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Paul Newman (Hank Anderson), William Holden (Shelby Gilmore), Jaqueline Bisset (Kay Kirby), James Franciscus (Bob Spangler), Edward Albert (Brian), Burgess Meredith (Rene Valdez), John Considine (Dr. John Webster), Ernest Borgnine (Det. Tom Conti), Red Buttons (Francis Fendly), Barbara Carrera (Iolani), Pat Morita (Sam)
Directed by James Goldstone
The Short Version:Hilariously hokey "natural disaster" flick, the last from bad movie king Irwin Allen. The enormity of the cast explodes with greater force than the imminent volcanic eruption. Jaqueline Bisset is the best special effect here while all the bad composite shots and sparkler fireballs fail to impress in this grand scale gaudiness of the highest order. If awful movies are your thing, then this TOWERING INFERNO of hilarity is must see entertainment.
Hank Anderson, an oil rig supervisor discovering an unusual amount of pressure coming from a newly tapped oil well learns that the cause is related to the islands volcano which is threatening to erupt. Delivering this news to the manager of the expansive resort hotel nearby falls on deaf ears. Proclaiming that everyone is safe from harm, a handful of skeptics decide to take their chances against the impending disaster in an effort to make it to the other side of the island.
The last of Irwin Allen's string of disasters was a disaster in the truest sense of the word. Bombing terribly at the box office to the tune of only 3.7 million, it disappeared from theaters rapidly and showed up in a longer version on TV under the title EARTH'S FINAL FURY (which is where I first saw it in the early 80s). Odd that this "big" movie was virtually unopposed in terms of action spectacles aside from MAD MAX (1979), the modestly budgeted Aussie action film. I guess everyone was going back to see COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980). The plethora of huge names should have been a major draw for the movie-going public, but it's best they avoided this natural disaster and waited to catch it at home. The small screen suits the picture as that's what it looks like--a television movie.
For a big studio production of allegedly twenty million in 1980, one wonders where in the hell the money went. It certainly wasn't to the special effects, the life blood of these kinds of movies. Still, the (mostly) cheap SPX shots add a layer of unintended goofiness made all the more obvious when compared with other big movies of the time. One scene that garners guffaws is when a handful of people are lifted out via helicopter from a tidal wave. As the chopper hovers over the engulfing lava, one of the guys clinging to the outside discovers to his horror that this magma has magnetic properties--when he falls, he is jerked SIDEWAYS to his doom.
As with his other efforts, Allen's last gasp features a wide array of major players put in harms way. The bulk of the budget most likely went into the pockets of the performers and to the expense of shooting on location in Hawaii. And like all disaster movies, a good deal of time is spent with soap opera antics involving the bloated cast before the explosions and screaming starts.
Which brings us to the so-called spectacle--there's relatively little of it...and genuine peril along with it. WHEN THE BUDGET RAN OUT manages a laughable scene early on where Newman, Franciscus and DR. DEATH himself, John Considine descend the volcano inside some sort of capsule (with a glass bottom of all things) to see the activity at the heart of the rocky powder keg. Not only that, but these scientific geniuses thought it was a good idea to build a science lab right at the opening of the volcano. The volcano sequence in 1965's CRACK IN THE WORLD is much better accomplished and elicits suspense as opposed to snickers.
At approximately 50 minutes in, after the various love affairs and promiscuity has been laid out, the not so special effects take over. Presumably from the shock wave of the erupting volcano, the Kraken is unleashed causing a massive tidal wave that wipes out a herd of extras and red shirts on loan from the original STAR TREK series. The "Insert Special Effects Scene Here" science lab gets blown up and tumbles into the erupting crater. The volcano then emits gigantic slow motion sparklers at the star studded resort setting Ernest Borgnine on fire resulting in him doing the remainder of the movie with his face covered in bandages saving him from having to use his hands to cover his shame. Seriously, this movie would have benefited had the writers written in a giant monster emerging from either the sea, or a flurry of them spewing forth from the volcano. At least the realm of believability wouldn't be strained by the atrocious process shots.
Once Newman, Bisset and Bisset's bouncing breasts have met back at the extravagant hotel, Brody proclaims the beaches are not safe, but mayor Franciscus fiercely refuses to close them. Stating that his massive construct is made with only the strongest of bedrock, Fred Franciscus manages to convince the cast of stock characters his hotel is the safest place to be while all the big names follow Paul Newman in an effort to make it to the other side of the island. It's here where the ludicrous meets the languid when our heroes make it to a studio bound bridge set with superimposed lava below them and a painted canvas behind them.
A good twenty minutes is spent here during this explosive finale that erupts like a flurry of firecrackers during a Chinese New Year celebration. This whole sequence could have been a thirty minute episode in an Irwin Allen disaster television series. I wouldn't doubt if the man entertained the thought of such a program--every week it would be a new disaster--onscreen and likely in the ratings, too.
Meanwhile, Burgess Meredith does his characters old tightrope act in order to get some kids across. This over long sequence is anything but a showstopper and one wonders why some form of help never arrived to lift the people out when the sleeping crater blew its top. There's no police or military presence, either. Most probably there were no other big Hollywood stars on vacation in Hawaii at the time and Jack Lord had ended his tenure with FIVE-O so Newman and his Own are pretty much screwed here. There's a bit of discussion about escaping by sea, but the churning waters are stated as making that impossible, yet when we get frequent views of the ocean, there's not a ripple in sight. There is one hilarious bit where a bunch of people with "dead" written on their forehead stampede the helicopter kicking and punching people away in an effort to escape. With none of the passengers that manage to take off not even knowing how to fly the whirly-bird, they end up crashing into the mountainside instead.
Reportedly, few, if any of the stars enjoyed making this movie and it shows. Both Newman and Holden look frustrated and that's probably more to do with ego than being in a big budget misfire. Only Franciscus seems to give a damn here finding time to mack on both Veronica Hamel and Barbara Carrera as well as wrangle his customers inside the bedrock hotel while the volcano festers nearby. Curiously, the script seems to be a disaster movie version of the tale of Sodom & Gomorrah (itself made into a grand international production in 1962)--the lavish hotel being the "city of sex and sin" rampant with infidelity and deceit and Paul Newman is Lot who tries to get the people out of the city before it is destroyed by god; in this case, it's nature's fury that destroys those who refused to find a safe haven.
TIME had run OUT for disaster movies and while they were the box office ticket during the 70s, sci fi had taken over the 1980s. Allen's production seemed hopelessly out of place here looking more like it was shot in the 70s then a picture at the dawn of the 80s. With his enormous Bee movie, THE SWARM, Allen had become Mr. B.I.G. with a bigger budget at his disposal, but getting the same results. No doubt this would make a great double bill with Allen's equally terrible BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1979). If you really want to see Irwin Allen at the "bottom" of his career, then you must seek out THE SWARM (1978), a magnitude 9.8 on the seismocraptagraph and an epically jaw dropping experience that only comes along every so often.
This review is representative of the Warner Brothers DVD
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.