Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Review: "Juggernaut" (1974)

You know, I'm not a drinker by any means, but when that classic question comes up of "What three people, living or dead, would you love to have dinner with?", I usually respond that I would have an all-night bender with Peter O'toole, Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Not only did these bohemians contribute some extraordinary charm and talent to films in the sixties and seventies, but they also seemed like they would be a LOT of fun to hang out with.

Harris, who passed away last year, will be best remembered by the current generation as Albus Dumbledore. But way back when, He was able to hold the attention of audiences without a fuzzy beard and half moon glasses. In "Juggernaut", he plays an explosives expert who is air-dropped onto a cruiseliner that has been sabotaged with identical bombs throughout the ship. Occasionally, the film drops away from his efforts to follow the London police in their pursuit of the bomber. In addition to these action-packed plotlines, we have a third that deals with a nervous crew as they talk and wait for the terror to be over.

Predictably, the best part of the film is the bomb diffusing. Unlike similar films, there are no digital timers counting down and although there is a "which wire do I cut" moment, the experts have to do a lot more before they get to that part. You see, each intricate bomb is identical and all of them are sealed inside steel drums. Harris's team splits up and work on several bombs simultaneously as directions are communicated over walkie-talkie. Not only is this practical, it also ratchets up the tension and dwindles his team down before long.

Back on the mainland, a pair of recognizable faces lead the pursuit for the bomber: Superintendent John McCleod (Anthony Hopkins aka Hannibal) and a representative for the cruise line, Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm aka Bilbo). Their pursuit of the man who's so confident as to leave taunting messages inside the drums for the diffusers is typical enough, but still exciting. There is also pressure by higher authorities to pay the ransom and be done with it, which makes for some tense exchanges. It reminded me of "The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3", which should be reviewed on this site any day now.

The mini-plots concerning the passengers can tend to drag. I'll give points to the director for making these people as ordinary as possible, but that doesn't necessarily make them interesting. An exception to this is Shirley Knight as an American woman having an affair with the ship's captain, played by Omar Sharif. Knight, who has popped up more recently in "As Good as it Gets" and "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood", is really a striking presence in terms of beauty and intelligence. Watch her as she interacts with the activities director late in the film. She's simply wonderful to watch.

And then, again, there's Harris. His Anthony Fallon follows a familiar Harris character pattern: a brilliant individual who also tends to be a stubborn bastard. Harris is interesting enough in small character studies. One can imagine how well he shines in such an intricately well-plotted thriller. Harris is the man, and if I were to ever come across his spirit, the first thing I'd do is buy him a Guinness.

Seven out of Ten

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