“Signal to all vessels. Am experiencing difficulties of an extraordinary nature. Would appreciate assistance if our position can be reached by dawn tomorrow”
This SOS, sent out by Captain Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif) of the 25,000-ton luxury liner Britannic in mid-Atlantic, gives little indication of the plight he is in.
He has received a message from someone called “Juggernaut” that somewhere aboard his ship are seven steel drums full of deadly explosives primed to go off within 24 hours unless the extortionist’s demands are satisfied.
As if that isn’t terrifying enough, the liner is beset by violent storms.
Disaster movies were a big attraction in the 1970s. In this one – from the “Beatles director”, Dick Lester – a charismatic naval bomb disposal expert (Richard Harris) is parachuted aboard with a seven-man team and must defuse the bombs onboard the cruise ship and save the lives of the 1,200 people onboard.
Anthony Hopkins is Superintendent John McLeod, the police detective charged with tracking down the bomber in London while his wife (Caroline Mortimer) and children are, coincidentally, aboard the fateful ship.
Roy Kinnear is the clownish ship’s entertainer who gets a nice scene that allows him to be more than a buffoon, and well-known British character actors Ian Holm, David Hemmings and Freddie Jones all turn up in support.
Aside from the terrible female characters who are, to a woman, utterly useless – losing their children and pestering Captain Brunel for proof of his affections when there are seven bombs on board his ship, and 1200 lives at stake – the film is surprisingly thoughtful.
The movie is worth it for the scene between Harris and Sharif alone, in which a railing, self-recriminatory Harris drinks heavily and smashes a bottle, only to have his stomach gurgle very audibly on camera, which Harris then works into the moment brilliantly.
Despite a somewhat tired story, the movie is unusually suspenseful, thanks to an all-star cast that keeps the pace ticking along well. Something of a neglected gem.
Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Fallon
Captain Alex Brunel
Supt. John McLeod
Social Director Curtain
Chief Engineer Mallicent