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Saturday, February 14, 2015

JUGGERNAUT (1974)

The blockbuster disaster pics of the ‘70s got going under the hand of ‘solid-citizen’ helmers like George Seaton & Ronald Neame before wending their way down to professional hacks Irwin Allen & Jack Smight. Whatever was ‘Pop’ stylist Richard Lester, a outlier director from his early Beatles days, doing on one? A slam-bang job is what he was doing; making JUGGERNAUT that rare disaster pic with a sense of cinematic ownership & personality. Omar Sharif is the slightly blasé captain of a mediocre cruise ship at sea with 1200 paying passengers and seven stowaway bombs timed to blow. Richard Harris is the ace demolitions expert parachuted in over stormy seas to shut them down . . . tick, tick, tick. A familiar tune, but freshly played thanks to a bifurcated script that builds legit suspense (and a few good jolts) as it hops from dry land police investigation to events at sea that alternate weirdly commonplace activities for the passengers with nail-biting danger for the crew. Thru it all, Lester maintains a chilly, even imperious tone, refusing to milk situations for easy fears & tears. No doggies saved; no romance rekindled; no eternal bonds of friendship forged. Much helped by Gerry Fisher’s handsome, sophisticated lensing, far from the overlit studio sets expected in these things, Lester’s equally helped by Fisher (or someone) holding down his stylistic excesses. And he certainly helps himself calling in favors from every actor he’d ever worked with. What a cast! Harris, Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Ian Holm, Freddie Jones, joined in small roles by distinctive talents like Michael Hordern, Cyril Cusack & Roshan Seth. At a slick 110 minutes, there’s not a moment wasted.

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