“The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) and “The Towering Inferno” (1974) were two seminal big-budget disaster action flicks produced by Irwin Allen. They were both based on popular novels, they both had all-star ensemble casts, and they both found their way to network television fairly quickly. They were both pretty decent flicks, too, I think … although I admittedly only saw them broadcast when I was very young. (My best guess is that I caught them sometime around 1979 or 1980; I’d have been in the second or third grade.)
They both made a big impression on me. Although “The Poseidon Adventure” is probably the better known of the two, it was “The Towering Inferno” that truly got under my skin. It had its share of frightening sequences — at least by 1970’s standards.
The one I remember the most is one of its two famous “elevator scenes.” After the plot-driving fire breaks out to create the titular burning high-rise, some panicking partygoers try to take an elevator directly to the street, past the burning floors — even after they’re warned not to try such an escape route. The result (which you can see in the third video below) was pretty scary stuff, at least to a kid my age, just before 1980’s action films would thoroughly desensitize me to this sort of thing. (It was not a decade known for nonviolent movies.) The outcome of the scene sent a pretty big message to me about the importance of following the authorities’ instructions during a disaster.
Both “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” were also among the paperbacks that littered the backseat of my father’s car. (Cars and closets and coffee tables in the house where I grew up were veritable small libraries; my father wasn’t reading Joyce or Dostoevsky, but lord knows that man read a lot.) In the case of the latter film, “The Glass Inferno” was the name of the original book by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. Believe it or not, I can remember asking my Dad what the word “inferno” meant. And I remember being fascinated, for some reason, by the idea that filmmakers could change the name of a story when adapting it. (The people who made movies could do anything they wanted!)
They actually remade “The Poseidon Adventure” a few years back … I saw it, and I might have even reviewed it for this blog. I can’t say that it was memorable, though. Indeed, the only thing I can recall about it was the presence of the priceless Kurt Russell.
Or maybe it was terrific, and I just don’t remember that. I am getting old — after all, I was a second grader in 1979.
I was surprised when I recently discovered that “The Swarm” (1978) was a feature film; I remembered it as a made-for-television movie from my childhood. (After its theatrical release, it debuted on NBC with a hell of a lot of fanfare in February 1980.) I was also surprised to read that it was both a critical and a commercial flop, and is often named as one of the worst films ever made. I was in the second grade at the time, and — let me assure you — this was THE movie the kids in school talked about. We were in awe of it.
The people behind “The Swarm” had high hopes for it in 1978. The internet informs me that it was based on a best-seller by famed novelist Arthur Herzog. And it was helmed by director Irwin Allen, who gave us two classic 70’s film adaptations of disaster novels — “The Poseidon Adventure” in 1972, and “The Towering Inferno” in 1974. (Those were a pretty big deal back in the day.) And just look at the cast named in the trailer below. It’s like a who’s who of 1970’s cinema. Yet it all apparently just didn’t pan out … contrary to my memories of second grade, “The Swarm” went down in pop culture history as a train wreck.
Check out the bee-proof suits worn by the guys with the flamethrowers. Talk about an excellent G.I. Joe toy that was never made. (Of course we had “Blowtorch,” but he was 80’s rad, and these guys in white are 70’s kitsch.)
When Season 1 of “Condor” was good — and it almost always was — it was a cinema-quality spy thriller. This was a smart, suspenseful, well made TV show that was very nearly perfect — I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.
“Condor” was adapted loosely from James Grady’s 1974 book, “Six Days of the Condor,” and its famous film adaptation the following year, “Three Days of the Condor.” I’ve neither read the former or seen the latter, but I can tell you that this new iteration of the story is intelligently written, nicely directed and edited, and well performed by its actors. It seems to channel the modus operandi of Tom Clancy’s books and films — showing multiple thoughtful characters plotting and acting either against or alongside one another — while the show keeps the tension high with sequences of surprise violence. (And there is indeed some disturbing violence here, particularly when the story calls for it to be perpetrated against non-combatants. “Condor” aired on the Audience channel on DirecTV; I suspect its content might be too much for a regular network.)
William Hurt has always been a goddam national treasure, as far as I’m concerned. (I may be biased in my appraisal of his work, as I grew up watching him in films like 1983’s “Gorky Park” and 1988’s “The Accidental Tourist.” I think he’s one of the best actors out there.) Seeing his talent colliding with Bob Balaban’s on screen should make this show required viewing for anyone who enjoys spy thrillers. (There is an extended, loaded exchange between them in a coffee shop here that is absolutely priceless.)
The whole cast is great. I’ve never been a fan of Brendan Fraser, simply because his movies are usually too goofy for me — but he shines in “Condor,” playing against type as an awkward villain.
Leem Lubany is terrific as the story’s merciless assassin. (See my comments above about the violence.) The role doesn’t call for her to have much range, as her character is a somewhat stoical sociopath. But she looks and sounds the part — combining sex appeal with an incongruous, calm, homicidal intensity. She reminded me a lot of Mandy, Mia Kirshner’s priceless, plot-driving assassin in Fox’s “24” (2001-2014).
If “Condor” has a failing, then it lies with its saccharine protagonists. The screenwriters seem to have gone to great lengths to paint an edgy, unpredictable, violent world full of compromised good guys and moral ambiguity. Why, then, are its handful of young heroes so implausibly perfect? The putative hero is “Joe,” nicely played Max Irons, who is just fine in the role. But the writers make him so idealistic, so gentle, so smart and so kind that it just requires too much suspension of disbelief. At one point I even wanted to see a bad guy at least punch him in the face, simply for being a goody-goody. It makes the story feel weird, too. (Who wants to see Jesus in a violent spy thriller?) The few other protagonists that we see here are also too good — they feel like thinly drawn, cookie-cutter heroes and not real people.
There are some plot implausibilities, too, that I’ve seen pointed out by other reviewers. (I have arrived at the resignation that others are simply far more perceptive about these things than I am.) But there was nothing that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.
“Condor” is great stuff. I recommend it.
Rest in Peace, Penny Marshall.
This is one of only a handful of TV shows that I can remember watching as a tot in the late 1970’s. “Laverne and Shirley” (1976-1983) was the kind of of thing I’d see in my older sisters’ room. My Dad and older brother watched war movies, westerns and monster movies, but my two sisters preferred considerably lighter fare. Two that they watched a lot at the time, if I recall, were this show and “Donnie & Marie” (1976-1979) — about the scariest thing you could find playing on their black-and-white TV was “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” (1977-1979). (One of my sisters had a crush on actor Shaun Cassidy; I think there was a poster of him in their room.)
I loved “Laverne and Shirley” when I was that young. Lenny and Squiggy were my favorite highlight of any episode, even if I was sometimes confused about whether they were meant to be “good guys” or “bad guys.” I was in kindergarten, and not altogether bright, and I thought that men who wore black leather jackets (Fonzie notwithstanding) were usually “bad guys.” I also remember thinking that hippies and motorcyclists were the same group of “bad guys” because they disobeyed God or something … my confusion at the time resulted from some vaguely moraled born-again Christian comic books I’d happened across somewhere.
I also remember recognizing “Laverne and Shirley” as being related to another show that a lot of kids back then loved — “Happy Days” (1974-1984), of which it was a spin-off. This might have been the first time in my life that I was aware of two live-action television properties occupying the same fictional universe; I’d already seen it happen in the movies with the various incarnations of “King Kong” and “Godzilla.”
Here’s what makes me feel old — for both “Laverne and Shirley” and “Happy Days,” I probably watched a lot of the episodes when they were first broadcast, and not just in re-runs (although “Happy Days” was also played in syndication endlessly throughout the 1980’s — it remained a fixture of daytime television).
And I only just realized writing this that Lenny was played by the priceless Michael McKean. As an adult, I know him primarily from his brilliant turns in “This Is Spinal Tap” (1984) and “The X-Files” (1998-2018). He’s 71 now. Wow.