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  Juggernaut Cruisin' For A Bruisin'
Year: 1974
Director: Richard Lester
Stars: Richard Harris, Omar Sharif, David Hemmings, Anthony Hopkins, Shirley Knight, Ian Holm, Clifton James, Roy Kinnear, Caroline Mortimer, Freddie Jones, Roshan Seth, Kenneth Colley, Julian Glover, Mark Burns, John Stride, Andrew Bradford, Kenneth Cope
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 3 votes)
Review: As the HMS Britannic sets sail, everything appears to be going as normal, the only cloud on the horizon being the gales and storms over the ocean ahead. However, all is not well, as one of the directors of the cruise company discovers when he receives a telephone call from a man calling himself "Juggernaut", demanding a ransom of half a million pounds or else the seven bombs he has planted around the ship will be detonated. Immediately, bomb disposal expert Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) is called in, and he and his team are flown out over the Atlantic towards the ship. But the bomber is more devious than anyone could have imagined...

Sort of a cross between a disaster movie in the style popularised by Hollywood and an unpretentious Brit thriller, Juggernaut was written by the producer Richard DeKoker, with "additional dialogue" by Alan Plater which actually constituted an overhaul of the screenplay. Yet this is no British version of The Poseidon Adventure, it is less glossy and more human than that big budget blockbuster, and the people on the Britannic, from the passengers and crew to the disposal experts, are all painfully fallible, meaning the film has its share of surprises and twists to keep you off guard.

The ensemble cast is well chosen, headed by Harris as Fallon, a cynical but dedicated man who holds the lives of the 1,200 passengers in his steady hands. He has a realistic view of the job, knowing that at any moment he or his team may be blown to Kingdom Come simply by cutting the wrong wire, and Harris' earthy charm commands your attention: he was in his element as this sort of rough and ready hero. Contrast Fallon with the Captain (Omar Sharif), outwardly smooth but inwardly full of doubts, or the panicking company men led by Ian Holm who just want to pay the ransom.

Unfortunately for them, the government refuses to give in to terrorists, if indeed Juggernaut is a terrorist, so it's up to Fallon to save the day. All reason tells the company and disposal experts to give the bomber the money, and then track him down, but the authorities are just as good at putting lives in danger as the criminals. There are many tense scenes throughout, as you'd expect, with the disposal team trying to board the ship in terrible conditions (you get exhausted just watching them), and, of course, the sequences with dismantling each of the bombs, especially as they are liable to explode at any moment.

The emphasis on character has two effects: it brings out the sympathies with the potential victims, but also tends to hold up the action. The film makers are so fond of the colourful personalities that they almost become a distraction. Roy Kinnear, as the head of the ship's entertainment, is very funny ("All the fours - knickers!"), but by all rights he belongs in a comedy film. However, the actor is so good at delivering his strained optimism and gallows cheer that you can't imagine this project without his participation - and being a Richard Lester-directed movie, his appearance was practically mandatory.

No matter, the dialogue is consistently quirky ("I may be stupid but I'm not bloody stupid!" observes Fallon ruefully), and there are a wealth of unusual, engaging touches, such as the scene where the terrified passengers decide to take to the dance floor in a futile but touching act of defiance, starting to move reluctantly but quickly warming to the absurdity of it all. The result is that Juggernaut stands out as a determinedly unglamorous gem (that north Atlantic weather!) in the overrepresented field of all star suspense movies, with a wry view of the hapless, ordinary people caught between governments and terrorists that had a lot to say about the much-maligned and heavily beleaguered Britain of the seventies without labouring its points. Though they assuredly made a meal of the defusing scenes. Music by Ken Thorne.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Richard Lester  (1932 - )

American director, from television, in Britain whose initially zany style could give way to genuine suspense and emotion. After making his film debut with short The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, which featured Goons Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, he went on to throwaway projects like It's Trad, Dad and Mouse on the Moon. His next, however, was a smash hit all over the world: A Hard Day's Night, not least because it had The Beatles as stars.

Lester was at his most successful in the sixties and early seventies, with notable movies like The Knack, Beatles follow up Help!, stage adaptation A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, satire How I Won the War, romance Petulia, weird comedy The Bed Sitting Room, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers and very British disaster movie Juggernaut.

Efforts like Royal Flash, Robin and Marian, gay bathhouse comedy The Ritz and Cuba made less impact, but in the eighties Lester was called in to salvage the Superman series after Richard Donner walked off Superman II; Lester also directed Superman III. Finders Keepers was a flop comedy, and Return of the Musketeers had a tragic development when one of his regular cast, Roy Kinnear, died while filming. Lester then decided to give up directing, with Paul McCartney concert Get Back his last film.

 
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