EARTHQUAKE rattled theaters with the audio gimmick of Sensurround, a rumbler that amused or irritated patrons in the adjoining auditorium, trying to enjoy a different movie, sometimes even cracking plaster. The racket served a dual purpose. The first was obviously to enhance the effect of the geologic spectacle of Los Angeles’ pulverization from a 9.9 tremor—“you will feel“. The second was sneakier: help disguise how lame the script, direction and much of the acting was—“you may reel”. Made for $7,000,000, 1974’s third-biggest hit shook the carnage curious out of $79,700,000 domestically, with more reaped abroad, Richter-sensitive Japan alone contributing $10,000,000. The script was started by hot author Mario Puzo, then reworked by neophyte George Fox and the director, Mark Robson.

Los Angeles is creamed by quakes, fires and a burst dam. That innate drama deemed insufficient, dopey subplots were arrayed to try and engage us with the personal lives of the characters and wonder who will make it intact to minute 121 (beware the extended version that tacks on 40 more). Former football star ‘Stewart Graff’ (Charlton Heston) is having an affair with younger actress ‘Denise Marshall’ (Geneviève Bujold) because his wife ‘Remy’ (Ava Gardner) is a harridan. Lorne Greene, just seven years older than Ava, plays Gardner’s father. Tough but fair cop ‘Lou Slade’ (George Kennedy) adds a welcome degree of likable heft to balance ridiculous, time-wasting material involving a stunt driver (Richard Roundtree), a sexy model (Victoria Principal) and a deranged National Guardsman (Marjoe Gortner as ‘Jody Joad’).

Heston and Kennedy handle the heroics like pros, Bujold—forced into this to settle a dispute with the studio—adds a touch of class. Principal is used as a blatant tease ornament (we can deal), Roundtree as a hopeful draw from Shaft fans, Gortner along because someone thought he held appeal beyond notoriety. The subtlety shows when, during the slaughterous initial quake, while buildings collapse and screaming extras are pasted with falling glass, Walter Matthau does a ridiculous ‘joke’ cameo as a drunk in a bar. The mayhem set a new record for stunt personnel, 141 (since topped) with the special effects ranging from very good to lamentable: highlight is a truckload of cattle falling off a crumbling freeway overpass.

Ah, yes, the sensitive Seventies

Since eclipsed by the CGI pastings delivered in epics 2012 and San Andreas, at the time the metropolis mauling took home an Oscar for Best Sound, plus a special award for Visual Effects and managed nominations for Film Editing, Cinematography and Art Direction. *

Dumb but intermittently enjoyable. With Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Monica Lewis, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendariz Jr., Lloyd Gough, John Randolph, Scott Hylands, Jesse Vint, Donald Moffat, George Murdock, H.B. Haggerty.

* It had been a while since audiences were treated to a good display of plate tectonics in action. Though it mostly concerned a volcano, 1961’s The Devil At 4 O’Clock featured a little one, pre-eruption. There was an okay jolter back in 1947 for Green Dolphin Street, and a cut-rate but still decent job in 1945’s Flame Of The Barbary Coast (the Earth tries to kill John Wayne: guess who wins?). The real old school titans belong back in the 30s with San Francisco and The Rains Came. That last is one that I delight showing to the unaware: never fails to blow ’em away.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s