Our look into the 1970s films of Sir Michael Caine concludes with 1979’s Beyond The Poseidon Adventure…
The 1960s was Michael Caine’s breakout decade, giving us some of his most iconic performances in films such as Alfie and The Italian Job. However, the 1970s was much more of a mixed bag, with some genuine bona fide classics (Get Carter, Sleuth) alongside tons of flops and oddball curiosities that have now been mostly forgotten.
Who remembers that he starred in a historical epic with Omar Sharif? Or that he was in the sequel to The Poseidon Adventure? And what the heck could the film Peeper be about? So, film by film, I’ll be taking a look at Caine’s 1970s filmography to see what hidden gems I can unearth…
Spoilers for Beyond The Poseidon Adventure lay ahead…
Directed by: Irwin Allen (The Lost World, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, The Swarm – and he was the producer of the original The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno)
Tagline: Before her fate is sealed by the deep, the superliner Poseidon will reveal one last secret…*
*Spoiler; the secret is a shipment of plutonium. Who would have guessed that?!
Other Featured Geezers: Karl Malden as Wilber Hubbard, Sally Field as Celeste Whitman, Telly Savalas as Dr Stefan Svevo, Peter Boyle as Frank Mazetti, Angela Cartwright as Theresa Mazetti, Jack Warden as Harold Meredith, Shirley Knight as Hannah Meredith, Veronica Hamel as Suzanne Constantine, Shirley Jones as Nurse Gina Rowe, Slim Pickens as Dewey “Tex” Hopkins and Mark Harmon as Elevator Operator Larry Simpson.
What’s it all about, Alfie?:Picking up immediately after the events of 1972’s The Poseidon Adventure, tugboat captain Mike Turner (Michael Caine), along with his affable first mate Wilber Hubbard (Karl Malden) and the chirpy and chatty young woman who they’re giving a lift to, Celeste Whitman (Sally Field), happen upon the wreckage of the titular luxury liner and claim salvage rights, with Turner hoping to make back the money he lost from cargo that went overboard during the previous night’s tsunamiwith loot from this capsized ship.
However, another boat containing Dr Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas) and his crewarrives at the wreckage shortly after. Svevo, originally claiming to be a Greek Orthodox medic who simply wants to check for any further survivors, is later revealed to actually beafter a shipment of plutonium for devious purposes(plutonium that, for some reason, someone took with them in their luggage on a pleasure cruise. 1970s security procedures were admittedly a tad laxer).
Whilst venturing through the capsized ship the gang’s exit route becomes blocked, thus forcing them to search for an alternate way out, encountering a rag-tag group of survivors along the way. With explosions regularly shaking the ship,it’s a race against time to escape before the Poseidon sinks to the depths of the ocean never to be seen again (not even for athird entry in the trilogy; Even Further Beyond The Poseidon Adventure: Underwater Boogaloo).
Caine-ness: Seamlessly following on from Caine’s previous film, Ashanti, where we left him floating in the sea, Beyond The Poseidon Adventure opens with Caine again adrift on open waters.
He’s first billed and the first actor we see on screen (along with Karl Malden) on his little boat called Jenny. He’s struggling with the wheel, looking sad and soggy, and doing some stellar pretending to be rocked about by waves acting (in a boat that is clearly on a studio set).
Caine is more believable as a leading man action star in this one compared to Ashanti, where he seemed tired and past it, and I enjoyed his performance here. Although his character, Mike Turner, is a bit of a dick; impatient, quick to anger, gruff and grumpy, Caine brings enough of his innate charm to the role that you still root for him. There are also plenty of opportunities for signature shouty and pointy Caine to emerge, right from his very first scene, so he must have been having a good time.
Turner does have a soft side too. He argues for taking the blind passenger, Harold Meredith (Jack Warden), with them against the protestations of Frank Mazetti (Peter Boyle) and the reluctance of Meredith himself who worries he will be a burden (although perhaps this is just to annoy Mazetti as Turner and Mazetti actively dislike each other). Although his relationship with Celeste (Sally Field) is initially frosty (he disparages her coffee making skills, frequently calls her monkey, and basically just shouts at her a lot), they do ultimately bond and he shares a few tender moments with her such as the cute scene in the ventilation shaft where Turner comforts a crying Celeste. When she then says “You going to kiss me now?” he responds simply with “No.”
So, not only does he not take advantage of her when she’s vulnerable (rare for a 1970s leading man), he also has his priorities set straight because they’re trapped in a ship that is about to explode, so it really wasn’t the time for any hanky–panky. The pair finally do kiss just before the credits roll when Celeste reveals that she has saved a diamond from the wreckage; “Going to kiss me now?” she says, to which Turner responds “I was going to kiss you anyway.” It’s not an especially deep or realistic romance, but I found it endearing.
Apparently, John Wayne was offered the lead but turned it down after reading the script, as did Burt Reynolds, but Caine had no such compunctions, and as far as I can tell at this stage in his career he was happy to skip the scripts and cut straight to reading the pay checks.
One last important note; Caine’s hair at times make it look like he’s slowly morphing into Rowlf from The Muppets. Spot the difference below;
Caine-nections*: This was the second film Caine starred in directed by Irwin Allen after 1978’s The Swarm. Both films have small supporting turns from Slim Pickens.
Karl Malden, and his interesting nose, also featured in the third Harry Palmer movie; 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain.
And, to round out the 1970s, we have the ultimate Caine-nection: Caine here played a character called Mick, only the third time in his careerhe’s played a Mick, Mickey (1972’s Pulp) or Michael (1966’s The Wrong Box).
*I’m only counting from Caine’s first starring role in Zulu onwards.
Best Non-Caine Actor:Karl Malden as Wilbur, with his stylish seafaring cravat and hat combo, is a likeable avuncular foil to Caine’s saltier captain and has a friendly chemistry with Sally Field’s Celeste.
We find out that Celeste is only onboard the boat because she recently helped Wilbur out of a tricky situation and he’s repaying the favour by giving her a lift, as he recounts, “She saved my ass the other night in a bar. Two guys were trying to roll me and she comes up and hits one of them over the head with a full whisky bottle and the other one she just kicked right in that spot where it hurts the most.”
I like to imagine Wilbur was being completely literal in what he said there and these men were physically attempting to roll him, like a Karl Malden shaped beach ball, onto something sharp like broken glass or an errant cactus (which would definitely hurt his posterior). I honestly don’t know how he would have gotten himself into that situation if that was the case, but I’m not a sailor, so I can’t really judge.
Celeste is the bumbling comic relief. She appears a few minutes into the film emerging from below deck dressed like the kid from IT in a yellow rain coat, says “I’m sick,” and bangs her head. Things don’t improve much for her as she then says she’ll help Wilbur shut the window but picks up a big pointy stick, stumbles, and shoves it through the window thus breaking it, rightly infuriating Turner who makes her immediately go back below deck again. She’s only been onscreen for about 30 seconds and already made a right plonker of herself.
Celeste, with her constant wisecracks and seeming obliviousness to the incredible life-threatening danger she’s repeatedly in, could have been unbearable in the hands of a lesser actor but due to Field’s likeability she elevates the character from being very annoying to simply a little bit annoying.
Telly Savalas is suitably suavely slimy as the villain Svevo, even though his ultimate motivations are a bit questionable, as are his forward planning skills, as him and his men appear to have worn their best white suits for this job and these outfits are definitely getting completely ruined (no dry cleaner is touching them after this escapade…especially since they get blown up).
Rounding out the cast are Peter Boyle as Frank Mazetti in a dapper pink frilly shirt looking like he’s just on the way to a Barbie screening. He’s the short-tempered bloke looking for his daughter, played by Angela Cartwright and who doesn’t get to do much, who consistently butts head with Turner. Then there’s Mark Harmon looking a bit like Mark Hamill who has been getting close to Frank’s daughter, much to Frank’s annoyance, Slim Pickens who stumbles on–screen with a bottle of wine that he hangs onto for the rest of the film until he’s shot, Jack Warden as a blind man, Shirley Knight as his wife who seems to just give up at one point and fall off a ladder and drown because she can’t be bothered with the film anymore, Shirley Jones as the ship nurse who gets a nice little flirty scene with Wilber, and finally Veronica Hamel as the glamorous passenger with a mysterious connection to Svevo.
None of these parts are particularly juicy, but the performances are solid all around, and so I was rooting for them to not come a cropper of the ship’s various death traps.
My Bleedin’ Thoughts: Maybe it’s a form of Stockholm syndrome after having watched all 21 movies that Caine made in the 1970s, but I actually quite liked this one. I can’t argue that it’s great cinema, but it’s a fun little romp nonetheless.
This was critically savaged at the time, and a massive commercial failure. It’s the only Irwin Allen disaster movie not to receive any Academy Award nominations. Even The Swarm got a nomination for Best Costume Design!
I can see why this was rejected by contemporary audiences. This was a sequel to a film released seven years earlier that wrapped up its plot neatly, and it features no recurring characters (unless you count the ship itself or the tsunami which makes a cameo at the start). Even though The Poseidon Adventure was a huge hit, it’s unlikely anyone craved a sequel, especially after such a gap.
Irwin Allen’s original plan, conceived soon after the first film, was for a sequel that found the survivors in Austria, on their way to testifying in a hearing on the disaster, getting trapped on a train inside a mountain tunnel, but this film failed to materialise. I’m not sure about that plot. It does stretch credulity in a Die Hard 2-esque way, the sheer bad luck of the characters getting involved in a similar situation twice.
Beyond The Poseidon Adventure ultimately came to be loosely based on Paul Gallico’s sequel novel instead (which he died before completing) and I quite like the basic plot. The conceit of salvagers breaking into the ship is actually a fun and inventive idea of how to get around the problem of making a direct sequel to the original film that can still take place on the ship once everyone has evacuated. It’s like if Speed 2 was Michael Caine trying to excavate the bus from the first film because he heard someone left a valuable bus pass on it.
Unlike the misleadingly titled The Poseidon Adventure, which isn’t really an adventure at all, it’s actually a harrowing ordeal where lots of people die in horrible ways (I remember it being on TV when I was a child one Sunday afternoon and being emotionally scarred after it forced me to face mortality for the first time), this one, at first, does actually play out like an adventure.
The film starts well, and feels fairly unique, when it’s just Turner vs Svevo, competing for loot inside the wrecked ship, but when the other surviving passengers are slowly revealed it does ultimately become just a retread of old ground (literally) from the first movie but with less stakes, less developed characters and less impactful deaths (Wilbur, an important and lovable character, just sacrifices himself offscreen). But this sequel does have an extended gun shoot out, and a subplot about plutonium, which the original was lacking.
There’s a pretty good tense scene where they all have to jump over a gaping hole in the ship, but then there’s another where they have to climb up a ladder that is lacking a lot of the necessary jeopardy that the film needs (it doesn’t even seem that high) and it’s milked to the extent that it starts to become a bit dull. However, for the most part I was engaged and entertained even though it’s certainly not a patch on the drama and spectacle of the original.
Trivia (Courtesy of IMDb): This first one is of dubious authenticity but I really hope that it’s true. With the advances in digital de-aging technology they could still make this sequel with Hackman.
“An abandoned idea for the sequel had Gene Hackman reprising his role. The movie would begin with him, playing his twin brother, flying in a helicopter toward the floating upside-down Poseidon to rescue his brother.”
I’ll end with perhaps my favourite piece of trivia that I’ve found on IMDb during this retrospective series:
“The all-star cast includes two famous Shirleys: Shirley Knight and Shirley Jones. Coincidentally, the actor playing the ship’s captain in the original film The Poseidon Adventure (1972), Leslie Nielsen, would the year after this film immortalise one of the most iconic punchline catchphrases in the spoof disaster film Airplane! (1980): “Don’t call me Shirley!””
Overall Thoughts: Top critical reviewer, Kindle Customer, (the Mark Kermode of the Amazon review world) sums it uppretty well;
I do think this one is unfairly maligned though, it’s certainly nowhere near Caine’s worst. It’s a silly lightweight little disaster movie with some famous faces. Worth a watch if you like this kind of thing and can temper your expectations beforehand. It’s not exactly a high for Caine to see out the decade with but it could be far worse, he puts in a dependable performance, and it’s enjoyable enough fluff.
Rating: 3/5 Sad and Soggy Caines
Where You Can Watch This: This is currently available to rent and purchase from most streaming services but appears to be out of print on physical media in the UK.
So that’s it for Michael Caine’s 1970s movies, thank you for reading along. He made 21 films in that busy decade and so understandably there were great highs (Get Carter, Sleuth, The Eagle Has Landed, The Man Who Would Be King), there were great lows (California Suite, Harry And Walter Go To New York). There were bizarre oddities (Zee And Co, Silver Bears, Pulp) and plenty of others in-between, but through it all Michael Caine was always reliably Michael Caine. He’s still one of my favourite actors, even though his choice in projects is unquestionably dubious.
What will the next decade bring for him? Will he learn from his mistakes and finally refine his taste in the film roles that he pursues? Well, the 1980s contain two of my favourite Caine films; Educating Rita and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, along with his Academy Award winning performance in Hannah And Her Sisters. But then there is also Blame It On Rio, The Hand, and Jaws: The Revenge so, ahem…
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