Though he was prolific on both the big and small screens (creating a handful of classic sci-fi series in the 1960s), producer Irwin Allen became synonymous with the “disaster” film genre of the 1970s, a genre that pretty much belonged to that dynamic decade. Allen’s biggest 1970s hits were THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), but by 1980, the big budget cinema of catastrophe had tired at the box office and was now the lampooned subject of a hit (and now classic) spoof called AIRPLANE. Allen tried one more time, employing the usual big name stars, respected screenwriters Carl Foreman and Stirling Silliphant, along with the required explosive special effects, but WHEN TIME RAN OUT… was largely ignored by the moviegoing public. In tribute to the film’s late, great leading man, Warner has now issued it on DVD as part of their “Paul Newman Film Series.”
The possibility of an active volcano is threatening a south Pacific island resort and nobody seems to care despite the early warnings from an oil drilling foreman (Paul Newman). A fancy hotel (owned by a wealthy hotelier played by an ailing William Holden) is receiving an array of guests, while a greedy, philandering land developer (James Franciscus, THE CAT O NINE TAILS) doesn’t believe there’s any real danger even after the volcano starts heaving lava. It’s up to the sensible foreman to take control and lead a modest catalog of young and old folks out of harm’s way, while various panic-stricken residents and vacationers fight for survival during the violent eruption and a tidal wave that infiltrates the island. The film was shot primarily on location in Hawaii, and it does manage to make scenic use of the beautiful locales.
After THE TOWERING INFERNO, Newman was contractually obligated to do one more film for Allen, and its obvious that he’s disinterested as evidenced by his unenthusiastic performance. He’s basically here for marquee billing, as his character gives romance a second chance with the lovely Jacqueline Bisset, knocks around bad-guy James Franciscus and saves some cute orphaned kids and some other survivors, much like Gene Hackman did in POSEIDON. Speaking of which, the film borrows a lot of elements from other disaster films with its threadbare plot, and there are several love triangles present: William Holden loves Jackie Bissett, who loves Paul Newman and Veronica Hamel (“Hill Street Blues”) loves husband James Franciscus who lusts after Barbara Carrera who is loved by Edward Albert.
As clichéd as the events are and as talky as the first half is, there’s still some fun and unintentional laughs to be had (see selfish cretins dropping from an out of control copter), and the special effects (still long before the CGI conquest of Hollywood) hold up well today. And of course, there are all those additional stars with various back stories. Ernest Borgnine is an aging NYC cop on the trail of delinquent bond salesman Red Buttons (both reunited from POSEIDON) who makes amends when Borgnine is injured (you get to see his stuntman set on fire). Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortese (THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH) are a husband-and-wife team of retired tight wire artists, and this convenient acrobatic talent comes in handy (at least for him) during the climatic, studio-bound scene which involves a crumbling walkway bridge over a pit of spitting lava. Other familiar faces include Alex Carras, John Considine and Pat Morita! If you can believe it, WHEN TIME RAN OUT… was nominated for an Oscar for “Best Costume Design” but lost.
Finally making its way to DVD, Warner has decided to release the short version of the film, as there’s a longer television version known as “Earth’s Final Fury” (this is also strange since Warner released an extended version of Allen’s THE SWARM some years ago). What’s also odd is that the theatrical version is supposed to run 121 minutes, but what’s presented here only runs 109 minutes. Even though the expanded version was previously available on VHS, this is the first time the film has been presented on home video in its original 2.35:1 Scope ratio, here with anamorphic enhancement. The picture boasts excellent detail and nice-looking colors, and aside from an occasional speck, is virtually blemish free. The mono audio nicely mixes dialog, sound effects and Lalo Schifrin’s stirring but sometimes overdramatic score. Optional English and French subtitles are included, but there are no extras, not even a trailer. (George R. Reis)
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