Comfortable and Furious

Disaster, 70’s Style: Part 4

Movie: Avalanche (1978)

“I always thought survival meant being king of the mountain.” Avalanche (1978)

Preamble: Given the title, can you work out what’s gonna happen? Control freak and shady businessman Rock Hudson, who looks gayer with each passing scene, is busy doing his best to resemble Kim Jong-il’s puppet in Team America: World Police. He’s also adding the finishing touches to his newly built ski resort.

Is a doomsayer ignored? Super-earnest environmental photographer Robert Forster is our man. He’s dead against Hudson chopping down trees and other eco-vandalism. “You’re risking the lives of everyone you’re inviting here,” he insists. “Things aren’t normal. There’s a heaviness, and it’s growing.” He’s also worried about an incoming storm. I guess the question has to be asked: If this tree-hugger is convinced the place is gonna disintegrate, what the hell is he doing still hanging around? Yeah, well, Hudson’s got the perfect riposte. “I want people to enjoy this land, not bury them in it.” Do you think those words are gonna prove haunting?

How do the special effects hold up? The avalanche is triggered by a light plane smashing unconvincingly into the mountain. The avalanche itself is stock footage stuff, but does give the impression you wouldn’t want to be in its roaring way. Elsewhere people get buried by superimposed inundation. A gas explosion results in two chefs on wires being tossed around a kitchen. The drifts of polystyrene snow inside the resort are appalling for a $6.5million budget, although an ambulance cliff-top plunge is better handled.

Worst line: “I’ve never thought about it. I ski like I breathe or talk or make love.” Downhill skiing champ Bruce Scott (Rick Moses), who obviously fell in love with himself a long time ago, answers a reporter’s question about whether he’s ever felt fear.

Most ridiculous character/relationship: An easy choice: Tina (Cathey Paine), Bruce’s hot but helplessly lovelorn, occasionally hysterical and suicidal girlfriend. Why is she in the depths of despair? Well, she’s already caught our arrogant champ in flagrante while we know he’s also arranged to meet a sixteen-year-old girl in a bar. Tina loves him so much that during her latest pill-popping attempt she even wears a bright red T-shirt with BRUCE written on the front. Luckily, before she can swallow any pills, the avalanche kills her. What a Silly Girly.

Is Kennedy, Borgnine or Heston in it? Our Titans of Turmoil sat this turkey out. Their ‘replacements’, the paunchy, well over the hill Hudson and his ex-wife (the faintly annoying waif Mia Farrow) are somewhat lacking in star power. At one point Farrow goes AWOL for about half an hour, perhaps trying to put off the scene in which she has to give Hudson’s beloved elderly mum mouth-to-mouth.

Funniest death: A figure skater keeps obliviously doing her spins as the avalanche bears down. Apparently gyrating on ice-skates makes your ears and eyes stop working. Oh well, at least she died doing what she loved best.

Who shits their pants or goes mad? The scriptwriter, I think.

Does a child die? There’s a sour-faced kid in the bar throwing a paper airplane from a balcony onto the dancing crowd below. He then naughtily sips from a glass of wine. Next a child called Jason takes a ski lift with an unrelated man. Is it the same kid? I dunno. Kids all look the same to me. Anyhow, Jason gets stranded high up, dangling precariously from the ski lift. He gets rescued, shortly before the man thuds dead into the ground. Sigh.

The inevitable self-sacrifice: Avalanche finds the perfect opportunity for Hudson to die while saving the badly mismatched, much younger Farrow, but inexplicably wimps out.

What does the token black do? Hudson must be a secret white supremacist because there are no brothers anywhere near his resort. The cast is as white as snow.

Conclusion: I would never say that objectively Avalanche is a terrible film because there’s nothing objective about a movie appraisal, but objectively Avalanche is a terrible film. It has the usual expository dialogue, fucked-up personal relationships and a good example of a Silly Girly, although it does manage to pull a surprise with a burst of nudity. By the time we get to the wham-bam stuff, well over half its runtime has been eaten up by the banal antics of figure skaters, cross-country skiers and snowmobile racers. Saying that, I still appreciated its hammy flavor. Moviegoers didn’t, burying its woeful ninety minutes under an avalanche of indifference at the box office.



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