Juggernaut (1974)


(director: Richard Lester; screenwriters: Richard DeKoker/Alan Plater; cinematographer: Gerry Fisher; editor: Antony Gibbs; music: Ken Thorne; cast: Richard Harris (Commander Anthony Fallon), Omar Sharif (Captain Alex Brunel), David Hemmings (Charlie Braddock), Anthony Hopkins (Supt. John McCleod), Shirley Knight (Barbara Banister), Ian Holm (Nicholas Porter), Clifton James (Corrigan), Roy Kinnear (Social Director Curtain), Julian Glover (Commander Marder), Freddie Jones (Sidney Buckland), Caroline Mortimer (Mrs Mccleod), Mark Burns (1st Officer), Roshan Seth (Azad, waiter), Doris Nolan (Mrs. Corrigan); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Richard DeKoker/David V. Picker/Denis O’Dell; United Artists; 1974-UK)

“How prescient it all seems, the public caught between a government that refuses to give in to terrorists and terrorists who could care less if they kill innocent people.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superior disaster and thriller movie (two genres rolled into one) involving a materialistic terrorist calling himself Juggernaut and a team of military bomb disposal experts trying to defuse the bomb he planted before it explodes. The well-acted and well-researched thriller is directed with visual flare, good social commentary, a great sense of pacing and with much imagination by Richard Lester (“A Hard Day’s Night”/”Help!”/”Robin and Marian”). Writers Richard DeKoker and Alan Plater were inspired by a 1972 incident where a man phoned that he had planted a bomb on board the QE2 and demanded a ransom. The British Government send in soldiers of the Special Boat Service, who parachuted into the North Atlantic to search for the bomb. The threat turned out to be a hoax and the FBI later caught the culprit.

Nicholas Porter (Ian Holm) is the executive director of the transAtlantic luxury ocean liner the “Britannic” that just sailed from England for the States with 1,200 passengers and a large crew, when he receives a call at home from a person identifying himself as Juggernaut who claims to have planted in seven steel drums aboard the liner an amatol timed bomb device set to go off in 22 hours at dawn unless he receives a half-million pounds in ransom. The government authorities respond by having its top bomb-disposal team led by Lt. Commander Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) and second in command Charlie Braddock (David Hemmings) parachuted into the rough North Atlantic waters to board the ship during a time of gale force winds, while Scotland Yard does the leg work to see if they can track down Juggernaut and the liner director gathers the ransom money in case Plan A goes down the tubes.

The ship’s outwardly silky but inwardly demoralized married captain Alex Brunel (Omar Sharif) has to contend with a severely rocking boat as the newly fitted gyros don’t work, with satisfying the attention of his latest conquest the demanding married passenger traveling alone, Barbara Banister (Shirley Knight), and, of course, the news that because of the bad weather conditions the boat can’t be evacuated. The bumbling overweight social director (Roy Kinnear) throws a costume party at night to try and keep things normal, but his efforts seem ghoulish as in the background the passengers hear bombs exploding. But the stoic passengers on their own rise to the occasion, despite their fright, and carry on normal by dancing the night away. Another passenger traveling with her two youngsters to visit her sister in the States is Mrs McCleod (Caroline Mortimer), the wife of Supt. John McCleod (Anthony Hopkins), who has to contend with sea sickness until her fright cures her of that. Supt. John McCleod is on the job in London trying to round up suspects, while trying to mask his concerns about his family.

It has the dedicated, cynical, and wisecracking Fallon at the climax having to decide whether to cut the blue or red wire before the bomb detonates in a minute; while the captured terrorist (Freddie Jones), a disgruntled military pensioner, tells the cops you never treated me with the respect I deserved and never gave me the money a man of my talent deserved. Porter, evidently a liberal, tells the coppers “you make terrorists.” How prescient it all seems, the public caught between a government that refuses to give in to terrorists and terrorists who could care less if they kill innocent people. Though far from original, the material stands up because the film is so well-conceived and executed. I can’t think offhand of too many other mainstream action pics I enjoyed more and found as intelligently presented and offered a more maturely observed take on the human condition than the usual Hollywood gloss.