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  Earthquake A Whole Lot Of Shaking Going On
Year: 1974
Director: Mark Robson
Stars: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Geneviève Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Lorne Greene, Victoria Principal, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Walter Matthau, Lloyd Nolan, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendáriz Jr, Alan Vint, Jesse Vint, Donald Moffat
Genre: Drama, Action, Thriller, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 3 votes)
Review: Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) is an ex-football player turned building engineer in Los Angeles. As he gets ready one morning, he has his usual argument with his wife, Remy (Ava Gardner), but she then apparently takes an overdose of pills. As Graff phones for a doctor, an earthquake suddenly strikes, not a powerful one but enough to shake the building and panic the faking Remy, who sits bolt upright and flings herself into Graff's arms. Across town, the institute of seismology register the tremor, but are afraid it might signal another, more serious earthquake later on in the day. And they're right about that.

One of the most successful of the seventies disaster movies, Earthquake was written by George Fox and Mario Puzo, combining all the necessary elements, including elaborate special effects and "daring", soap opera storylines for the all-star cast to act out. Not an Irwin Allen production, it has its sights set a little higher as far as the scale of its disaster goes, because this time it's a whole city of people that is under threat, rather than a relatively small group, meaning the characters have to represent various recognisable types.

So we get the higher classes of Graff and his wife, and his father-in-law (Lorne Greene) whom he works for. Then there's Graff's mistress (Geneviève Bujold), a single mother and actress. George Kennedy plays a maverick cop who we first see chasing a car thief through Zsa Zsa Gabor's hedge, and, as the most unusual character, Richard Roundtree plays a motorcycle stunt rider, hoping to beat Evel Knievel at his own game with an elaborate track. Also of note are Victoria Principal as Roundtree's business partner's sister, and Marjoe Gortner as a National Guardsman, a worker in a grocery store who worships her from afar.

The plotlines this lot get are two-dimensional, to say the least, and are reminiscent of a fat paperback novel you'd buy at an airport departure lounge. However, Earthquake had something that a book could never offer: yes, that tremendous innovation, Sensurround. You won't really get the effect of this on TV or DVD, but basically it was a machine that made a lot of noise and vibration for the cinema audience during the long-awaited demolition scenes. For added authenticity, it also made the plaster fall from the ceiling of the picture palace you were sitting in - just like a real earthquake!

You simply don't that kind of inspiration these days, do you? Anyway, one thing you can still enjoy are those special effects, which are, in the main, pretty good, with excellent miniatures and matte paintings representing the ruined city. One thing the film is not is judgemental, only one of the characters is set up to deserve to die, and the rest find their personal problems either dwarfed or amplified by the carnage.

In fact, it's not until the end that Graff provides anything other than negligible assistance in the face of the disaster, and Heston finally rises to the occasion for the customary heroics. Add a finale that leaves lives ruined with only the hope left that it won't happen again any time soon, and you get a cheesy, doleful tale enlivened by spectacle. If you like seeing stars suffer, this is the blockbuster for you. Watch for Walter Matthau, doing an out-of-place drunk act. I wouldn't like to sit behind Victoria Principal in a cinema with that huge hairdo, would you? Music by John Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Mark Robson  (1913 - 1978)

Workmanlike Canadian director who occasionally rose above the mainstream. A former editor, he got his break directing some good quality Val Lewton horrors for RKO: The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, Isle of the Dead and Bedlam. Excellent boxing drama Champion led to more high profile work: Home of the Brave, Phffft!, The Harder They Fall, Peyton Place, enjoyable Hitchcock-style thriller The Prize, Von Ryan's Express, campy Valley of the Dolls and Earthquake.

 
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