1. Gene Hackman
Yeah, buddy, I’ll see your Popeye Doyle and raise you a Rupert Anderson. And here’s a Little Bill Daggett to up the stakes. And then – maybe – you’ll come within a nautical mile of Rev. Frank Scott, to date the most fully realized character in Gene Hackman’s long and storied career, as well as his sexiest. Not being fond of either Christianity or the male persuasion, I would convert to both causes unequivocally if I knew Scott would be there waiting, slyly smiling in that come-hither turtleneck. You know the shirt – that second skin; that thin, ever-so-daring veneer of cotton that stands between us and a pleasure only peril on the high seas can provide. But he’s no ordinary reverend: he believes in an Almighty, yes, but only one that rewards the bold, the strong, and the strapping. “God likes winners,” he tells his flock, and proves it again and again by singlehandedly saving the only survivors worth a damn. But he’s not above shouting at his deity, cursing his name, blaming him for all manner of tragedy, and asking that, at the very least, the old man stand the hell out of the way. Though soiled, burned, and exhausted, he alone knows the way out of madness, yet still manages a self-imposed martyrdom to push his lambs forward for that last, bitter step. He’s a singer, a dancer, a fighter, and a prick. He’s the Jesus of Disaster. The greatest hero from the greatest cinematic decade the world has ever seen.
2. Pamela Sue Martin
All of 19 during the filming of this eternal classic, Ms. Martin (as Susan Shelby) exudes innocent, yet spread-eagle sexuality; gazing longingly at Rev. Scott (we’re with you, sister), yet not so selfish as to deny those mind-boggling gams to the rest of us. She’s brave when she needs to be, but helpless and vulnerable in equal measure, proving that the only real woman in a disaster epic is one who leaves you guessing as to whether she’s a wrong turn from being scalded to death, or simply being fucked in a corridor as the sparks fly. To some, she’s blank femininity personified; a vapid slab of screeching eye candy on board simply to get wet and make eyes. But of the ship’s fairer sex, no other character allows us to care so deeply about an eventual rescue. If this dies, we cry, why on earth should I invest a shred of my future erections? Sure, she doesn’t do much by way of actual heroic intent, but she’s the only real motivation anyone needs. Old Jewish broads can die like dogs, and snippy British porters can take eternal baths in boiling vats, but please, let us have the young and the sexy for the duration. And so we do.
3. Ernest Borgnine
Jesus Christ, Ernie is damn near 100 at this point, and the fucker’s still hard as iron. He’d out-fuck you, out-fuck your younger brother, and still have time for a bare-knuckle bout in the rain. He looks better with his shirt off than just about any other passenger, including the women, likely out of a thick-headed need to be the dumbest and burliest ox in the arena. For proof, check out his Detective Mike Rogo, a fuck-you cop who marries a whore, if only because he’s pumped lead into just about everyone else. He’s mean, bitter, and more sanctimonious than the good reverend, but he’s doing it all for love, though likely the kind that involves a great deal of biting, slapping, and donkey punching. Oh, that Linda; not only a woman who’s fucked so many she defies the odds and meets at least one john during the cruise, but the only thing Rogo’s ever given two shits about. And so she dies. Horribly, and only minutes before rescue. But who could have foreseen her demise when she scaled ladders in high heels? But Rogo’s a loner at heart, and I fully expect him to spend the rest of his days shouting obscenities at Linda’s 5×7 hanging in his unkempt bedroom, hoping she rots in hell in the same instant he fights backs the tears of tragedy.
4. Incest, and Other Love Affairs
Susan’s hard-nipple lust for Rev. Scott notwithstanding, there’s a great deal of love permeating this ship, running from the dull and shopworn (an aging Jew for his linebacker of a wife) to the odd and vaguely exciting, at least when brothers and sisters are involved. Nonnie, she of the silky gams and thousand yard stare, has a thing for her brother, you see, the artfully bearded Teddy, a drummer who may channel a Spinal Tap Harry Shearer, but has enough sex appeal even after death to damn near offer a better alternative for sis than potential rescue. “Did you like his music?” she asks, though she’s much more interested in telling everyone within earshot how she can’t live without him. When alive, she winked and flirted, up close and from afar, not only running her hands though his hair, but talking about a “morning after” in a way only siblings could ever understand. It stands to reason that she moves from her own brother to a man 50 years her senior, but at least he’s Red Buttons. Just as crazy is Rogo’s overbearing tyranny disguised as spousal commitment, exceeded just barely by Rev. Scott’s passionate affair with God, who is both a jealous lover and vicious, exacting lay. As with all long-married couples, Scott and God bicker with intense frustration; a maddening, bile-spewing interchange interrupted, though briefly, by the defiance of a shaking fist.
5. Leslie Nielsen
Before Drebin, there was Harrison. Captain Harrison, if you’re keeping score. Though steering the final voyage of the S.S. Poseidon into a monstrous tidal wave, killing hundreds, Harrison is a captain’s captain nonetheless. Stressed to the breaking point and watching his golden years go the way of the graveyard, he remains ever conscious of his duties and, amidst chaos and impending doom, offers his crew the bon mot, “By the way, Happy New Year.” Within seconds, he’s dead to the world, later to be found as if having been electrocuted, BBQ’d, and set aflame, though only after suffering the indignity of drowning. As helpless as he is – “Oh…my…God..”, he offers, about as worthless as handing over the controls to a child – he holds to his ship with the tenacity of a soldier, reducing a company executive to mincemeat, even if he bends to his will in the end. Full steam ahead, indeed, which begs the question of Harrison’s suicidal impulses. Still, a case can be made that rather than send his beloved mistress of the sea into retirement, it’s better to wreck the fucking thing altogether, destroying the oceanic village in order to save it.
6. God, Sadistic Cocksucker
That ever-loving Creator, Lord of all things, with babies to feed and orphans to house, apparently had nothing better to do on a New Year’s Eve than overturn an ocean liner and kill its inhabitants one by one, all with an unprecedented heartlessness. Most died off-screen, of course, though no less heinously, but he saved his best work for the up close and personal, dispatching his poor creations with an efficiency unseen in the annals of the disaster genre. There’s Linda Rogo, mere yards from fresh air and freedom, rocked off her feet by an unnecessary boiler blast and sent ass over pussy into a cauldron of fire. It’s as if God had to pull one final orgasm from his hat before reluctantly letting a chosen few skate by. It’s no accident that his final victim was a prostitute, preferring, predictably, to spare the two virgins on hand. And why Belle Rosen? Selfless, sassy, and a champion swimmer, she rescued Rev. Scott from a watery grave, yet was rewarded for her troubles with a massive coronary. Fucker wouldn’t even let her get to Israel to meet her grandson for the first time. And then there’s Acres, the wise Brit who knew a way out, yet had to be murdered within minutes by needlessly falling from a ladder. Some say he was pushed. Teddy dies before sharing a bed with his sister. Chaplain John was reduced to shattered powerlessness, twisted and turned into arguing in favor of sheer suicide. Speaking through this holy man, the actual God cackled like a fevered hen. All along he knew more would die because they wouldn’t question a man of the cloth. Why he spared the young boy is open to speculation, but I’m imagining he had far worse in store for him later.
7. The Steam-Filled Suicide Speech
“What more do you want of us? We’ve come all this way, no thanks to you! We did it on our own, no help from you! We didn’t ask you to fight for us! But damn it, don’t fight against us! Leave us alone! How many more sacrifices? How much more blood? How many more lives?! Belle wasn’t enough! Acres wasn’t! Now this girl! You want another life? Then take me! You can make it! Keep going! Rogo! Get them through!” (body falls, cue ejaculate)
[Check out the full review of The Poseidon Adventure here]