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The 100




Earthquake
(1974)
Reviewed by Steve Crow
Rating: 4 Beans

irst of all, I'll preface this review with a note that I don't live in Los Angeles, or any other earthquake-type zone. At best, I'm in an area where I might have to worry about the occasional tornado. Thus, the fear and "reality" of having one's city and livelihood brought down by a force of nature is not something I can lay claim to. Still, Earthquake does occasionally present some insight into the concept. But then again, like I said, how would I know?

The plot of the movie is pretty basic. It's Los Angeles. There's an earthquake. Things fall down. Famous landmarks in Los Angles go boom. People die. The subplots of various lives come together, mesh, and then move apart again.

Unfortunately, this is a 70's movie, with 70's styles and 70's attitudes. The special effects are adequate for the period, and the miniature work is good. There are some cheesy moments, like the blood "splattering" the camera when the elevator hits bottom during the original quake (worth a half-bean right there!).

Still, basically we've got a "disaster" movie. Fortunately, it's not produced by Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno), but writer George Fox (who doesn't seem to have done anything before or since) and Mario Puzo (??) Seemed to have borrowed pretty much every cliche. In fact, building designer Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) seems to mouth some of the same dialogue that Paul Newman does in ‘Inferno'.

And this is Heston in full 70's hip mode (also see Airport 1975), looking like Leisure Suit Larry as he tries to have his wife and mistress too, with motivations so murky that the final ending (supposedly inserted by Heston himself) is just dumb. Although this does provide one small element of originality, since no one expects the top-billed star to die.

In fact, Earthquake is fairly brutal with its deaths. Although some of the "bad guys" get it, like the guy who shoves Barbara out of the elevator, both of the Graffs, Stewart and a not-too-shrewish Remy (Ava Gardner) and Sam Royce (Lorne Greene) all bite the big one. If Lew Slade (George Kennedy) had died as well, it would have been a clean sweep of the top-billed performers.

But that's the good news. The bad news is that Heston, Gardner, and Greene have to play out this weird marital infidelity subplot which is really one of the movie's three main subplots. Greene is ludicrously cast as Gardner's father (Greene is only seven years older), and while this plot never goes for an easy out in making anyone a real villain, it just kind of peters out until the final "resolution".

The other subplots? Marjoe Gortner's is the biggy, as Jody the National Guard soldier, obsessed with weightlifters and presumably a closet homosexual (although his advances on Rosa (Victoria Principal) are a little weird too). He's probably as much of a villain as Earthquake has. The final big subplot (which isn't) is Miles (Richard Roundtree) as a Evel Knievel-style motorcyclist/stuntman who gets to rescue the son of Graff's mistress Denise (Genevieve Bujold) and, well, not much else. His final fate is left up in the air.

The subplots seem to be thrown in to bolster the story and some of the setpieces (the destruction of Los Angeles, the rescue in the skyscraper, and the final excavation of the parking garage and the destruction of Hollywood Reservoir Dam). Even the writers don't seem to particularly care about the subplots. Thus we get the sudden disappearance of Miles at the end, and his partner Sal even earlier.

So if you want to watch L.A. crash and burn, I'd recommend Earthquake. I wouldn't watch for the storyline or the performances: the top cast just doesn't have much to do, and seem to be sleepwalking. There are lots of old veterans who give competent performances (Lloyd Nolan, Donald Moffat, Barry Sullivan). And one (Walter Matthau) who just seems embarrassed to be involved. But Earthquake does manage to avoid at least some of the cliches, but the problem is there isn't much there to replace them.






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