Andrew Stone, often with wife Virginia as editor/co-producer, was an indie filmmaker drawn not to small, personal projects, but to big, impersonal commercial fare; knock-offs of studio blockbusters made-on-the-cheap. (And even when they came out first, they still felt like knock-offs.) At his best, the films had an endearing, homemade quality, bumping along from one incident to another with can-do, inconsistent style; at less than best, clunky & obvious, corny & hard to swallow. This one, a sort of TITANIC FOR DUMMIES disaster pic, is one of his best. Neatly mounted on a decommissioned luxury liner and handsomely shot by the great Hal Mohr in a late credit, Stone gets points for upending story construction along with his boat, largely skipping de rigueur first act story vignettes & character intros (while faint rumblings of trouble are ignored) to go straight to the inferno below decks. Collapsing three acts into one, he cuts back & forth right from the start between onrushing firestorms; officers arguing over containment vs. evacuation; and panicking passengers. The main family unit has Robert Stack trying to save trapped wife Dorothy Malone, gruesomely screaming along with ghastly red-headed tyke Tammy Marihugh. They’re helped by a shirtless Woody Strode, who really should be aiding top engineer Edmund O’Brien in his battle with menacingly sanguine Captain George Sanders. (Sanders flies well above the genre standard for this sort of thing with a detailed & sympathetic portrait of a limited man unable to rise to the occasion.) Much of this is quite spectacularly well-staged & gripping, with parallel-editing D. W. Griffith would have recognized, along with endorsement of his unabashed melodramatic spirit. Nifty explosions, too! And with such a tight budget, Stone can’t be bothered with warm reunions. It helps keep the running time at half the length of those Titanic pics. That's a relief.
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