“The Cassandra Crossing” (1977)
Spoiler notice: The following review contains revealing details of the film’s narrative.
Defining what was labelled as a “disaster movie” in the 1970’s is an imprecise science as those films to which the moniker is attributable are somewhat disparate in their identifiable genre markers, and even, curiously enough, in their intended function as popular entertainment.
The genre is generally considered to have kicked off in popularity with the unexpected financial success of the 1970 film “Airport”; itself a somewhat bastard offspring of the seminal 1954 “peril in the sky” drama “The High and the Mighty”, which anticipated many of what would become standard operating procedure genre tropes, including the “all-star” cast comprised of A-list stars (or a number of fading A-listers whose volume would supposedly compensate for their slip in appeal), with a smattering of veteran stars (those to whom still enjoy name recognition though little to no headliner box-office clout), veteran characters actors and a few relatively fresh faces, most of whom seemed doomed to a scarily quick march to relative obscurity.
However, it is in nature of the disaster film’s “disaster” where some truly interesting distinctions emerge, suggesting an evolution from the destructive power of natural disaster in the 1930s (“The Last Days of Pompeii”, “San Francisco”, “In Old Chicago”, “Hurricane”, “The Rains Came”) with their cathartic crescendos acting as convenient retributive housecleaning in which all of the loose moral threads complicating Production Code era dramaturgy are quickly solved by the expedient elimination of rather problematically corrupted characters; to the 1950s (“The High and the Mighty”, “Titanic”, “A Night to Remember”) where mayhem erupts less from uncontrolled natural causes than by human frailty, specifically poor judgment fueled by hubris (The decade also played host to a rich abundance of cataclysms unleased in both SF dramas and epics with a distinctly biblical bent which are excused from the current discussion as their “disaster” elements are fueled by elemental genre tropes.); to the more cynical 1970s where “Airport” proffered a “disaster” film as an anticipatory event in which the destructive factor may or may not be introduced by the whims of an aberrant criminal intention. The age of film terrorism (but couched in the soggy dress of soap opera melodrama) had arrived in full widescreen glory. Though subsequent efforts in the brief 70’s disaster film explosion were to drink from the entirety of influences, from natural to man-made imperilments, in “The Poseidon Adventure”, Earthquake”, “Avalanche” and”The Towering Inferno” (not to mention the entirety of the three “sequels” to “Airport” itself), the one film which intelligently capitalized on this newly honed element of criminal intention with great style and an additional caustic foundation in pointed editorial expression, was Richard Lester’s crackerjack 1974 thriller “Juggernaut”, a film distinguished by the introduction of biting allegorical references to the political and economic instability suffered in England during the closing days of the leadership of Prime Minister Edward Heath; in other words, a surface thriller conceit fortified by a none too subtle kick in the pants to the then-current British government, giving the film the added attraction of timeliness; of actually being about something other than the sadistic construct of a questionable madman. For once, the so-called disaster film (and it’s questionable as to whether this film qualifies in its unfortunate general inclusion as primarily a disaster film) had reached a maturity that its hoary formulaic underpinnings would have virtually assured was impossible. It also featured smashing mid-career performances by Richard Harris and David Hemmings.
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