Sunday, May 31, 2009
A Pretty Big Hill Of Beans
The disaster movie cycle was finished by 1980, pretty much killed off for good by AIRPLANE! but it’s not like the films themselves didn’t have something to do with it. THE CONCORDE-AIRPORT ’79 is absurd, THE SWARM is hysterical, BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE is lame, but WHEN TIME RAN OUT… is about as bad as it gets. Any degree of guilty pleasure entertainment that was once found in Irwin Allen productions has vanished, almost as if the deal he signed with the devil was voided somehow and all we’re left with is a blah story, lousy effects and actors who look as if they showed up to work while under threat of a lawsuit. Based on the novel “The Day The World Ended” it was announced under that title several years earlier and while I know very little about the production it feels as if even if there was never a complete script but since Allen had sets built and actors booked he demanded that cameras start rolling in order to satisfy some legal obligation. It may very possibly be the worst film that any of the key figures involved ever had anything to do with.
Set at a resort located on a remote island in the Pacific, WHEN TIME RAN OUT (the ellipses is in the title but I’m going to pass on including it each time) focuses on a group of characters including oil man Hank Anderson (Paul Newman), hotel owner Shelby Gilmore (William Holden) Kay Kirby (Jacqueline Bisset), the beautiful woman caught between the two of them, Bob Spangler (James Franciscus, or as the credits tell us, “And JAMES FRANCISCUS as Bob Spangler”), Gilmore’s son-in-law who runs the hotel on the island and is ignoring warnings about the nearby volcano, his wife Kay Spangler (Veronica Hamel), hotel employee Iolani (Barbara Carrera) who Spangler is having an affair with, her fiancée Brian (Edward Albert) a white collar criminal on the lam (Red Buttons), the cop chasing him named Tom Conti (Ernest Borgnine), a famous married high-wire-act on vacation (Burgess Meredith, Valentina Cortese) and…others but please, I’m getting tired. Concerns that the volcano is about to blow go unheeded and then…it blows. Newman knows that they have to flee to the other side of the island because he’s already been in one of these films but most of the guests/extras angrily ignore his warnings. So the majority of the lead characters take off on a quest through the jungle which will hopefully lead them to the other side where they will find safety and be rescued.
I can’t believe I spent that much time on a summary, even if I did include a lot of the cast, because it never feels like the film does. Nothing in WHEN TIME RAN OUT is credible or exciting. Nothing. It’s so lethargic that it’s amazing the production remembered to put film in the camera at the beginning of each shooting day. It feels like a dud right from the beginning when, compared to the huge fanfares that signal the opening of the various other Irwin Allen productions this one starts with a main title by composer Lalo Schifrin that sounds like even the musicians are falling asleep while they perform it. If you’re ever the host of some kind of movie marathon at your house this is the film you put on in the early morning hours in order to finally get everyone to leave. Directed with pretty much zero flair by James Goldstone whose many credits include the second STAR TREK pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, there isn’t so much as a single shot that could display any sort of personality and certainly nothing that solidifies each of these people in our mind like that cool dolly shot that includes each of the characters in the Promenade when the shit hits the fan in THE TOWERING INFERNO. Written by Sterling Stilliphant (also responsible for INFERNO—there’s a lame retread of his Newman-Dunaway repartee between the same lead actor and Bisset here) and Carl Foreman, even the structure is not merely bad—the angry bit players not wanting to flee a hotel that is having fireballs hurled at it by an erupting volcano is tough to swallow even on an idiot plot-level--but also totally lopsided. It takes practically half the movie for the damn volcano to erupt then when the characters finally set of on their quest to safety it doesn’t seem to spend much more than fifteen minutes or so before we get to the treacherous bridge climax, which, incidentally, goes on forever. You could order a pizza from across town and have it delivered in the amount of time it takes for this massively boring section to play out. So with barely anything else of real incident taking place the film barely feels like it’s even begun before the end credits are shoved onscreen in a “Huh? Wha? That’s it?” manner, just about the most obligatory, nobody-making-this-cares tag imaginable. I guess I should say the special effects which include everything involving the volcano and, since that wasn’t enough, a tidal wave, are beyond lousy as well but by a certain point I’m not even sure how much it matters.
Just to clarify: the film was previously released on VHS in an expanded version that I rented several years ago utilizing the cut that ran on TV which ran 141 minutes. The running time shown in reference sources for the theatrical version lists it at 121 minutes but this DVD runs 109 minutes. Since the version that ran in theaters has not been seen for literally decades there’s no way to say how this version is different, if the 121 minute listing is an error, or even if the film was cut down after it’s initial screenings but since no one cares about this title there’s no record of it that I could find. (Warners has stated that the materials needed to put together the expanded cut on DVD do not exist) There’s no way that I would want this film to be longer but in fairness even if this was the cut that originally played in theaters it feels in every way like a condensed version of something longer. Some of the characters and settings are present so briefly that there’s no time for them to make any impression—hell, it feels like a few of the alleged leads barely get twenty lines of dialogue and one of them even dies offscreen. I actually remember a few things that aren’t present in this cut and while their inclusion would make it more of a complete film, it would still be awful (“This movie is terrible.” “Yes, and such small portions.”).
There’s very little good to say about any of the actors and by a certain point it feels like I’m just shoveling the dirt on more. Paul Newman (who apparently once told Larry King this was the one film he ever regretted making, only referring to it as “that volcano movie”) obviously doesn’t have any interest in this and the only real characterization he displays is due to the cowboy hat he wears during the first hour. William Holden, as part of the least dramatic love triangle in cinema history, almost has no reason to be in the movie, since he bares no responsibility for the calamity like his TOWERING developer and has almost nothing to do during the second half. Accounts have him drinking heavily during production and it’s almost as if he or somebody else decided that he would be in the movie but would never have to actually do anything. Most of the other actors don't get very much screen time and Ernest Borgnine, whose character gets seriously burned, has to spend much of his role with his face covered. James Franciscus gets a chance to chew some scenery as this films Richard Chamberlain equivalent and I can believe that most of the younger, less-famous actors are genuinely trying to make their parts work since they have something to lose but none of them get any chance to make much of a difference. I’ll gladly say that the various women in the film like Bisset, Hamel and Carrera (a personal longtime favorite—I’d rather talk about her, even though she doesn’t get to do much here) at least look terrific so, hey, there’s something good that I can say about the movie. Having women like that around usually helps a little.
But that’s the thing. I freely admit that I’m the guy who can sometimes find something good to say about practically any movie (well, not one directed by Michael Bay) but WHEN TIME RAN OUT is pretty much my limit. Even the font used during the opening credits is boring. I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking this stuff too seriously all of a sudden but there’s just not much entertainment value here on any level, just a test to locate the most hardened film geeks by seeing who can sit through the entire thing. All right, that includes me and I freely admit that, wanting to see this piece of crap looking as good as possible, I willingly bought the new DVD from Warner Brothers (no special features, not even a trailer) so maybe I have no right to complain about anything. And, just to say it once again, at least Barbara Carrera looks nice in it. I should just go watch another film that she appears in.