Before “Speed” sent everyone looking for a mad bomber while trying to defuse a bomb on a bus, there was “Juggernaut,” a high-seas adventure where bombs are planted on an ocean liner and must be disabled. It takes a while to get rolling, but “Juggernaut” takes off and is worth the time spent on it.
(1974; 109 minutes; rated PG; directed by Richard Lester and starring Richard Harris, Omar Sharif and David Hemmings)
AFTER A SLOW START, ‘JUGGERNAUT’ BECOMES ONE
A number of 1970s feature films today look like, well, 1970s TV shows: the sets are basic, the visuals are basic (thank goodness for today’s CGI), the action (if you can call it that) is basic, but they don’t try to force the pace (thank you “Columbo”) and there’s real writing to the scripts. The negatives aside, the positives for the film “Juggernaut” from 40 years ago make it watchable and you could find worse ways to past just over 1½ hours.
I don’t usually do spoiler alerts since most of my reviews are of films with which many are familiar, but since this is a little-remembered film I put SPOILER ALERT below.
Headliner Richard Harris and director Richard Lester make the difference in “Juggernaut,” which is the story of a bomber who puts seven large explosive devices aboard the fictional ocean liner “Britannic” and tries to extort £500,000 from the shipping company.
Once the “Britannic” is at sea, the mastermind, who called himself “Juggernaut,” begins his extortion and authorities try to identify and find him as well as send a demolition team headed by Harris to the ship to try to defuse the bombs.
While much of the first part of the film doesn’t measure up to even mediocre TV movies today, the bomb disposal scenes between Harris, his deputy and back at headquarters on land (they’re hooked together by radio) are just tight, gripping and what should make you watch “Juggernaut.”
Note to potential viewers: Don’t be discouraged by the slow pace early in the film; it picks up pace nicely (spotlighting Harris’ considerable talent) and Lester knows how to build to a climax.
Solidifying the top of the cast is Hollywood legend Omar Sharif, who plays “Capt. Alex Brunel” the ship’s captain, who does an turn going from elegant to troubled to forceful with impeccable timing but certainly not equal to his roles in the better known “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Also performing with distinction is a young “Hannibal-to-be” Anthony Hopkins as “Supt. John McLeod” of Scotland Yard, a police supervisor in charge of finding the mad bomber. Hopkins is like a thoroughbred racehorse on display … he does a good job, but it’s limited by the script. Besides his Oscar-winning tour-de-force in “The Silence of the Lambs” and its sequels, Hopkins has done “The Elephant Man,” “Nixon” and a string of other film and TV roles.
The film is also a reminder just how lax (by today’s standards) security was in the transportation sector. The large 55-gallon drum bombs were smuggled aboard (one character notes, “no security” and that they don’t check what’s going aboard) and as the ship sails visitors are reminded to go ashore (no visitors in general today). The ship itself shows how dated the film as its accommodations and activities, while luxurious at the time, are quite dated by today’s cruise ships.
Lester, who also directed “The Three Musketeers” (1973’s version and its sequel the next year … the good ones, not the crappy one with Charlie Sheen and Keifer Sutherland) and “Superman II” and another of the superhero flicks, knows his craft. On the detail side, one cute shot is of a pinball game called “Shipwreck.” I guess Lester has a sense of humor as well as an eye for detail.
Harris plays “Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Fallon” and appears insouciant while being deadly serious as the leader of a bomb squad: he’ll take a drink with the captain in the middle of a mission, enjoys his pipe while disarming a bomb all the while focused solely on his duty. Harris was been in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (he was “Dumbledore”), “Gladiator” and Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” before his death in 2002.
Although he’s second-billed in “Juggernaut,” David Hemmings as Harris’ deputy “Charlie Braddock” doesn’t account for much. Hemmings was also in “Gladiator” as well as “The Gangs of New York” and “Blow-Up” (the title of the 1960s film is a bit prophetic for him here).
SPOILER ALERT: Better is British character actor Freddie Jones, who has 200 roles over a six-decade career and plays “Juggernaut,” the disaffected former bomb squad mentor to Harris. Jones does a solid job, first conning Scotland Yard that he doesn’t know about the bombs and then when he’s found out. Perfect casing for this role, I’d say. Jones was in “The Elephant Man” with Hopkins a well as Clint Eastwood’s “Firefox” and “Dune.” SPOILER ALERT ENDS
As for the love interest, Shirley Knight, who was in “Grandma’s Boy” (not the kind of movie you’d think she’d sign on for), “As Good as it Gets” and “If These Walls Could Talk,” is the relationship issue faced by Sharif but this subplot doesn’t really take off and adds nothing to the overall quality of the film. It’s too bad since she has been twice nominated for Oscars (“The Dark at the Top of the Stairs” and “Sweet Bird of Youth”) and has real talent.
The most pleasant surprise performance from the cast is Roy Kinnear, who plays ship’s “Social Director Curtain.” While he does his best with passengers under difficult circumstances at best, his character ultimately shows depth, real wit and courage. Great choice here and no doubting his talent. Kinnear was in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “Watership Down” and the “Beatles’” “Help!”
If you have read some of my reviews, you’ll see that I like to point out actors who would go on to make or have had been on an episode of “The Love Boat.” Given the nature of this film, I couldn’t resist checking resumes of the primary cast. Guess what? Not a single one later did an episode of “The Love Boat.”
Other cast notes (via IMDb.com):
- Clifton James, who played the redneck sheriff in back-to-back 007 films (“Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun” in 1973-74) as well as a more dramatic turn in “Cool Hand Luke,” plays a politician on board who knows how to cut to the chase. James is another wise selection for this cast.
- Lester was the third director to work on the project and rewrote the script with a writer different from the earlier work.
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