Juggernaut (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bomb on a ship.

The Britannic, a luxury liner traveling in the North Atlantic and carrying 1,200 passengers, is threatened at being blown up by a unknown man who calls himself ‘Juggernaut’ and states that he has planted a bomb somewhere on the ship. The British government decides not to give into his demands for a ransom and instead flies in bomb expert Anthony Fallon (Richard Harris) who along with his team is assigned with dismantling the 7 bombs and are given little time to do it before they are set to explode.

This film follows the typical disaster flick formula, but it does it so damn well that I was riveted and entertained from the first minute to the last. Director Richard Lester is known for his comedy and implements it into all of his films even when the genre is action. Sometimes this doesn’t work Superman III is a good example where the campiness became too much, but here it makes for a nice balance. The tension is quite strong. The scenes involving the bomb dismantling are not only gripping, but fascinating as you learn the minute intricacies to the bomb mechanics. The extreme close-ups are excellent and make you feel like you are right there. Watching the demolition experts being dropped from a helicopter and into the cold ocean where they are to swim to the liner are impressively vivid. The story moves well and consistently brings in new twists.

Harris is fantastic as the sort of anti-hero. He is gruff, brash and irreverent yet he is good at what he does and knows how to do it. I found myself captivated with him and pulling for him emotionally. Unlike the cookie-cutter pretty boy heroes of most Hollywood movies this guy is real and rugged. I wish more movies could have this type of character in the lead.

The bad guy isn’t quite up to the same level. I liked how the film keeps his identity a mystery until near the end, which helps elevate the intrigue. His weird Scottish/Irish sounding accent heard over the phone is strange and I actually thought it was actor Harris doing it and I still think it might have been. The elaborate ploys used by the police to track him down as well as the culprits abilities to outfox them at seemingly every turn is engaging. It’s just a shame that when they finally catch him it wouldn’t have been for such a stupid oversight on his part, which ruins the mystic that is created and feels like a letdown. However, the final conversation that he has with Anthony over the phone is a gem.

British character actor Roy Kinnear is funny in his role as the ship’s social director. His vintage moment comes when he insists on having the scheduled masquerade party continue despite the fact that everyone becomes aware that the ship may explode at any minute. Kinnear’s patented nervous grin is put to great use here and practically steals the picture.

The supporting characters are above average. Normally in this genre these types of people end up being cardboard and clichéd, but here they were surprisingly multi-dimensional. The dialogue as a nice existential quality and the scenes where they discuss their potential and impending doom is never contrived or forced. I got a kick out of the two kids who were amusingly much more grounded and aware of things than the hyper adults.

If you are into compact suspense films that are tightly paced and without the loopholes and clichés then this film, which is loosely based on actual events, promises to be an entertaining two hours.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: September 25, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming 

2 responses to “Juggernaut (1974)

  1. Have had this one in my queue for awhile. Thought it looked good for a Forgotten Films review. Need to bump it up, I guess.

  2. Typically British “disaster” film with so much “stiff upper lip” you would think there’s nothing worse than a brief rain on the day of a picnic (as opposed to US films where half the cast is screaming and panicking at the first sign of trouble); after being notified they are sitting on a half dozen ticking time bombs the passengers go about their daily activities, sitting on the deck talking, playing games, going to parties.

    Add enough holes in the plot to remove any suspense and there’s little left.
    How did these fairly large drums, six of them, get on board? A throwaway line near the start, “there was no security”. Even so, how did they not end up in the cargo hold instead of six relatively secluded areas not open to the general public?
    Much is made of the “tremble switch” which will detonate the bombs if the drums are moved. One is shown near the end, when it is handled very gingerly. The ship is rolling in heavy seas through most of the movie, with people slipping and staggering on the decks, food trays sliding on tables, etc. (at one point Fallon asks the captain to slow the ship so it will be more stable) …yet all this violent motion, not to mention the shock of a couple of the bombs going off, doesn’t trigger this sensitive switch.
    Juggernaut is a bomb expert, certainly he knows a defusing crew will be brought aboard. So why does he construct all the bombs identically? (so once they defuse one they know how to do the rest) Logically you would use the same system but arranged differently and with different color coding on the wiring.

    Two stars for cast and for using a real cruise ship instead of sets, docked three stars for plot holes and lack of suspense.

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