Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rollercoaster (1977)

It always irritates me when people are counting Rollercoaster as a disaster movie. It's not. With that logic we should call Dirty Harry a disaster movie. Or The Laughing Policeman. It has elements that would make it fit in as a disaster movie: a star-studded seventies thriller, a scene with some destruction. But that's it. Like Two-Minute Warning this is a good old thriller, and actually a damn fine one - even if I have one big complain about it. But more to that later on in the review.

George Segal is safety inspector Harry Calder, a man who has two problems in life: to stop smoking and to shut the fuck up. After a terrible accident - really a sabotage - happens at a rollercoaster, killing lots of people, he think there's something fishy going on. When a fire starts at another amusement park he really puts two and two together and gets himself involved in what is a case of blackmailing of five huge entertainment companies, all of them owning amusement parks. Soon he's up against a terrorist (Timothy Bottoms) who stops for no one, and now it's a personal game of cat and mouse...

What's the bad thing about this awesome set-up? I think you might have guessed it already. They put the most spectacular, violent, expensive and cool scene in the beginning - when the first bomb goes off and launches a dozen innocent life's to their death! Watch out for some nice dummy deaths here! It's a great sequence and it's a real shocker to start a movie with. Pity it all goes more...low-key from that, into a very well-written but not so spectacular thriller that lives on good dialogue and a wonderful cast. If you except those ingredients it will be no disappointment, but I remember as a kid watching this for the first time and slowly realized that "Yeah, it won't be any more violent than that first scene...".

I've a big boy now and I've learned to love the story and especially the very fine performance by handsome George Segal, who manages both to be a funny dude and a good typical seventies hero at the same time. He's cynical, human and witty. The whole movie is packed with good actors, and the usual one-location casting of Henry Fonda as the president... sorry, the boss of Harry Calder. Watch out for Helen Hunt, Steve Guttenberg and Craig Wasson in small parts - Helen as Calder's daughter and it took some time for me to recognize her. Richard Widmark, always a reliable tough guy, has a lot of good scenes opposite Segal.

Director James Goldstone, who later directed the mega-flop "When Time Ran Out..." for Irwin Allen, a very generic but still quite fun volcano-movie, does a good job here with establishing the characters and maybe mostly creating a sense of uncertainly around the calm, calculating terrorist played by Timothy Bottoms. I never grow tired of movies set in the seventies, and Goldstone both catches the grittiness that we love so much, but also that Disney-vibe of that "everything is okay" and "we're having ugly but still cool clothes."

The live performance by Sparks is always awesome in a slightly outdated way. Cool band, I have to agree on that.

Rollercoaster is a good thriller which begins on the top and slowly works itself to the bottom - but in a good way. The game between Segal and Bottoms is the highlight of the movie, not counting the dummy deaths of course!


Anonymous said...

"this is a good old thriller, and actually a damn fine one"

Any political stuff in this film?

"Steve Guttenberg"

Member of the secret sect stonecutters!

"around the calm, calculating terrorist played by Timothy Bottoms."

Bottoms as the badguy...?

Sounds weird....

Thanks, Ninja...another great 70´s thriller to look at.


Nigel M said...

Not seen this but it got me thinking that Rollercoasters make for an unusual location within genre film despite their potential. The films that immediately spring to mind are Nightmare City and one of the Final Destination series (number three though despite enjoying them all they do seem to blur into one somewhat).

Nightmare City- great roller coaster dummy death. Wonder if there are enough films to come up with a rollercoaster dummy death theme week.

Article on rollercoasters in film here

Though I suspect this is a far from comprehensive look at the subject as, for a start, they do not mention Nightmare City.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Saw this originally in 'Sensorround', a novelty sound process that shook theater seats. Because 'Earthquake' was also released with this process, some folks figured this was also a Disaster movie like earthquake.

I agree that this is a well written thriller and the biggest sensory thriller occurs at the beginning.

I love Widmark in this. He's always great.