Until about six years ago, The Poseidon Adventure was my favorite “bad” movie. But writing about it, talking about it with trusted friends, and reading the comments of our own readers here made me change my mind. Back then I wrote, “The Poseidon Adventure has always been my secret shame—a movie I loved loved loved [but] assumed everyone else hated hated hated. My shame has abated recently, as I discovered that many other people share my love.”
It’s not that I no longer love The Poseidon Adventure; it’s that I realized it’s not a “bad” movie at all.
The Poseidon Adventure was quickly replaced in my little black heart by the hellish stinkfest that is The Oscar. I used to watch it once or twice a year when it showed up on Turner Classic Movies, but then those semi-regular airings disappeared. Were there rights issues? Did TCM finally realize what a turkey it was? The Oscar never even received a DVD release—just a cursory, cropped, miserable VHS transfer from Embassy Video in 1985. Kino-Lorber’s beautiful, new, restored Blu-ray is a godsend to lovers of cheesy cinematic so-bad-it’s-goodness.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I eventually found the film, split into nine separate 12-minute chunks, on the YouTube machine and used an application of questionable legality to download it onto my desktop as a series of MP4s. Each one looked terrible, as if it was sourced from a different print, and the sound levels shifted from ear-piercing to whisper-quiet with no rhyme or reason. This made my secret, private copy of The Oscar even harder to watch—as if the film’s narrative, dialogue, and performances were not already terrible enough. Delicious!
Why is this film so batshit crazy? The famous script was written by science-fiction wunderkind Harlan Ellison; it was a titanic failure that he had to live with for the rest of his life. A commentary track on the new disc—featuring Ellison friends Patton Oswalt, Josh Olson, and Erik Nelson—explains one of the reasons that the film is so odd. Apparently, Ellison’s script was almost 400 pages long and contained lengthy backstory and material that never made the final film. (The Kappy character, for instance, gets cancer and travels far away to seek treatment. I can finally sleep at night, knowing my Kappy Kwestions have been answered.)
NOTE: It is never a good sign when the most subtle, nuanced performance in your film is given by Milton Berle.
HYMIE: [thinking] You finally made it, Frankie! Oscar night! And here you sit, on top of a glass mountain called "success." You're one of the chosen five, and the whole town's holding its breath to see who won it. It's been quite a climb, hasn't it, Frankie? Down at the bottom, scuffling for dimes in those smokers, all the way to the top. Magic Hollywood! Ever think about it? I do, friend Frankie, I do...
GROBARD: You got a pretty feisty mouth.
FRANKIE: [shouting] And you got a glass head, I can see right through it!
It's how I know you're stupid!
LAUREL: Ever since we hit this town you've been living off me. If you think I'm gonna work my tail off so you can run around with the Village chicks... Oh, stop spreading the pollen around, Frankie… or else!
KAY: Frankie, you are rude and nasty, and impossible. Absolutely impossible.
FRANKIE: [shouting] Will you stop beating on my ears? I'm up to here with all this bring-down!
FRANKIE: [shouting] Speaking of broads, whatever happened to Laurel?
HYMIE: I married her.
FRANKIE: [shouting] Oh yeah? HOW IS SHE?
HYMIE: She died.
FRANKIE: [shouting] What'd you say?
HYMIE: I said she died.
KAY: If a woman doesn't treasure herself, how can a man treasure her?
FRANKIE: [shouting] You make my head hurt with all that poetry!
HYMIE: [narrating] Frankie found himself married, but he still couldn't change his feelings about women. So his only avenue was escape. He employed the slimy services of the Hymie Kelly Broad-Procuring agency. I was running out of numbers! He used 'em like Kleenex! Once, and threw 'em away!
JB [shouting]: Hey, why don’t all you crazy screwheads check out this nutty movie?
YOU MIGHT FIND YOURSELF ON THAT GLASS MOUNTAIN WE CALL SUCCESS!
[shouting louder] BUY THIS DISC—DON’T BE STUPID. DON’T FORCE ME TO SHOW YOU WHAT WE DO AROUND HERE WITH A GREENHORN WHO DON’T KNOW WHICH DISCS TO BUY AND WHICH ONES TO GIVE THE BIG BRUSH-OFF!
[waves hands insanely]
[Fade to black.]