This blockbuster disaster film had a dumb script and lacklustre acting, but great visual and aural effects. There are disasters galore as a massive earthquake strikes Los Angeles, all in glorious Sensurround – which gave the audiences a headache almost as bad as the one inflicted by the script.
The first half of the film moves at a steady pace as we discover (in between minor tremors) that hunky architect Stuart Graff (Charlton Heston) is having marital problems with his wife Remy (Ava Gardner) and that his father-in-law Sam Royce (Lorne Greene), is also his boss.
George Kennedy is Lew Slade – a cop in trouble for driving into Zsa Zsa Gabor’s hedge during an exciting car chase – and Denise Marshall (Genevieve Bujold) is a hopeful young actress and single mother with a fancy for Graff.
Meanwhile, would-be Evel Knievel motorcycle stuntman Miles Quade (Richard ‘Shaft‘ Roundtree) is performing a couple of spectacular rides along a loop-de-loop track. much to the delight of his manager, Sal (Gabriel Dell).
Sal’s hot younger sister Rosa (Victoria Principle) is there to bring sex appeal to the act but she’s stalked by creepy grocery clerk/national guardsman, Jody (Marjoe Gortner).
When the earthquake comes all hell really does break loose. Sam Royce and his staff find themselves trapped at the top of a skyscraper with the lifts out of order and the stairways destroyed.
Meanwhile, Denise Marshall and her annoying young son, Cory (Tiger Williams), are threatened by electrocution as damaged live power cables dance on the ground around their feet while rushing water approaches rapidly.
The disaster culminates in a devastating flood when a dam breaks while Graff and Officer Slade drill through thick walls in an attempt to save a load of people trapped in an underground car park in danger of being completely engulfed by the flood.
The centrepiece, of course, is the earthquake itself, which goes on for a full ten minutes of screen time (rivalling the longest real quake ever recorded, which happened in Sumatra in 2004), not including pre-shocks and aftershocks.
The quake is quite spectacular in its building collapses, pylon topplings, bridge disintegrations and elevator plummets – with the latter ending in a gorily avant-garde/terrible blood spatter effect.
And you think you’re having a bad day.