Written by / 11/26/2012 / 2 Comments / , , , , , ,

THE HINDENBURG

year: 1975 cast: George C. Scott, William Atherton, Roy Thinnes, Burgess Meredith rating: ***
Disaster films have several things in common: they all wind up with a disaster and each has a bevy of famous actors playing people that will either live or die.

In THE TOWERING INFERNO everyone wound up on the top of a high-rise that caught on fire. In TITANIC, people of all classes boarded a really big boat headed for an icy doomsday and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE provided an eclectic lot on a tipped-over ship, desperately searching for daylight.

Here we have THE HINDENBURG, based on the actual German Zeppelin that crash landed in 1937. “Oh the humanity” indeed… The infamous visual of the blimp crashing in flames embodies the real life tragedy – a nightmare image for the history books and thus becoming another Hollywood film.  
George C. Scott as Ritter
After a documentary reel describing the origin of the hot air balloon, the first act is somewhat dull since not all the peripheral characters are worthy investments. These include society folk, an entertainer, a Dalmatian, and Germans under the growing Third Reich.

But a few of the Germans are wary of Hitler, especially George C. Scott’s “Ritter,” a reluctant rogue specialist sent aboard the aircraft as a surreptitious security guard. William Atherton’s former Hitler Youth member and Roy Thinnes charming Nazi agent know that Ritter’s someone to keep their eyes on – and vice versa. 

So now we have two prime suspects, but for what exactly? The Hindenburg’s demise was said to be the cause of a lethal combination of electricity and hydrogen, but we’re dealing with not only a fictionalized account but an espionage tale… How else do you spend 90 minutes aboard a vessel we know will crash without suspense, intrigue, and most important of all, mystery?
Roy Thinnes is a most likely suspect
That’s when (and how) the pace picks up – Ritter honing in on which passenger could be the person that had, days earlier, threatened to sabotage the craft. Other suspects include Gig Young as a greedy salesman and Burgess Meredith as a rich gambler. Although it’s really Atherton’s wily Boerth, sneaking around the craft’s upper decks in a very suspicious manner, that seems the prime target.   

What’s needed now is a love interest – well there’s one, sort of. THE GRADUATE temptress Anne Bancroft is an opium smoking classy German who flirts with Scott, but that’s as far as it goes. He’s too busy investigating and they had little chemistry to begin with.

Bancroft, like many of the passengers and crew, including Charles Durning’s hard nosed pilot and Katherine Helmond’s snotty socialite, are a wasted lot. Perhaps because, unlike INFERNO or POSEIDON, they don’t have specific goals or relationships to make their characters intriguing once the stakes are raised. 
Burgess Meredith and Anne Bancroft
Despite the flaws, director Robert Wise provides a few nice suspenseful scenes: one includes part of the zeppelin’s hull ripping and two soldiers having to repair it. Here we see dynamic Matte paintings of the craft soaring through blue skies, providing special effects that, while not perfect to today’s standards, make the titular sky-bus seem enormous and ominous.

Another has Ritter, in James Bond mode, having to disarm the bomb that could send the craft, and everyone on board, into oblivion. The Oscar Winning actor wields his usual edgy prowess, and is finally, in a movie full of paper cutouts, someone to actually root for.     
Special effects of the 1970's were a blessed thing
And then the disaster itself – the Hindenburg’s inevitable crash onto the landing pad… And what the audience is waiting for...

Shot in black and white with flashes and choppily edited photographs, the special effects aren’t only rushed and cheap looking but practically non-existent: providing an anti-climactic conclusion and making those scenes when George C. Scott remained in the dark really matter. 
Jean Rasey signs on board
Gig Young, suspect
Roy Thinnes, suspect
William Atherton, suspect
List of dead and alive... and the dog lives!
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2 comments:

  1. I LOVED this movie. I remember seeing this the first weekend in the movie theater and at the end when they show who survived and who didn't, when the dog picture popped up the whole theater roared with applause!

    It's funny that you just reviewed this because I was looking it up on Netflix last night because I had a heavy jonesing to watch this movie again. This is another one of those movies that I saw repeatedly in the movie theater. I'm not sure how my uncle kept his sanity seeing some of the movies I loved over and over again. It helps when we would see up to 4 or movies in a weekend though.

    ReplyDelete
  2. After having checked ole Netflix, they don't have the DVD or streaming available for this movie. I am highly disconcerted. Now I HAVE to watch this movie.

    Great review as always sir.

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