Juggernaut (1974)

Country: United States/United Kingdom
AKA: Terror On The Britannic
Director: Richard Lester
Starring: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Roy Kinnear, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Jack Watson, Sim MacCorkindale
Music: Ken Thorne

Juggernaut is one of those action flicks from the 1970’s, which by today’s standards seems pretty light on for action. But that’s not to say that the film isn’t good – in fact it’s great! But instead of fuel injected muscular action, we get thoughtful plotting, suspense and drama. By drama, as this film stars legendary hellraiser Richard Harris, I mean a scene where he downs a bottle of whiskey (J&B, of course) and then throws the bottle at the wall to express his frustration. Sure it’s not going to win any major thesping awards, but it shows a man being a man, rather than exaggerated slow-mo, almost homo-erotic shots of a guy as he straps on the weapons he needs to complete his mission. In Juggernaut, Harris plays Anthony Fallon, and while not being a spy or a soldier, he too has a mission. He specialises in disarming bombs. In this instance a fruitcake calling himself “Juggernaut” has planted seven bombs on the ocean liner Britannic. These bombs have been welded into 44 gallon drums, and have been fitted with all sorts of booby traps and trembler switches. This is not just a case of “cut the blue wire!”

The film itself is quite simple. As mentioned, a maniac has put seven bombs on board the Britannic and he demands a ransom — five hundred million pounds. To confound things, the Britannic has sailed into a force eight storm. Fallon and a team of six men, including his best friend, Charley Broddock (David Hemmings) are assigned to disarm the bombs. They fly out in a Navy seaplane and parachute into the rough seas beside the ship. The launch sent out to collect them is immediately swamped by the seas and capsizes. Fallon and his men must swim to the ship and then scale the sides on flimsy swaying rope ladders.

Now all that is the easy part because Juggernaut is an insane genius and the bombs he has planted are designed to test the experience and skill of those who attempt to disarm them. This leads to some of the most emotional scenes in the film, where Fallon and Charlie are working on separate bombs, in separate, sealed off, parts of the ship. They communicate by radio, and Charley follows Fallon’s moves step for step. If Fallon should make a mistake — BOOM — then Charley is to continue on as the lead, and a new man would takes his place as his second. Harris and Hemmings seem to have a natural chemistry together. You’ve got to remember that back then Hemmings compared to Harris was still a young pup. Hemmings had success in the sixties with films like Blow-Up and Barbarella (to a lesser extent) but Harris was the superstar. Con-incidentally, Harris and Hemmings both appeared in Camelot, so maybe that’s where they forged a friendship and the results appear on the screen in this film.

Now all of this tense drama is carefully plotted — more than I care to outline here. But all the questions you ask are answered, like “why not get the passengers off in lifeboats?”

The cast for this film is amazing. Harris and Hemmings I have talked about, but in smaller but equally important roles are Omar Sharif as Alex Brunel the Britannic’s captain; Anthony Hopkins as McCleod, the Police officer who has the job of catching Juggernaut; Ian Holm as Porter, the managing director of the shipping line; and Roy Kinnear as Curtain, the ship’s social director who has the unenviable task of keeping the passenger’s morale up.

Essentially, Juggernaut is a disaster movie, but without being as overwrought as The Towering Inferno and Earthquake. But it works in a similar fashion. It features an ensemble cast who have their own story threads, which provides the emotion and suspense as the story goes along. When a character is caught in a compromising or dangerous situation you empathise with the character as the story has built them up. Now having built up this film in this review, because I think it’s great, be reminded, I love these old school action dramas. I like good old fashioned story telling, and that’s what you get from Juggernaut.

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