FRED Watch Quickie Film Review: Earthquake (1974)


I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is the disaster drama Earthquake

Universal Pictures

When a massive earthquake hits Los Angeles, California, an assortment of people with interlocking stories fight to survive the natural disaster as well as its numerous aftershocks…

1970s Hollywood productions are defined by their large-scale disaster pics and Earthquake, sandwiched in-between Irwin Allen blockbusters The Poseidon Adventure (December 1972) and The Towering Inferno (December 1974), was one of the significant releases.

It follows Allen’s formula insofar as casting established and potential stars playing easily identifiable characters as well as the reliance upon competent special effects and stunt teams (141 members; a record at the time). The film also utilised new audio technology, “Sensurround”, so that audiences would feel as though they were literally in the middle of the action when the titular event and obligatory aftershocks occurred. Such a gimmick becomes immediately redundant when the film is presented away from the big screen and accessed through contemporary digital means.

And this is where the weight of Earthquake rests on Mario Puzo and George Fox‘s script. The characters here are a mixed bag; some are quite engaging (Geneviève Bujold as a single mother and actress) and others are too oddball to be completely accessible (Marjoe Gortner as a military personnel who makes ends meet as a store clerk). Bonus casting are Walter Matthau (beautifully credited as “Walter Matuschanskayasky”) as a barfly and a spunky Victoria Principal sporting one of cinema’s greatest afros.

The central figures are a feuding couple played by a generally good Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner. Because the script was trimmed down, their backstory is never fully explored and thereby the characters, particularly Gardner’s emotionally unstable spoilt brat, fail to truly capture one’s sympathy when their lives are threatened; this is where Earthquake differs greatly to it its two aforementioned superior contemporaries.

And of the titular natural disaster itself… The earthquake lasts for just under eight minutes and is a wonderfully shot and edited sequence. Genuinely thrilling with almost-always believable moments of carnage (sans the elevator shot), the film still holds up relatively well today, but will perhaps be most embraced by fans of the genre.

While by no means the classic is should’ve turned out to be, Earthquake is fun enough to sustain its two-hour gestation.  4 / 5


Starring: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Geneviève Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Marjoe Gortner, Barry Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Victoria Principal, Walter Matthau [credited as Walter Matuschanskayasky], Monica Lewis, Gabriel Dell, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Lloyd Gough, John Randolph, Kip Niven, Scott Hylands, Tiger Williams, Donald Moffat, Jesse Vint, Alan Vint, Michael Richardson, John Elerick, John S. Ragin, George Murdock, Donald Mantooth, Lionel Johnston, Alex A. Brown, Bob Cunningham, John Dennis, Gene Dynarski, Bob Gravage, Hard Boiled Haggerty, Tim Herbert, Dave Morick, Inez Pedroza, Josh Albee [uncredited].

Director/Producer: Mark Robson | Writers: George Fox, Mario Puzo | Music: John Williams | Cinematographer: Philip H. Lathrop | Editor: Dorothy Spencer

Available: Amazon

Let us know what you thought of this film in the comments!


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