Monday, September 27, 2021

Juggernaut Narrowly Avoids Submersion

Richard Harris as Fallon.
Made during the 1970s disaster movie craze, Juggernaut (1974) replicates the ocean liner setting from the earlier Poseidon Adventure, but adds a twist. What if there was a bomb on board--seven of them, to be precise--and a limited amount of time to defuse them?

The premise unfolds slowly with the opening scenes devoted to the passengers and staff of the Britannic. Captain Brunel (Omar Sharif) pilots the ship with detached authority and has a dalliance with a married passenger (Shirley Knight). The overenthusiastic social director (Roy Kinnear) tries to entertain shipboard guests with bingo games and shuffleboard. A woman gets seasick and tries to find ways to amuse her children.

Omar Sharif looks concerned.
The plot finally picks up when one of the cruise line's board members receives a call from a man identifying himself as "Juggernaut." He states that he will blow up the Britannic within 24 hours if he is not paid £500,000. As the police try to track down Juggernaut, the Royal Navy sends explosive ordnance disposal specialist Tony Fallon (Richard Harris) and his crew to the ocean liner to defuse the bombs.

For most of its running time, Juggernaut is a clunky affair in need of better storytelling, tighter editing, and more memorable characters. It finally shifts into high gear during the final half-hour which focuses mostly on Fallon’s desperate attempts to defuse the bombs. The result is that the film ends on a high note, which may account for some of its positive reviews. (Is there such a thing as a false-positive film review?)

Shirley Knight as Mrs. Bannister.
The cast is certainly capable with Sharif, Harris, Knight, Anthony Hopkins, and David Hemmings. None of them are given much to work with, though Harris projects the right amount of swagger as the bomb disposal expert. Shirley Knight also brings conviction to her throwaway role, making her character the only passenger that elicits any concern. It's a far cry from the character-centric, infinitely more suspense-laden Poseidon Adventure.

It's hard to fault director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night, The Three Musketeers) for the film's weaknesses. Two directors, Bryan Forbes and Don Medford, left the production prior to the start of shooting. Lester was a last-minute replacement and he completed Juggernaut with two weeks left on the production schedule. He also re-wrote the script with Alan Plater. The author of the original screenplay, veteran scribe Richard Alan Simmons, was so unhappy with the revised screenplay that he changed his credit to "Richard De Koker." He based his original script on a real-life bomb threat aboard the Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 (in which no bombs were found).

Juggernaut has the pedigree to be a first-rate thriller, but unfortunately nearly sinks under its own weight until the extended climax. Still, those scenes generate enough nail-biting to keep the film from being a total waste of time. Then again, you could just fast-forward until there's only a half-hour left and use the 70 minutes you saved to do something more productive.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the ending is well done. Fallon is the champion (clap clap).

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