats in the pool and try to make waves that would capsize them. I drew the upside-down ship. I would create simulations of the disaster scene by arranging action figures and furniture inside a cardboard box like a diorama, and then slowly rotating it. I don't know why I was obsessed with it.

Maybe I identified with the character played by Eric Shea (the pesky younger brother of Pamela Sue Martin's character) He's the inquisitive kid who knows everything about the ship, whose knowledge helps save them all. I was that sort of kid. Of course, he does say that "Charlie, the third engineer" took him down to see the "ship's screw." Mmm-HMM.

My Poseidon dreams were realized when we got to tour the Queen Mary, berthed in Long Beach. The Poseidon was modeled on the Queen Mary; many exterior scenes were shot on board. Being on the Queen Mary was a Poseidon-geek's dream come true. I have a memory that we actually spent the night on board, but that could just be my imagination. I might have just seen passenger cabins - but I remember there being salt-water taps and fresh-water taps.

There was also an oceanic museum aboard the ship - in one room there was an enormous globe that floated in a cloud of icy mist. I kept coming back to this room to stare at the fog that was pumped out around the suspended globe. It was mesmerizing.

I have never actually been on a cruise ship, except for a brief tour of a ship that my ex-roommate Jeannette was working on as Jeannette, Your Ship's Photographer. I don't remember which ship it was, but the main rooms looked like a lesser Atlantic City casino hotel; she lived in a tiny room in the crew section. Her cramped quarters made our New York apartment seem like a vast open space.

I keep thinking about taking a cruise, as I've mentioned before, but I think the possibility that I will despise everyone on the ship is quite high. I once chatted with someone who had gone on a gay cruise which was then caught in a storm. He summarized the entire experience as "Nine hundred gay men. Seasick." 'Nuff said.

I've heard they might remake Poseidon Adventure. I thought the sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, was bad enough. This was a bad (not good bad, boring bad) piece of flotsam that came out in 1979. It revolves around a skipper (Michael Caine) and his flaky mate (Sally Field) who are trying to claim the ship for salvage. There are other passengers still on the ship, including Jack Warden, Shirley Knight, Shirley Jones, Mark Harmon, Veronica Hamel, Angela Cartwright, Karl Malden, and Slim Pickens. In contrast to the striking production design of the original, which featured eerie lighting coming up from the ceiling-turned-floor, this movie had flat TV lighting illuminating the cast as they sat around in nondescript sets. The highlight, or lowlight, is a weepy monologue delivered by Sally Field; it's bad, but even worse when you consider that she did this crappy movie right after her Oscar-winning performance in "Norma Rae." She's lucky they didn't send anyone over to repossess her Oscar.

I don't know if you can even rent Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. I, of course, own a copy, bought for $3 when my local video-laundromat-tanning-salon-fax-and-mailbox-rental center went out of business. I also purchased Xanadu, which deserves a post of its own.

Maybe what drew me to The Poseidon Adventure was the upside-down-ness of it all. I often feel like my life is turning upside-down. Maybe in the capsized ship I finally saw a world from my own perspective.

Good luck, Norwegian Dawn. I'm making my reservations soon.


Blogger Jeff said...

Did you know that Shelley Winters actually won an Academy Award for her part in The Poseidon Adventure?

She became a parody of herself later in her career but I'll never forget how good she was in Suddenly Last Summer. It's a shame she's only remembered as the "fat one who swims in that shipwreck movie."

8:27 AM  
Anonymous eyduck said...

Are you familiar with The Poseidon Adventure: The Musical!"? BRILLIANT!

8:30 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Gawd! I hate being wrong as much as I hate checking my facts....

1. Shelley Winters was NOMINATED for an Academy Award for her role in The Poseidon Adventure.
2. The movie was A Place In The Sun NOT Suddenly Last Summer. (I'm always getting those mixed up. Both star Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift and Shelley WAS nominated for her role in A Place In The Sun)

...and now back to your regulary scheduled broadcast...

8:51 AM  
Blogger Knottyboy said...

I choose not to be on boats. I don't like a mode of transport that when it's stopped I can't get off and walk anywhere. Actually a boat load of queens running around half naked sounds like a good time.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best thing she ever did was 'The Night of the Hunter'. No contest.


5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not imagination at all. You spent two nights on the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor. b

10:40 AM  

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