1974, Universal Pictures

Main Cast: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Genevieve Bujold, George Kennedy

Director: Mark Robson

Plot Summary: A young seismologist predicts a huge quake in the Los Angeles area, and at first city officials move slowly to warn the public. The earthquake rumbles on cue, destroying most of the city and leaving much chaos in its wake.

The third of the trilogy of the great disaster films from the late 70’s and early 80’s, Earthquake expands the action across an entire city, rather than a cruise ship or a single skyscraper. The dispersion of the main characters allows them to meet in various situations, which I enjoyed and gave the plot something extra, beyond the disaster itself.

The story more or less follows an architect (Heston), bored with his marriage to a neurotic wife (whose father helped him gain his high position in the company). He spends a lot of time with the wife of a deceased friend, who is much younger and returns his affections enthusiastically. A subplot follows the adventures of a bike rider (XX) who wants to be the next Evel Kenivel. He bums some money from a cop (Kennedy) who has been relieved of duty after losing his temper.

All these people are brought together after the earthquake itself. Another subplot involves the dam, which slowly cracks and finally bursts after a few after-shocks. This does not improve the situation in the city, where most everyone is caught down in a temporary rescue and medical center underground. The architect and cop join forces in order to jackhammer their way into the underground mall and bring the people out before the flood hits.

All in all I enjoyed this in a low-key way. Disaster films are all about lining up the characters and watching who goes down and who survives. I can’t pretend this is sophisticated entertainment, but fun in a sneaky sort of way. I would rate this above The Towering Inferno but below The Poseidon Adventure.

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