Krakatoa: East of Java (1968)


(director: Bernard L. Kowalski; screenwriter: Bernard Gordon/Cliff Gould; cinematographer: Manuel Berenguer; editor: Walter Hannemann/Warren Low/Maurice Rootes; music: Frank De Vol; cast: Maximilian Schell (Hanson), Diane Baker (Laura), Brian Keith (Connerly), Barbara Werle (Charley), John Leyton (Rigby), J.D. Cannon (Dauzig), Sal Mineo (Leoncavallo Borghese), Rossano Brazzi (Giovanni Borghese); Runtime: 131; MPAA Rating: G; producers: William R. Forman/Lester A. Sansom/Philip Yordan; Anchor Bay Entertainment; 1969)

“The script by Bernard Gordon and Cliff Gould is a man-made disaster.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title was changed to Volcano after many filmgoers with a sense of geography pointed out that Krakatoa is west of Java. Krakatoa is the island site of the 1883 volcanic eruption known as the world’s most spectacularly recorded natural disaster that sent shock waves across the globe seven times: the blast was heard 3,000 miles away, produced a massive tidal wave that reached over 40 meters high, and caused the death of over 36,000. Its place in film lore is that it might be the first big blockbuster type of disaster film (preceding Airport-1970) and it’s the only disaster film presented in the Cinerama widescreen format. The film’s best features are due to the Oscar winning special effects by Alex Weldon and Eugene Lourie. The pyrotechnics, volcanic eruptions, typhoon, fireballs and the climactic tidal wave are awesome. The narrative and the acting are underwhelming. The directing by television director Bernard Kowalski (“Macho Callahan”) is disastrous. The script by Bernard Gordon and Cliff Gould is a man-made disaster.

Since the disaster doesn’t seem enough of a story for the filmmakers, there are tacked on tales about a mutiny, sunken treasure, deep sea divers, a new type of diving bell, balloonists, the search for a lost orphan boy, nuns, convicts, a fire and, if that weren’t enough, it tosses in a little strip-tease.

It tells a muddled adventure story of a disparate group sailing from Singapore together in 1883 on the Batavia Queena for a treasure hunt of pearls off the coast of the volcanic island of Krakatoa, under the command of Captain Hanson (Maximilian Schell), on the info of his mentally unstable girlfriend Laura (Diane Baker). Her jealous husband Captain Rigby (John Leyton) went down with the pearls and kept Laura’s little boy after her affair, and she claims to know the spot where the ship sunk.

If you’re a fan of disaster films that are really disasters, this mindless spectacular one has all the requisite ingredients. It has one-dimensional characters (not one character in the film is worth talking about), banal dialogue and, to hold your attention, a ratching up of the tension for its climax that the volcanic island of Krakatoa might erupt after being still for 200 years.

The film was not a box office success and was panned by the critics. Seen outside of its original Cinerama presentation on a theatre screen, it seems today like an oddball film that never had a chance to be a treasure.