Juggernaut (1974)

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A terrorist threat. A captain in panic. And only one man who can end the danger.

No, a 1974 release date does not a classic movie make. Then again, the early 70s was a slight uptick in the caliber of films being released. On the surface, that year’s Juggernaut is just another little predictable potboiler. But sometimes things are not as they seem.

Although I don’t know why exactly (though it is probably explained in the film) where the term Juggernaut comes from in this context, it implies some sort of Germanic Blitzkrieg. Rest assured any tie in with the Reich is distant – though there is one. From the stellar cast and the promotional materials, one would think that Juggernaut is just another entry in the disaster film genre, and to be honest I was expecting something like The Poseidon Adventure.

Wrong.

Rather, this is a tight little film directed by Richard Lester, whom we’ve talked about before. Along for the ride are Richard Harris and Omar Sharif in the leading roles, but we have Anthony Hopkins as well. And this isn’t the Hopkins of today, this is the hard working fresh actor of the early 1970s. Even Sharif is in support as it is really Harris’ picture.

A madman has planted bombs in a series of industrial drums; their presence is discovered after the ship leaves. Sharif is the dour and cold captain of the ship, christened the Britannic (The choice of name is an entirely different conversation.). Hopkins is the Scotland Yard detective tracking down leads before the ships proverbial time runs out and Harris- well Harris leads a crack bomb unit on board after an paradrop into the ocean nearby.

In lesser roles we have Roy Kinnear as the overtly bubbly cruise/entertainment director of the ship and Shirley Knight as a bit of a harlot chasing after the Captain. Kinnear provides a bit of comic relief which, although some will find it a bit much, seemed more like a dedicated employee doing what he could to brighten the passengers’ moods. Knight’s part really adds nothing except give Sharif a bit more to do.

Unlike such a movie today, there is no real action, no nudity, and really not much but quite a bit of dialogue. In spite of how it sounds this is extremely well done and even though the run time is only 106 minutes it flies by. There isn’t anything tricky in terms of photography or special effects. Just a really good story done well.

Again, this is Richard Harris’ film, though perhaps he is really just being himself. Here he is a borderline drunk with perhaps some anger issues living on the edge of losing. His performance alone is well worth the price of admission.

And, not to spoil anything too much, but there is a nice quirky twist at the end and a very appropriate final scene. I won’t give away too much, but it is an ending which definitely would not play well today.

Lastly, there is the filming itself which appears to have been done almost exclusively on-board a real ship. Not once did I catch one of those obvious shots where the cast is obviously acting in front of a screen. (Granted, I would imagine the interior shots were done ashore.) The ship rolls in legitimately stormy seas (which were also needed for the plot to work) and frequently dishes and crew slide with the swells.

All around a well done little surprise and extremely highly recommended. Even if it is from 1974.