Five Weeks in a Balloon

A stove on a hot air balloon provides the first controlled ascent without loss of gas or ballast, an exploration of East Africa from Zanzibar is canceled in order to plant the flag against slave traders in the West.

A very fine argument sustains the film throughout, though it went unnoticed in reviews that more or less observed the unusual style, giving a callous impression of what in Time passes for wit.


Rendezvous with Yesterday
The Time Tunnel

The man of genius proverbially lives in backward times, Allen’s nightmare allegory puts this to the proof, doubtless on the authority of Keaton’s The Projectionist.

The project under desert sands, involving thousands, is unrealized at the time of a senator’s visit, Dr. Newman takes the plunge to avert a cutoff. He lands on the Titanic.

Superb matte work and designs illuminate the set for performances by Susan Hampshire and Michael Rennie as passenger and captain.


The Swarm

The opening sequence resembles The Satan Bug and The Andromeda Strain, but has for its basis Seven Days in May. A swarm of gasmasked and helmeted figures in orange or white with flamethrowers cover an empty Air Force base, descend into its communications center and find all personnel dead. A civilian appears, and is arrested. Further investigation reveals that he is Dr. Crane (Michael Caine), an entomologist at the Institute for Advanced Study, and presently under White House authority to control the invasion of deadly bees. The military is obliged to back down and receive its orders from Dr. Crane. Gen. Slater (Richard Widmark) nevertheless secretly orders a dossier on him.

This is the decisive first scene that all the reviewers missed, and so for a quarter-century the film has lain under heaps of derision. The Swarm is Irwin Allen’s most ambitious masterpiece and his greatest film.

Near the base is the town of Marysville with its annual Flower Festival. The town is attacked and then evacuated by train. The fate of its citizens is depicted thematically, the train is attacked in a mountain pass, crashes and burns.

Dr. Krim (Henry Fonda) cultivates an antidote to the deadly venom, and in a crucial sequence he tests it on himself. Fine scenes between Fonda and Caine are mirrored in a dialogue between Jose Ferrer and Richard Chamberlain (who had just played Cyrano brilliantly on stage). Slim Pickens, who is capable of anything, gives a moving and heroic performance.

Camus’ novel The Plague or the bee-stung bull in Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc might have been the inspiration, though the ending is certainly an echo of Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin”, as also significantly of Panic in the City, and there are one or two evocations of The Birds.



Beyond the Poseidon Adventure

This is Allen topping himself with a brainstorm, what if the wreck of the Poseidon were torn between salvagers and marauders? After the Divina Commedia, the Harrowing of Hell and war in Heaven. Or perhaps the Šsthetic significance of Beyond the Poseidon Adventure is simply that of Frank Sinatra crooning “wake up and kiss that good life goodbye.”

Beckett on Proust compares the function of involuntary memory to a diver under water, bringing up treasures from “that ultimate and inaccessible dungeon of our being to which Habit does not possess the key, and does not need to, because it contains none of the hideous and useful paraphernalia of war.”

The charmingly inverted sets are back. Graham Greene has a story about children discovering the mammoth bones of a great ship. Our critics couldn’t find this movie in a theater with a ticket and an usher with a flashlight, in spite of having seen the original inspiration years before in “Passage on the Lady Anne” by Charles Beaumont (dir. Lamont Johnson) on The Twilight Zone. Fellini followed the same line of thinking and came up with E la nave va.

A statement by Angela Cartwright exhibits a little na´vetÚ on the subject, “I was disappointed in certain aspects of the film and in hindsight I realize it was really a film about water, fire and stunts.”