Directed by Mark Robson
screenplay by George Fox and Mario Puzo,
An ensemble cast fights for survival after a massive earthquake in Los Angeles. This film is a who’s who in 1970s stars and is one of a series of disaster films that were made at the time, along with Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, and The Towering Inferno. With such a large cast it takes a full hour just to introduce them all and develop the drama of each ones life.
I couldn’t wait for the earthquake to hit. I knew with all the advancements of special effects, this was going to look like a bad Gamera film and I could get a good laugh. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by some realistic scenes. The quake sequence lasted a full seven minutes. Sure you can pull out a few hokey moments, a person running toward a falling building stone, and a bad camera warp effect to make it look like a building is falling forward, but overall the quake sequence doesn’t look all that dated. The dam busting wide open is the second climax of the film and the wash away scenes are just as impressive.
There are some good social messages within the story. Charlton Heston is the hero in the film despite his flawed character. He leaves his wife at a shelter so he can go find his mistress (the mistress winds up at the same shelter as the wife). Another storyline deals with the store clerk/loser that is suddenly called to the national guard and finds his position of authority to be the perfect time to take revenge against some local thugs. Although the beginning was rather slow, the quake, subsequent storylines, aftershocks and damaged dam, make for an exciting second half. George Kennedy turns out to be the secondary hero as the street cop trying to get some order in his crumbling city.
I had first seen this film in the theaters in 1974. I was 11 years old. At the time Universal Pictures had a short lived gimmick called, Sensurround, which would vibrate the theater seats when the earthquake hit. There were a few movies that included this technique including the War movie, Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), and Battlestar Galactica (1979), for which it was quite effective. The way Sensurround provided the vibrations was with a giant speaker system at the back of the theater – twelve foot sub woofer cabinets developed by Cerwin-Vega Speakers (anyone in music would recognize the brand name). It would only pick up and deliver the lowest frequencies of the film so it wasn’t heard by human ears, but it was felt in the vibrations of the theater floors. I don’t know if the system was manually ‘clicked on’ at certain times of the film or if it was triggered by the film reel itself, but it did not activate until the destructive moments of the movie. I always hoped that they would do a Godzilla film with this feature but the days of multiplex theaters made it impossible to continue with Sensurround.