Tuesday, April 10, 2012

the hindenburg [1975]

how could i forget this flick? i'd seen it the first time around when i was a wee lad and it was the 1970s and disaster movies were all the rage. producer irwin allen was the king of disaster movies, such as earthquake [1974] [viewed in glorious sensurround sound system that made the theater horribly shake. i remember when the first temblor hit there was a girl sitting in the third row who jumped over the aisles and flew toward the exit], and towering inferno [1974], that director robert wise had to get on the act too.

like every other disaster pic there had to be an all-star cast. this movie featured george c. scott, anne bancroft, charles durning, gig young, and a bunch of other actors. like every other disaster movie the producers and writers were tasked with wrapping a narrative around the money shot, the reason people went to see these movies in the first place: the chaos and destruction. usually that narrative was boring as hell.

the hindenburg is no exception to being boring. i remember that the story of the tragedy of the nazi zeppelin bursting into flames as it tried to dock was a big thing in the 1970s. as a kid i remember seeing the newsreels and hearing the radio announcer register his horror broadcast on tv. filmmaker wise i suppose attempted to latch on to the story and create a piece of fiction that will build up and up till the final pay-off.

so wise and his writers concocted a conspiracy theory. the zeppelin exploded thru the agency of conspirators who planted a bomb. scott's job as an actor was to uncover the conspiracy, find the bomb and save the day. but to get there the viewer had to sit thru reel upon reel of the cinematic equivalent of watching grass grow, paint dry or flies fucking.

it's that boring. i was lucky tonight. i caught the last half hour and didn't sit thru roughly an hour and half of tedium to get to explosion. wise spliced in the real newsreel footage with his movie. to pull that off he switched the film from color to black and white. wise probably thought by switching to black and white would lend his movie a certain weight, a gravitas, that would bring home the tragedy.

it sorta works. if a disaster movie can be sentimental tripe than this is as sentimental as a greeting card. by sentimentality i mean that the viewer's emotions are baldly and rankly manipulated. we are expected to feel the horror because the movie is telling us what is happening is horrible. to prove it the movie is in black and white, is using actual footage of the disaster, and also concludes with the actual recording of the radio announcer's grief in 1937.

oh, and there are little mugshots of the actors posted on the screen at the end with a narrator giving us a body count. oh and oh again, the narrator decries the possible causes of the explosion. one of those possibilities might be an act of sabotage. oh and oh and oh again, the last shot is a deep shot of a cloudy sky with an intact hindenburg flying into the middle distance only to slowly fade from the frame.

a b-movie par excellence. perfect for the drive-in. which is where i first saw it way back when. at the sac 6 drive-in. which is still, hallelujah, still in operation. the last of its kind in northern california. or one of the last. the weather is getting warmer. it is almost time to go to the drive-in. and watch some movies.


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