Wednesday, April 9, 2008

70s Style

Last night, TCM showed a movie that was frankly new to me: Juggernaut. The plot of this thriller is relatively shopworn, having been done a number of times: a mysterious terrorist, calling himself "Juggernaut", has planted a series of bombs aboard the cruise ship Britannic, which is crossing the Atlantic. He's rigged them all to go off in 24 hours, unless the shipping company pay him £500,000 cash. So, a bomb squad are parachuted in to the middle of the Atlantic to try to defuse the bombs in a clichéd race against time. It's been done before; it's been done better; but for the most part, Juggernaut is part of a genre that's more about sitting back with a bowl of popcorn and not thinking too deeply as you watch.

Richard Harris plays the head of the bomb squad, a man who's clearly been there and done that and, having been through it a few times too many, has frankly developed a sang-froid attitude towards death. He's fine in his role, and, as far as I can tell, the technical aspect of the bombs isn't that unrealistic. Omar Sharif plays the ship's captain, and is his usual self. He still expects it to be his ship, despite his having no control over whether the bombs are defused. He doesn't have much to do, and does his nothing capably but not memorably. Perhaps the best part belongs to the ship's entertainment director, played by Roy Kinnear, who has to try to keep a good attitude in the face of an impending disaster. Despite his best intentions, nothing ever goes right for the poor guy, including one notable line in which he makes the Freudian slip of saying the night is going to be "a night to remember". The unfolding of the bomb plot back in England is also interesting, notably in the way in which there's a hiccup that might bring a break in the case.

However, what I found most interesting was the set decoration. The 1970s are generally thought of today for their lousy style, most notably in terms of clothing (and sure enough, vintage clothes abound here) and hair styles. But watching Juggernaut, I wasn't at all interested in these; instead noting almost immediately how crummy 1970s opulence was. Perhaps the Britannic was meant to be a "budget" cruise liner, but in no way did anything on this ship compare to some of cinema's luxury liners of the past, in the days when it was the norm to cross the Atlantic by ship, if not the only way. True, unlike, say, Love Affair, the one cabin we see isn't a stateroom, but even the dining rooms and the vinyl-upholstered chairs look cheap compared to what can be seen in Love Affair or similar movies. Perhaps this was meant to be a subtle commentary on the state of Britain in the 1970s? Britain was beset by labor strife and a declining industrial base in the 1970s, as was also obliquely referenced when one of the bomb squad members asked whether anybody in Britain works any more.

If you missed Juggernaut on TCM, IMDb lists it as being available on DVD. Compared to more recent movies of the genre, there's very little bad language or sex; the only violence is when there are some explosions.

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