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GEORGE C. SCOTT HEADING FOR DISASTER IN 'THE HINDENBURG'

title: The Hindenburg year: 1975 cast: George C. Scott, William Atherton, Roy Thinnes, Burgess Meredith rating: ***
1970's 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. 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 gone up 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 in THE HINDENBURG
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 these 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. 
Gig Young, suspect in THE HINDENBURG
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? 

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.   
Burgess Meredith and Ann Bancroft in THE HINDENBURG
What’s needed now is a love interest — well there’s one, sort of. THE GRADUATE temptress Anne Bancroft is a classy opium-smoking 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 as a 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.
William Atherton, suspect in THE HINDENBURG
Despite the flaws, director Robert Wise provides a few nice suspenseful scenes: one includes part of the zeppelin’s hull ripping apart 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 in today’s standards, make the titular vessel seem both 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 a final shot for George C. Scott in THE HINDENBURG
And then the disaster itself — the Hindenburg’s inevitable crash onto the landing pad… And what the audience is waiting for, and basically, what everyone paid to see happen, happening...

Shot in black-and-white with flashes and choppily edited photographs, the special effects aren’t only rushed and somewhat cheap but almost non-existent: providing an anti-climactic conclusion and making those scenes when George C. Scott remained in the dark really matter.
Roy Thinnes, suspect in THE HINDENBURG
Jean Rasey signs on board in THE HINDENBURG
Lists of the Dead and the Alive, and THE DOG LIVES in THE HINDENBURG
Full shot of the Hindenburg matte painting from THE HINDENBURG

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