FRED Watch Quickie Film Review: When Time Ran Out… (1980)


I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is When Time Ran Out…

Warner Bros.

A volcano causes havoc on an idyllic South Pacific island which has become a holiday paradise for the rich and powerful. Encouraged by island owner Bob Spangler (James Franciscus), most of the guests ignore the danger, but one group, lead by oil rigger Hank Anderson (Paul Newman), embarks on a risky escape attempt.

In a 1998 interview, Larry King asked Paul Newman if he had regretted making any films. The actor replied, ‘that volcano movie.’

A critical and commercial flop, When Time Ran Out… marked the end of the disaster movie era, kickstarted by Airport (1970) and perfected by the master of disaster himself, Irwin Allen, with The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Though Allen would never reach the astonishing narrative, technical, and commercial success of his two biggest pictures, the formula worked well when used correctly. (For example, Allen’s instance on directing 1978’s The Swarm was one of many poor production choices.)

Fans of the genre, however, will find that When Time Ran Out… isn’t as bad as its reputation may lead you to believe. All of the pieces are in place here, with a stellar ensemble cast brought together to face a natural threat. We are introduced to a handful of characters and their respective, sometimes intertwining, storylines; each faces a personal or professional dilemma which is the source of the surrounding melodrama as the island’s dormant volcano prepares to erupt.

As The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and (to a lesser extent) Earthquake (1974) exemplified, taking the time to get to know and care about the film’s characters are just as important as the build-up to the Main Event, if not more so. Originally running for 121 minutes, the film’s poor domestic performance resulted in the runtime being cut down to 104 minutes, only to have a 144-minute extended cut released on VHS in the mid-‘80s and ‘90s.

For better or worse, the shortest rendition of When Time Ran Out… leaves the audience at a distance from the characters, which is unfortunate, because they are performed really well under James Goldstone’s direction. However, the film also comes across more like a made-for-television movie than a big screen blockbuster. The special effects are a mixed bag, which is a shame considering the twenty million-dollar budget (four times the amount afforded to the superior Poseidon Adventure); some haven’t aged well and don’t even look like they were at the forefront of technology at the time.

So, what works about When Time Ran Out…?

Well, there’s no denying that it is a lot of fun and its hokey quality adds to the viewing experience. Fans of the disaster genre will enjoy the clashing personalities of the characters here, some of the over-the-top action sequences, and the performances overall.

Contractually obligated to appear in an Allen production, Newman is in fine form as our scrupulous hero, and any lack of enthusiasm for the project does not come across on screen. His Towering Inferno co-star William Holden is quite commanding as the resort’s owner, while Jacqueline Bisset is engaging in an underwritten leading lady role. Handsome James Franciscus is captivating as our villain, holding his own against the likes of Newman and Holden, and his scenes with the lovely Veronica Hamel are a particular highlight—if only there were more them. Additionally, The Poseidon Adventure‘s Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelia Allen are rather good here, as are Edward Albert, Burgess Meredith, and Pat Morita, who all do a lot with very little. Collectively, their roles are undemanding for their talent.

When Time Ran Out… might not be as thrilling on screen as it reads on paper (the bridge cross goes on for too long and the resort’s destruction is too brief), but it is an entertaining spectacle of race-against-time melodrama that sustains energy for most of its duration. It had all the makings of being able to turn the declining tide of disaster movies, but after a decade of genre saturation, audiences were lapping up a new wave of musicals, summer blockbusters, and a little space opera you may have heard of.

But it is what it is. So, grab some popcorn, open a can of cold soft drink, and kick your feet up on a lazy Sunday afternoon to farewell an era of fun disaster epics with Allen Irwin’s production of When Time Ran Out… 3 / 5


Starring: Paul Newman, Jacqueline Bisset, William Holden, Edward Albert, Red Buttons, Barbara Carrera, Valentina Cortese, Veronica Hamel, Alex Karras, Burgess Meredith, Ernest Borgnine, James Franciscus, John Considine, Sheila Allen, Pat Morita, Lonny Chapman, Sandy Kenyon, Ava Readdy, Glynn Rubin.

Director: James Goldstone | Producer: Irwin Allen | Writers: Carl Foreman, Stirling Silliphant (based on The Day the World Ended by Gordon Thomas) | Music: Lalo Schifrin | Cinematographer: Fred J. Koenekamp | Editors: Edward Biery, Freeman A. Davies

Available: DVD


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

I’ve been a Wayne Stellini and you’ve just experienced FRED Watch.

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