Disaster, 70’s Style: Part 6

Movie: When Time Ran Out

“This thing’s a goddamn powder keg!”

Preamble: In 2019 a load of day-trippers were killed by a volcanic explosion on a New Zealand island. Oops. But, come on, what do you make of tourists who choose to wander around the rim of an active volcano? I guess I’m doing a bit of victim-blaming, but the goddamn thing had been routinely blowing its top for decades beforehand. Things get even sillier in Time where a hotel resort is built next to one on a Pacific Island. All right, it’s only gone bang-bang a couple of times in a thousand years, but that’s twice too many for a pussy like me. Oh, and there’s also a bunch of guys alongside this unstable geological wonder drilling for oil. In short, everyone in Time is a reckless bastard, fully deserving of what’s coming to them.

Is a doomsayer ignored? Sulphur-sniffing oil rigger Paul Newman has got the volcano’s measure. He knows it’s about to jizz all over the holidayers. “Every monitor I’ve got shows pressure increases,” he tells Charlton Heston lookalike and chief shitkicker James Franciscus. “Some of the readings are blowing the dials off the instruments!” Can he convince this greedy, adulterous corporate bastard with daddy issues to evacuate the place pronto? Well, whaddya think?

Worst line: “I was done in by an eccentric housewife on my paper round.” Newman explains how he lost his cherry. Sadly, it bears no relevance to the plot.

How do the special effects hold up? They don’t. Despite having a $20million budget, Time makes a right tit of itself while trying to convince moviegoers it’s using anything other than models, clumsy superimposition and stock footage of bubbling lava. And where’s the fucking ash and smoke? Although equally terrible, I didn’t mind the volcano slowly launching laser-guided fireballs at the hotel. Most of the money clearly went on a studio set depicting the crossing of a lava-filled canyon, but it’s as unconvincing as everything else.

Most ridiculous character/relationship: It’s a routine Hollywood start in that a rich old bastard is lusting after young flesh. Hotel owner William Holden (in his early sixties) proposes to secretary Jacqueline Bisset who, in the decade since almost being blown up by a suicide bomber in Airport, has turned into a poodle-permed Suzi Quatro lookalike. To be fair to the craggy-faced Holden, the ballsiness of his wedding proposal has to be respected in that it ignores the facts he’s already worked his way through six wives while Quatro, sorry, Bisset, is in love with the still handsome Newman.

We also get a way-past-it pair of circus tightrope walkers. One is Rocky’s old trainer Burgess Meredith, who demonstrates his nerve-wracking, cat-like ability by using a makeshift bamboo pole to help him navigate the skeletal remains of a bridge over a pit of lava. Just to kill all suspense, he’s also got a child clinging around his neck. The funniest thing about this overlong episode is there’s no need to cross this path. It would have been far safer (and possibly faster) to lie flat on his belly on the six-inch-wide girder and shimmy over. I kept hoping Richard Roundtree, our redundant motorcycle daredevil from Earthquake, was gonna come up behind and knock the old coot off while zooming across on one wheel and waving to a cheering crowd.

Is Kennedy, Borgnine or Heston in it? Normal service has been resumed. Borgnine is back! He’s a dogged cop hot on the trail of bonds smuggler Red Buttons. No, I don’t know what a bonds smuggler is. Anyway, this whole pursuit is baffling. Does the New York policing budget stretch to such matters? Borgnine has already been tailing his quarry for three weeks and now they’re at a luxury hotel. What evidence is he hoping to unearth anyway? “I’ve got five years to spend exclusively on your case,” Borgnine tells his man. “I’m gonna follow you wherever you travel.” Christ, no wonder crime was spiraling out of control in New York circa 1980 if this is indicative of the average detective’s priorities.

However, things don’t go to plan. A nearby exploding fireball results in Buttons saving his life, although a burnt Borgnine needs both eyes bandaged. Reduced to a doddery state of helplessness, cop and crim bond in a series of scenes so cringe worthy I wanted to hurl. At one point I thought they were going to kiss. You can almost hear Borgnine thinking: I once won a Best Actor Oscar. I was in The Wild Bunch. How did this happen?

Later, Newman has a red face as a result of being slugged, but I’d argue it’s merely a case of sympathetic embarrassment.

Funniest deaths: Newman leads a plucky band of people up to higher ground, convinced the lava flow is going to swamp the hotel. Most of the islanders, however, remain behind. They all get wiped out by a fireball striking the hotel in a staggeringly hasty and cheap-looking denouement. All you can do is shake your head and smirk.

Does a child die? For the first fifty-five minutes we don’t get a sniff of a kid, leading me to believe this particular holiday destination has been bold enough to ban them. Or perhaps such a child-free environment is merely an enticement aimed at counterbalancing the possibility of fiery death. Then Newman rescues two kids in his helicopter while one of the less important adults clinging to the skids falls to his doom. Later, we see the children’s father with his arms around his offspring telling them: “Don’t worry, we’ll make it.”

And, of course, daddy doesn’t and the kiddies do.

Who shits their pants or goes mad? “If we don’t go now, we’re all gonna die,” one frightened extra pronounces upon spying Newman’s recently landed helicopter. The blue touch paper has been lit, folks. Now it’s time for a bout of contagious panic and fisticuffs as scores of people try to cram inside. Amazingly, one of them appears to know how to fly it, but this doesn’t stop the whirlybird wonkily getting into the air, spinning a few times and crashing into a mountainside.

The inevitable self-sacrifice: Well, don’t I look silly? There isn’t one. Perhaps this absence is the only way Time breaks the disaster movie mold.

What does the token black do? I think this particular island is operating under apartheid or some form of racial cleansing. There’s barely a black anywhere. Or perhaps they’re too smart to go near a fucking volcano on the verge of an earth-gasm. When it comes to minorities, the best that can be mustered is a pre-Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi playing a Chinese gambler. Instead of trying to catch a fly with chopsticks, he plunges into a ravine full of lava. Banzai!

Conclusion: Time is enjoyable crap that manages to chuck in an earthquake and a tsunami. It’s far better than that snore fest Airport. However, its poor special effects, contrived love triangles, and Bisset’s atrocious perm didn’t exactly tempt the movie-going public. In fact, Time tanked, effectively ending this mad wave of disaster flicks, a sub-genre that had peaked six years earlier and been dying ever since. People were tired of the predictability and cheesy clich├ęs, instead turning en masse to sci-fi. Airplane! merely provided the final sniggering nail for the disaster movie’s corpse-packed coffin.

About Dave Franklin

Dismayed by the state of post-2000 cinema, Dave Franklin hasn't visited a movie house in more than a decade. He can usually be found in a dingy room dressed up as Marilyn Monroe, pining for the lost days of 70's cinema. Saying that, he will visit you for an appropriate fee to read excruciating excerpts from his novels.