TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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14 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

H'mm! Would you say its better or worse compared to Cary Grant in 'Mr. Lucky' or Robert Taylor in 'Johnny Eager'?

I think it's better. The ending of JOHNNY EAGER always feels like a ripoff of the ending in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939). So I suppose by the time we get to 1949, this type of 'denouement' is a trope of some kind. But I like how it's played in MR. SOFT TOUCH, because he's wearing the Santa costume and the last sequence misleads us into thinking he and Keyes will have a romantic, happy ending with the requisite holiday cheer. But then he just gets gunned down.

I think the producers/writers were wise not to show him die in the last few seconds. So people can hope he's going to somehow miraculously survive. After all his name is Joe Miracle. But it can also be read that a Christmas miracle does not occur and he dies. It's a deliberately ambiguous ending which I just love.

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23 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Thx. Ambiguous endings are surely tops yep

Maybe an idea for a thread discussion...

There may already be a thread somewhere about ambiguous endings. I remember discussing HARPER with some other posters, on some random thread, because I felt it had one of the more ambiguous endings I'd ever seen. Similarly, the final freeze frame shot in THE 400 BLOWS is equally 'vague.' 

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37 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

There may already be a thread somewhere about ambiguous endings. I remember discussing HARPER with some other posters, on some random thread, because I felt it had one of the more ambiguous endings I'd ever seen. Similarly, the final freeze frame shot in THE 400 BLOWS is equally 'vague.' 

Those vague endings are usually memorable.

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Those are two good ones yah. Not quite 'cliff-hanger endings' ...except that yeah they are, in a way. Maybe they're "philosophical cliff-hangers".

My favourite? Probably "Knife in the Water" by Polanski. I can't name immediately name any other ending that much of a stumper as to what the characters are going to do next; how they will relieve the impasse. Its really audacious.

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Should have commented earlier, but I didn't want to get too far off topic. I like both of the previously mentioned titles Les Quatre Cents Coups (400 Blows) and Noz W Wodzie (Knife In Water), the latter being very much a "new wave" film despite being made in Poland instead of France.

Regarding their "vague endings", François Truffaut did make sequels to the former involving the same character and actor; thus, the ending only impacted audiences temporarily in 1959. We knew the bratty boy would grow up eventually. The film of his that, perhaps, created the biggest stir with American audiences so used to Hollywood formulas was Jules & Jim, which featured one of those famous "gee, I didn't see that coming" endings and was a key reason he was later requested (but didn't accept) Bonnie & Clyde, which also required a "gee, I didn't see that coming" ending. Without spoiling too much, this comedy-drama filled with flashy editing tricks (influencing in style if not subject matter the "look" of the Swinging Brits' Tom Jones and A Hard Day's Night... and everything else that decade displaying an attitude of "watch us all be goofy in front of the camera, not just act like professional actors memorizing scripts, and see how creative the cameraman and the jump-cut editors get with our material so you won't ignore this film anymore than you would flashy TV commercials") involved a ménage à trois featuring two guys who are more in love with each other than the woman they both share. Truffaut even teases this early on by showing them as buddies at the Turkish bath, commenting on "outcast" characters in a play that include a "homosexual", but saying they aren't shocked anymore by such activity on stage like all of the prudes... not to mention that the very title of the film leaves out HER name. Alas... the woman, who temporarily dresses up as a "dude" with a drawn mustache just to get them to chase her in a most famous and often referenced-for-movie-documentary scene, ultimately dooms all of the unconditional brotherly love in a way that The Great War could not (being that one guy was French and the other Austrian on rival sides).

Regarding Roman Polanski, many of the characters in his films are so carefully structured and explained for the viewers that you can usually guess "what happens next" even if the ending is "vague". Mentioned Rosemary's Baby before: Mia Farrow's character is so emotionally obsessed about having her baby and protecting it at all costs that you know she will accept Adrian even if his father is Satan, as Roman (not the director, but a character played brilliantly by Sydney Blackmer) cons her to "just be a mother to him".

One aspect to Polanski that I find fascinating is how he purposely manipulates viewers of completely different persuasions, so to speak, by keeping his intentions nebulous enough that both sides have equal interest in his product. In Rosemary's Baby, he teases two contrasting audiences: one who is obedient to "organized" religion and one that is more agnostic or atheist. The former consider it a genuine horror movie while the latter tends to view it more as a fascinating character study. Note how entertaining your neighbors are despite being so weird, so Guy just has to go back and socialize with them more than he does with his wife. Much of her phobia is as equally centered on losing her husband as well as her baby since he just isn't showing much interest in her when she's pregnant.

Knife In The Water also gets completely different reactions from those heterosexual viewers who have little interest in anything "LGBT" and don't notice such insinuations in movies, such as this "my wife and I just watched it again" who strictly views it as a great suspense thriller https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_knO2m6olLU and the I-am-not-sure-of-his-orientation-but-I-can-guess critic here, focusing on how the bodies are emphasized for psychological effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BtmxkrBrus

One thing is for certain. You quickly get a sense that this married couple has become too irritable with each other to have much of a sex life, but they say couples who fight together stay together (think George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and I have no doubt they will remain together well after the movie's closing despite any excitement in their life together coming from outsiders. Note how she sports her bikini early on and doesn't get much of a rise out of him. She still doesn't act stimulated in any way when he applies tanning lotion on her, but he uses this act to show-off in front of his young rival (see this key scene in the second video above). It is as if he is telling the sandy blonde twentysomething "I would rather apply this lotion on your bare back than hers, but isn't she still a dish?... and she is still mine, mine, mine and not yours", while the reaction is "oh brother, another closeted husband trying to prove how hetero he is". On the surface, this is just suspenseful "man up" challenging, but with knife play around fingers being rather Freudian in its connections to other parts of one's anatomy.

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I re-watched that one again last night. Pretty fluffy entertainment with a rather lightweight plot (which I'm sure you will acknowledge), but benefiting from a stellar cast. Gotta love all of the familiars like Una O'Connor from those beloved Universal horrors of the last decade (who can forget her in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein?) and two under-studio-contract veterans from Casablanca. I think Dennis Morgan was under contract more for his looks and singing voice than any particular "method" acting, while Barbara Stanwyck is basically playing a role that I think would have fit somebody like Ginger Rogers better but she does it well enough.

Intriguingly most 1940s "holiday" movies were initially released "out of season". Among the few exceptions was It's A Wonderful Life which RKO only decided to rush release in December because the edit work on Sinbad The Sailor wasn't completed in time. (Then again, the holiday scenes mostly occur in the final portion of that movie anyway, despite it always being viewed as a "holiday" movie.) Like Miracle On 34th Street, Christmas In Connecticut was a summertime release, previewed in July and widely released in August (being block-booked with the usual Warner short subjects, including Hare Conditioned with Bugs Bunny). This also explains its setting better with all of the "Buy War Bonds" advertising in the background scenes and no comments about the conflict being over yet. Despite bearing a 1945 copyright date in the opening credits, it is technically more a 1944 film, being filmed between May and July of that year and held-over. It would be interesting to learn about the last minute edit changes (the submarine footage lifted from elsewhere looks like a belated insertion after the European portion of the war ended and was no longer relevant).

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35 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I re-watched that one again last night. Pretty fluffy entertainment with a rather lightweight plot (which I'm sure you will acknowledge), but benefiting from a stellar cast. Gotta love all of the familiars like Una O'Connor from those beloved Universal horrors of the last decade (who can forget her in The Invisible Man and The Bride of Frankenstein?) and two under-studio-contract veterans from Casablanca. I think Dennis Morgan was under contract more for his looks and singing voice than any particular "method" acting, while Barbara Stanwyck is basically playing a role that I think would have fit somebody like Ginger Rogers better but she does it well enough.

Intriguingly most 1940s "holiday" movies were initially released "out of season". Among the few exceptions was It's A Wonderful Life which RKO only decided to rush release in December because the edit work on Sinbad The Sailor wasn't completed in time. (Then again, the holiday scenes mostly occur in the final portion of that movie anyway, despite it always being viewed as a "holiday" movie.) Like Miracle On 34th Street, Christmas In Connecticut was a summertime release, previewed in July and widely released in August (being block-booked with the usual Warner short subjects, including Hare Conditioned with Bugs Bunny). This also explains its setting better with all of the "Buy War Bonds" advertising in the background scenes and no comments about the conflict being over yet. Despite bearing a 1945 copyright date in the opening credits, it is technically more a 1944 film, being filmed between May and July of that year and held-over. It would be interesting to learn about the last minute edit changes (the submarine footage lifted from elsewhere looks like a belated insertion after the European portion of the war ended and was no longer relevant).

I think the "out of season" releases indicate how marketing films back in the 30s and 40s was not how films are marketed today. But if something became a big hit it would be re-released in subsequent years (before television) to coincide with the holidays depicted in the movie. And thus become a perennial favorite, which of course carried over to TV when syndication packages were created and specific films like CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE were typically broadcast around the holidays.

Re: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT...you are looking at how the film was produced from a more historical standpoint. Thanks for doing that, since I don't really cover the historical angle too much in my review.

Stanwyck had been a freelancer since the mid-30s. In fact, Stanwyck, Fredric March and Charles Bickford are the only ones I can think of who freelanced before it became common practice for stars to do that later on. Because she was not under a long-term contract to one studio and had multi-picture deals where she could bounce around, I think she sometimes came in and took scripts that the under-contract actresses turned down.

That's how she ended up doing THE GAY SISTERS at Warners which was rejected by Bette Davis, and how she did THE MAN WITH A CLOAK at MGM which was rejected by Marlene Dietrich. it was also how she ended up in "A" films where she seems slightly miscast, like when she plays a victim in THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS, which was certainly not a role written with her in mind. 

She was sort of an all-purpose freelancer. And I think she chose certain scripts because of genre or director or possible leading man. Not because she was the best one for those roles or the first choice. However, she does an admirable job with the character she plays in CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.

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I am sure there is an interesting backstory as to why this particular title was delayed in release.

With the war, many Americans were not watching movies all at the same time anyway, so it was less necessary to release something seasonal "on" season. Going totally off topic here... you will notice a lot more consistency back in the 1930s. By wartime, the studios had cut back in production both on a feature and short subject level partly due to military instructional films eating up a lot of film stock and a variety of other factors; thus, as a result, the time between many a film's completion and its release increased. This was even more so with Technicolor productions due to frequent processing delays as well as that company's occasional labor strikes. (The fact that Cinecolor, Polacolor and other processes flourished weren't just because they were cheaper; you needed alternatives when you were in a hurry.) 1943 was probably the last year for a decade or so when many of your familiar Tom & Jerry cartoons, Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies actually sport copyright dates corresponding to the actual year they were released.

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Essential: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)

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A romance develops between the main characters in this film. Dennis Morgan plays a soldier on leave near the end of the war, and he spends the holiday with Barbara Stanwyck. If you're a fan of Morgan singing, there's a nifty scene where he sits at the piano while she decorates the tree in her Connecticut home.

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It's not really her home. It's the dwelling of a man (Reginald Gardiner) who's asked her to marry him. A place she uses as an inspiration for her Martha Stewart-type housekeeping tips. She's actually a New York City gal who writes a column for a women's magazine. The magazine column has become so popular she's been asked to entertain a soldier in need of a home-cooked meal and holiday cheer. Somehow she is able to keep up the pretense long enough to entertain this special guest. She even manages to fit in a nice sleigh ride.

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Of course, the two end up falling in love, though he thinks she's married to Gardiner. And so does her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) who's finagled an invitation. Greenstreet is eager to see how she oversees domestic affairs and takes care of a baby. Yes, she invented a baby-- which makes for a few laughs. Greenstreet is also anxious to watch her flip a flapjack. Or as S.Z. Sakall says in a thick accent, "flip a flop-flip!" Oh, did I say she doesn't really know how to cook?

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This charming holiday concoction is about as screwy as it gets-- especially a scene where the baby is thought to have swallowed a watch (a whole watch). Then there's the part where a replacement baby, of a different gender, gets taken by its real mother. Stanwyck and company have a blast with the material. It's a movie you can enjoy wherever you are, even if you don't live in Connecticut.

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CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT will air on TCM the 24th of December.

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I have a feeling Preston Sturges would have had fun with this, particularly the multiple baby business involving multiple mothers (both who seemed rather old to me compared to even Jean Arthur in Shane to be having children that young). My mind is blank, but I vaguely recall Dennis Morgan's character learning a little ahead of time that she was not married before she was able to come clean with him so it wasn't that big of a deal. Again, I think Sturges would have made it a big deal. The film has merit, but I did sense it could have been even better with a bit more creativity.

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17 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I have a feeling Preston Sturges would have had fun with this, particularly the multiple baby business involving multiple mothers (both who seemed rather old to me compared to even Jean Arthur in Shane to be having children that young). My mind is blank, but I vaguely recall Dennis Morgan's character learning a little ahead of time that she was not married before she was able to come clean with him so it wasn't that big of a deal. Again, I think Sturges would have made it a big deal. The film has merit, but I did sense it could have been even better with a bit more creativity.

Interesting comment. With Sturges, it would have gone more overboard. And the dance sequence with the sleigh ride afterward might have been less romantic, sillier with Sturges. 

One of the mothers was played by character actress Jody Gilbert, who was often billed by her weight, not by the names of the characters she did. She might have seemed older because she looked matronly. But she was 28 when those scenes were filmed.

The shtick with the baby/babies is the funniest part. Not even cooking in the kitchen with Cuddles can equal it.

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Oh... sorry about Jody. Maybe the ladies didn't looked THAT old, but they seemed older upon my recollection. I was also thinking of our earlier discussion of Shane here.

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Essential: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972)

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THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is an entertaining and rather dated film. Some of the story's flaws get in the way of totally enjoying it.

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It's pretty obvious in the beginning after the ship has capsized that we are going to be with only a handful of characters for the rest of the story, when nobody else is willing to climb up the Christmas tree to safety. I had a hard time believing more people wouldn't have been logical enough to realize which way to go.

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And why was Roddy McDowall the only employee who survived the capsizing? There were no other people working in the linen department with him, or in other areas on that level of the ship?

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When the water started rushing into the ballroom and the crowd started to frantically climb the tree, we knew it had to topple over. So that we were left with only a few main stories to follow.

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As the survivors started to climb up through the ship's levels, a great deal of the action was delayed. In other words, it seemed stretched out to accommodate a two hour running time and also to save on sets. But in reality, I think they would have moved much more swiftly and made their way through various compartments (some of them dead ends).

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The film also contained a lot of over-acting. Some of the bit players, even the extras whose death scenes were played out in the background, were done with a major dose of ham. The top cast members, most of whom were method actors, seemed to think that if they screamed their lines in a Marlon "Stella!" Brando sort of way, they were being dramatic and registering shock or panic as the plot unfolded. There was little subtlety.

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If this ship was en route to Europe, how come everyone spoke English? There should have been one person who spoke a different language, or spoke fractured English. And speaking of fractured, it's hard to believe none of the survivors wound up with broken arms, broken legs, cracked ribs, something. There were no injuries, no bad backs or headaches among them.

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The sound effects were not as realistic as they could have been. Many times our main characters would barely escape a tide of rushing water, jumping up to the next level. But we seldom (almost never) heard water in the background. Only when the camera would cut to a quick shot of the rushing water would we hear it. As if that's when the editor remembered there was supposed to be loud water in this movie.

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And finally, I thought some of the death scenes were uneven. Roddy McDowall's character dies in about two seconds flat. But when Shelley Winters died, she was glimpsed dead for nearly ten minutes. I guess that's because she was guaranteed a certain amount of screen time. And if you're a Shelley Winters fan, then you're not going to complain. Whatever floats your boat, right?

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I'm not a big fan of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, but to address some of your points:
- There were other survivors. Recall that the 'escapees' encounter a collection of people with ship's infirmary staff, and try to encourage them to join their effort. The large open space of the ballroom seems to be better for surviving the capsizing than smaller, remote or confined spaces.
- The ship's destination is not exactly clear. I have the impression it was a Mediterranean cruise. The rescue team appears to be Greek.
- I think it could be argued that the lack of injuries among the 'escapees', along with their acquaintance with the Hackman character, accounts for their willingness to join him. The priest played by Arthur O'Connell feels compelled to stay with the injured; others are dissuaded by the implication that Hackman is impulsive and untrustworthy (seemingly in contrast to the O'Connell character.)

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I must demur from the points made in the above review; although the dovetailing of pics and the writing were--as always--enjoyable. Fine job.

But I'm as devoted a fan of this flick as I am of 'Towering Inferno'. I can honestly say that none of the questions or discrepancies raised in the review above, ever occurred to me. I think its a smashing spectacle done in grand tradition.

I've treated myself to bits-and-pieces of it as recently as this year and found it thrilling as always.

Over-acting: I think what would have marred the film would have been pallid, modest, temperate, or understated acting. Its easy to tolerate over-the-top acting (dims in memory over time, if nothing else) but the worst thing to strike a movie is acting which is supposed to be there, but which isn't.

Sure, when I first encountered the film years ago, (as a lad) I might have thought Shelley Winter's death scene somewhat bloated. Seeing it recently, I loved it. Had me choked up.

Same for Hackman's death scene. His character goes out in a blaze of glory that was lost on me the first time around. It's a truly astounding exit. Heart-in-throat stuff. And its exactly what I'm looking for.

I'd never wonder why "more foreign-speaking bit-players were missing in the cast", when all this gorgeous action is taking place.

Another key moment: when that friggin' wave is on the way and Leslie Nielsen practically turns white as he glimpses it through the binocs.

In a word: cowabunga! This movie rocks my face off.

p.s. interesting writer, Paul Gallico

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1 hour ago, Brrrcold said:

I'm not a big fan of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, but to address some of your points:
- There were other survivors. Recall that the 'escapees' encounter a collection of people with ship's infirmary staff, and try to encourage them to join their effort. The large open space of the ballroom seems to be better for surviving the capsizing than smaller, remote or confined spaces.
- The ship's destination is not exactly clear. I have the impression it was a Mediterranean cruise. The rescue team appears to be Greek.
- I think it could be argued that the lack of injuries among the 'escapees', along with their acquaintance with the Hackman character, accounts for their willingness to join him. The priest played by Arthur O'Connell feels compelled to stay with the injured; others are dissuaded by the implication that Hackman is impulsive and untrustworthy (seemingly in contrast to the O'Connell character.)

You are probably right about it sailing the Mediterranean, but I don't recall much in the way of a Greek rescue team. I thought the Greek rescue team was featured more in the sequel, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, which is supposed to be a slight continuation of the events of the first film. At any rate, it's unrealistic that all the main characters speak perfect English. If this were made now, the cast would be more international, much more diverse. But there's no reason for it not to be diverse in 1972.

I don't agree that only the uninjured would be among the evacuees. Injured people would have just as much determination to survive. At any rate thanks for your comments.

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41 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Over-acting: I think what would have marred the film would have been pallid, modest, temperate, or understated acting. Its easy to tolerate over-the-top acting (dims in memory over time, if nothing else) but the worst thing to strike a movie is acting which is supposed to be there, but which isn't.

Sure, when I first encountered the film years ago, (as a lad) I might have thought Shelley Winter's death scene somewhat bloated. Seeing it recently, I loved it. Had me choked up.

Same for Hackman's death scene. His character goes out in a blaze of glory that was lost on me the first time around. It's a truly astounding exit. Heart-in-throat stuff. And its exactly what I'm looking for.

One understated performance among the main cast would not have hurt. They were playing the idea that all survivors would be over the top panicky, and I just don't find it realistic. We've all seen rational people in crisis situations who manage to keep things calm and more subdued.

Winters is playing the stereotype of the hysterical female. But she liked doing larger than life characters, and I can almost excuse her acting choices since she still manages to be entertaining. But I don't think everyone else should have performed their roles with the same amount of hysteria.

We can still have heart-in-throat drama that is not so overboard, pardon the pun.

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Hard to discuss this picture without some puns 'seeping' through. :)

Okay so I can grant your point here without feeling cramped by it. Fair enough.

But wouldn't you agree Roddy at least, was restrained enough? (By the way are Roddy McDowall's characters, all his career-long, always plagued by icy cold watery deaths? ha, might be a fun survey for a thread)

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This was '72, right? Although we scoff at 'disaster' flicks these days (even though they've had at least one major resurgence) we might consider this the last gasp of 'big bang for buck' Hollywood moviemaking. American all the way. For that kind of thing...aw man who better than Gene Hackman vs Ernest Borgnine. They looked ready to pounce on each other. I for one, just can't deny the enjoyment of that. I wouldn't want any international stars in the way. :)

p.s. the point about a cruise ship going to Europe. Am I missing a point here? Why would there be more European-Americans on such a ship? I've never taken a cruise so maybe I'm simply missing information here.

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18 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

This was '72, right? Although we scoff at 'disaster' flicks these days (even though they've had at least one major resurgence) we might consider this the last gasp of 'big bang for buck' Hollywood moviemaking. American all the way. For that kind of thing...aw man who better than Gene Hackman vs Ernest Borgnine. They looked ready to pounce on each other. I for one, just can't deny the enjoyment of that. I wouldn't want any international stars in the way. :)

p.s. the point about a cruise ship going to Europe. Am I missing a point here? Why would there be more European-Americans on such a ship? I've never taken a cruise so maybe I'm simply missing information here.

Yes, I see what you're saying. But my idea was that if it was bound for Europe, there would be some folks on their way home (if home was somewhere in Europe). No way would all the ship's passengers, whether they were sailing the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, be just a bunch of Americans or English-only types. Even if we are to believe the ones who died in the beginning were international tourists, it's preposterous to think the survivors would only be American or English-speaking people.

But let's go with the idea it was a ship comprised of only American passengers, why aren't there any black Americans or asian Americans? They couldn't be bothered to show one wealthy minority passenger? Not believable at all.

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They couldn't be bothered to show one wealthy minority passenger? Not believable at all.

A few replies come to mind even if I tacitly agree with your sentiment here.

  • Drama almost never has to go--nor should it ever feel bound to go --out of its way for factual accuracy.
  • Based on the year it was made, I myself don't expect multiculturalism or affirmative-action to be uppermost in the minds of the writers or producers. Paul Gallico was like, 50 or 70 years old at the time. And 1972 is barely out of the chaos of the 1960s.
  • Hollywood won't take a chance whenever it doesn't need to take a chance.
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