Irwin Allen: 'Master of Disaster'

A scene from 'Poseidon.' Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Water rushes in on the happy cruisers of Poseidon, a 2006 remake of the 1972 Irwin Allen produced smash movie The Poseidon Adventure. Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros. Pictures

Commentator John Ridley pays tribute to legendary Hollywood producer Irwin Allen, frequently called the "Master of Disaster." Allen set the standard for large-scale disaster movies. His first has been remade into Poseidon, opening today.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The movie Poseidon opens today. A cruise ship, a rogue wave, some trapped survivors. Sound familiar? Well it should. It's a remake of a 1972 film that ushered in an era of big budget disaster movies.

(Soundbite of 1972 Poseidon Adventure movie trailer)

Unidentified Male #1: Now 15 Academy Award winners lead you through fire, through smoke, through rising water. Foot by foot, deck by deck, they climb to the bottom of the capsized ship. Twentieth Century Fox presents Irwin Allen's production of the Poseidon Adventure.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Producer Irwin Allen died in 1991. Commentator John Ridley takes a look back at the man who lives on as Hollywood's master of disaster.

JOHN RIDLEY reporting:

What you got to dig about Irwin Allen is the guy came into the business of show with some serious bona fides. He was a lit agent, a magazine editor, Oscar-winning documentarian. And all that right there, that would be enough for some people to carry around and hold up as a life's work, but Allen, Allen was most definitely just starting to get his groove on. Making entertainment his full-time profession, he produced a string of TV hits. He did Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. That's nothing new. But Allen married a couple of fresh concepts to the mix.

Thing one was big effects. That sequence of the ship flipping cap with that luckless Joe getting his number punched by falling in the boat's glass ceiling, classic. And thing two Allen brought to the show, the all-star cast. Poseidon was top lined by Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowell, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, Red Buttons.

Bottom line, the movie was big. The Poseidon Adventure made crazy money, got nominated for a pack of Academy Awards. With that, the disaster movie cycle in Hollywood was born. Tinseltown hit up the public with bigger and better calamities with the regularity of a God showing his displeasure to his subjects.

There's Earthquake, the Hindenburg, among others. But it was Allen who topped himself with the 1974 disastacular the Towering Inferno. The world's tallest building burning beyond control. Steve McQueen, Paul Newman rescuing every other actor in Hollywood. Big box office, Academy Awards but success led to nadir. By the mid 1970s, Allen seemed to have run out of stuff to destroy or clever ways to package the destruction. The title of his films Flood and Fire pretty much told you all you needed to know. By the time Allen released his man versus volcano film When Time Ran Out, the same could be said of the clock on the whole disaster movie genre.

And sure, Hollywood still trots out the occasional disaster flick. The digital effects tend to be more lavish but the all-star casts tend to be less all starry. I mean, come one, did Core or Dante's Peak ride the site class the way The Towering Inferno did? Irwin Allen's real trick was using a full blown, near apocalypse as a site class on human frailties. And same as Hollywood still makes Westerns but not John Ford Westerns and musicals, but not Busbee Berkley musicals, regrettably the Irwin Allen disaster movies have become a lost language of film.

(Soundbite of movie 1972 “The Poseidon Adventure”)

Unidentified Male (Actor): For God's sake, reverend, what you're doing is suicide.

GENE HACKMAN (Actor): (as Rev. Frank Scott) We're cut off from the rest of the world. They can't get to us maybe we can get to them.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Gene Hackman and others in Irwin Allen's 1972 film the Poseidon Adventure. Commentator John Ridley is a writer and director. His new graphic novel series is The American Way.

(Soundbite of song "The Morning After")

MAUREEN MCGOVERN (Singer): (Singing) There's got to be a morning after, if we can hold on through the night. We have a chance to find the sunshine let's keep on lookin' for the light.

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