For those who do not want spoilers, stop reading now. If you realize that spoilers will follow and you're okay with that, read on.
Imagine: It's New Year's Eve, 1972. You are on board a luxury cruise ship. Suddenly, at the stroke of midnight, an enormous wall of water, 90 feet high, flips the boat and everything in it. But just when all hope seems lost, a hero steps forward. His name is Reverend Frank Scott. True, he doesn't seem the heroic type, but we're all in this thing together now and he's the only one with a plan of escape. It's either join Reverend Scott, or remain with the purser and the majority of the passengers in the soon-to-be-flooded dining room and hope for a miraculous rescue. Naturally, you choose to join Reverend Scott and his little band of followers. You work your way through a maze of passages, air ducts, and smoke funnels and lose three companions along the way. Finally, Reverend Scott sacrifices himself to save the rest of the group from a watery grave. At last you enter the propeller shaft tunnel, where you are rescued by the Greek Coast Guard.
This movie certainly has a lot to recommend it. A little morbid, but overall a great film. There's definitely no shortage of pretty girls, which is always a plus in my opinion. I was also impressed because this film focused more on the human drama that took place in the wake of the disaster rather than having lots of unnecessary destruction like modern disaster films. True, further disasters did take place as direct results of the initial disaster, but each of them specifically moved the plot along in some way. But as I previously stated, it was the human drama that made this movie so riveting. In order to truly understand how the human drama played out, it's important that we meet the major characters.
Reverend Frank Scott
Frank Scott is a radical minister whom his bishop has deemed a heretic and is aboard the Poseidon because he is being carted off to Africa. Scott believes strongly in the "God helps those that help themselves" mentality. However, when the catastrophe strikes, Scott lays aside his personal fears and becomes the de facto leader of the small group that manages to escape. He himself isn't so lucky. He leads the group through much of the film, but at the last moment, he willingly sacrifices himself in order to save his dwindling band of followers. This I feel is an essential quality in any leader. They must be willing to put the good of their followers before their own, and Reverend Scott certainly does.
Detective Lieutenant and Mrs. Rogo
Mike Rogo is a grumpy New York City cop who redeemed his wife Linda from a life of wickedness. Rogo argues with Scott numerous times and frequently challenges his position of leadership, especially when his wife is tragically killed, leaving Rogo grief-stricken and blaming Scott for her death. Rogo is a strong character, but he also is shown to have a petty side as well. But in spite of his obvious shortcomings, Rogo proves that in times of crisis, he can be just as good and sacrificial of a leader as Scott. He reminds us that it is possible to look past everything that is wrong with us and rise to the occasion when necessary.
Susan and Robin Shelby
Robin Shelby is your average 70's boy. He's extremely reluctant on the subject of showers, but the kid's basically this film's equivalent of Tony Stark in terms of mechanical genius. He is fascinated with how things work and eagerly learns all he can about the ship. His knowledge of the boat's inner workings saves the group numerous times. Susan Shelby is just along to play babysitter for Robin and flirt with as many boys as she can along the way. She's arguably the heroine of the film, but given that the film's hero is old enough to be her father, it's obvious that there is no romantic connection between the two, although they do share one or two brief tender moments in the film.
Manny and Belle Rosen
Manny Rosen is a retired Jewish hardware store owner who is travelling to Israel with his wife Belle to meet their two-year-old grandson. Manny doesn't really stand out much except as a voice of encouragement. He is always the one to convince the others to do what they think themselves incapable of. However, when Belle dies, the encouraging Manny finds himself in need of encouragement. The love of his life has died, and he feels that without her, life is no longer worth living. Scott convinces him that this is not true and that he still has much to live for.
James Martin and Nonnie Parry
James Martin is a lonely, health-conscious haberdasher who has been a bachelor for years only for the reason of never having found the right girl. However, when he meets Nonnie Parry, the singer of the band aboard the Poseidon, he is instantly attracted to her. Nonnie is in shock for much of the film because her brother is killed when the ship capsizes. Nevertheless, she clearly begins to reciprocate Martin's feelings and begins to look upon him as her anchor when her world starts to literally fall apart around her. Martin, for his part, is glad to protect this defenseless girl which fate has placed in his care and does everything he can to help her.
Now, based on the fact that we are not even given Acres' first name, it could be argued that he is not a "major" character per say, but his knowledge of the ship does prove crucial to the survivors before he is tragically lost. Following his death, this role is assumed by Robin Shelby who has read everything he can about the ship and has an almost photographic memory of what he has read. Acres is killed when a series of explosions rock the ship as the group is climbing a ladder inside one of the smoke stacks. Acres, having previously injured his leg, loses his balance and falls off the ladder to his death. He is the first fatality the little band suffers and it hits them all pretty hard.
Now that we've met the major characters, let's see how the human drama with them plays out.
Spoilers are coming. You have been warned.
After leaving the dining room, the group enters the galley. A fire safety door is shut, blocking their progress. Reverend Scott forces it open and goes inside to see if the way is clear. Finding it to be so, he returns and holds the door open for the others. Seeing the lifeless corpse of a crewman staring at them, Susan screams, causing Scott to throw his coat over the body to hide the man's face. The group arrives in a hallway, where they find a staircase which formerly led down but now leads up. Scott and Rogo mount first and then use a fire hose to haul the others up. No sooner has the entire group reached the top of the staircase than water reaches the bottom. Scott leads the survivors to an access tunnel that terminates in one of the smoke stacks. Belle Rosen fears that she will be too fat to fit through the narrow tunnel, but manages to do so anyway and the entire group successfully navigate the tunnel. Once at the tunnel's end, Scott and Rogo help the survivors make the dangerous transition from the tunnel to the ladder bolted to the inside of the smokestack. However, Acres, who had previously injured his leg, loses his balance and falls to his death when the ship is rocked by a series of explosions. The remaining survivors climb out of the smoke stack and meet a large group of other survivors led by the ship's medic, who informs them that their group is headed for the bow, where they believe they will be rescued. Scott argues that they are heading to their own demise and that the way out will be found by going up rather than down. Rogo begins arguing with Scott, saying they should head for the bow as well. Knowing from Robin that they can escape through the engine room, Scott pleads with Rogo for 15 minutes to locate it, which Rogo reluctantly agrees to.
At this point, the group temporarily splits up to try and salvage what supplies they can. The Rosens go in a small room and begin discussing their grandson. Nonnie and Martin find the barber shop and share an extremely heart-wrenching moment when the realization sinks in that Nonnie's brother is truly dead. She begins to weep and quietly asks Martin if he enjoyed her brother's music (which he had criticized earlier in the film). However, seeing this poor wretched girl so near to dying from grief causes him to have a change of heart as he answers, "I would have danced to it... if I'd had someone to dance with." This restores some of Nonnie's confidence and she begins to care for the man who has become her protector. Robin locates a bathroom and begins searching it for anything useful. The Rogos argue with one another, with Rogo telling his wife that she is a better person now than she used to be. Susan accompanies Scott to find the engine room. Scott manages to find a hatch leading to it, but exceeds the agreed-upon time limit in doing so. He and Susan round up the survivors and begin heading for the hatch. Suddenly noticing that Robin is still absent, Scott goes to find him, telling Susan to lead the rest to the hatch. Scott manages to find Robin just before water engulfs the bathroom. The water rushes down the hallway and nearly drowns Robin and Scott before they reach the hatch and close it behind them. Once inside what they first thought to be the engine room, the group is informed by Robin that it is in fact not the engine room at all, but that the engine room is separated from their present location only by a short corridor. Scott takes one of the new-found ropes and swims into the corridor. However, a bulkhead falls on him, trapping him. The other survivors realize that Scott has failed to signal and decide something is wrong. Belle says that since she used to be a swimming champion, she will dive in to find Scott. Her husband tries to stop her, but she says she must finally have her chance to do something herself rather than depend on others to tell her what to do. Belle dives in and locates Scott, freeing him from the bulkhead. Once on the other side, Scott secures the rope, but Belle suffers a heart attack induced by the overexertion used in rescuing Scott. Before she dies, Belle removes her "Chai" pendant (which is the Hebrew character for life) and instructs Scott to give it to her husband to pass on to their grandson. Rogo then swims over to find out what has happened. Scott tells him not to inform Rosen of Belle's death. Rogo returns to where the other survivors are waiting and is immediately questioned by Rosen. Rogo attempts to be as evasive with his answers as possible, but Rosen detects that there is something wrong. However, he does not fully realize what has happened until he and the rest of the survivors reach the other side of the flooded corridor and he finds Belle's body. Rosen begins to weep and say that his life is no longer worth living, declaring that he will go no further and die next to his wife's body.
At this moment, Scott steps forward and gives Rosen the pendant and tells him that he still has a lot to live for. He tells Rosen that Belle's dying wish was for Rosen to deliver the pendant to their grandson. Finally, Rosen places the pendant around his neck for safekeeping and reluctantly follows the group. Scott leads the group all the way to the water-tight door of the propeller shaft room, but another series of explosions causes Linda Rogo to fall off the catwalk to her death. Overcome with grief, Rogo becomes furious, blaming her death on Scott, and refuses to go on. One of the explosions ruptures a steam pipe, blocking their escape. Scott, angered at Rogo for blaming Linda's death on him, begins to rant at God, demanding to know why the innocent survivors have been lost when they demanded nothing from God. Suddenly rising to his feet, Scott leaps off the catwalk and grabs a red-hot valve, which he carefully turns, shutting off the steam. In a manner very reminiscent of Gandalf's death in Fellowship of the Ring, Scott orders Rogo to lead the group before sacrificing himself by letting go of the valve and falling to his death. Rogo refuses to move, still angry and heartbroken by his wife's death. However, Martin jeers that he must not have been a very good cop if he would let something like this to stop him from doing what he knew to be right. Angered by Martin's words, Rogo suddenly has a new surge of determination and leads the group into the propellor shaft tunnel. Once inside, the group hears a noise above them and begin pounding on the hull to attract the rescuers' attention. Suddenly, a cutting torch burns a hole in the hull plate, and the survivors are rescued by the Greek Coast Guard and flown to safety in a helicopter.
That's the story. I loved this movie, though I felt that too many main characters died. Aside from that, this is an excellent film for any fan of disaster flicks. I strongly recommend that you look this movie up, although I also would like to point out here that if you watch the 2005 or 2006 remakes, some of the character names will be familiar, but the plot will be entirely different. This particular version of the film is from 1972. It was a simpler time, but in my opinion, it made for a better movie.