Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott, fiery, independent-minded minister
aboard the S.S. Poseidon en route Athens, New Year’s Eve 1972
Film: The Poseidon Adventure
Release Date: December 12, 1972
Director: Ronald Neame
Costume Designer: Paul Zastupnevich
Happy New Year’s Eve… and #TurtleneckThursday? After this disaster of a year, I can’t think of a better movie to bid good riddance to 2020 than one of the most famous disaster movies of the ’70s.
Produced by “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen, The Poseidon Adventure followed the Airport template of a star-studded cast fighting to survive a perilous disaster while tackling their own personal issues. While Airport had originated the disaster film boom of the ’70s, The Poseidon Adventure proved its enduring box office power, recouping more than 25 times its initial budget and paving the way for a decade’s worth of similar stories set amidst tropical storms, within fire-prone skyscrapers, and even aboard a famous airship.
Unlike the ill-fated Titanic which sank during its maiden voyage in 1912, the fictional S.S. Poseidon—partially filmed aboard the decommissioned Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary—is making one last run before it will be scrapped in Athens. The cautious Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) finds his authority challenged by the ship’s aggressive owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff), establishing the dangers of hubris that would remain a consistent theme throughout the disaster sub-genre.
Down in the ship’s elegant dining room, the Poseidon‘s glamorous passengers are celebrating New Year’s Eve amidst their own personal dramas or crises of faith. Seated at the captain’s table are New York detective Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), his ex-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens), and Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a controversial cleric yet popular passenger who had captivated a congregation earlier that day with his religious philosophy said to be based on director Ronald Neame’s own hybrid of Christian, Buddhist, and New Age spiritualist beliefs.
While the champagne pops and auld acquaintances be forgot, the crew learns of a massive undersea earthquake that results in a rare wave that strikes the ship broadside, capsizing the S.S. Poseidon and quite literally turning the lives of its passengers upside down.
We’re floating upside-down… we’ve gotta climb up.
While most of their fellow passengers follow the boorish purser’s overly cautious advice, Rev. Scott pulls a small group together to commandeer a decorative Christmas tree to climb up and out of the dining room and through the galley to potential freedom. The good reverend is only able to muster nine others that will join him to work their way up—or down, rather—into the ship’s intestines until they can attempt to cut their way out through the inch-thick steel hull to possible rescue. Belle Rosen (Shelley Winters), who insists that “a fat woman like me can’t climb” asks, “There’s something different up there than there is down here?”
“Yes,” Rev. Scott responds. “Life. Life is up there, and life always matters very much, doesn’t it?”
I love Hackman’s take-charge attitude, an alpha energy that won’t be suppressed by his super-’70s combover and seems to win him the affection of every woman on the ship… though it’s only Mrs. Rosen with whom he comes close to, uh, “getting familiar” as he gives her considerably more than a helping hand on her way up the crooked Christmas tree. After that, it’s a surreal, inverted hellscape through dimly lit corridors and air shafts, years before John McClane made it cool.
The Poseidon Adventure marked a rare occasion where the Academy seemed to have responded to a film’s box office rather than its critical reputation (or Oscar bait properties) as the movie described by Roger Ebert as “the kind of movie you know is going to be awful, and yet somehow you gotta see it” received a total of nine Academy Award nominations, winning two for Best Song and Best Visual Effects. Despite Ebert’s perhaps hyperbolic statement, The Poseidon Adventure isn’t necessarily awful, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it when I first watched it a few years ago before. Prior to that, I was only familiar with it from one of the prolific Mort Drucker’s parodies in my stack of vintage Mad magazines.
This recap by Ruthless Reviews sums up a lot of what makes The Poseidon Adventure so rewatchable… as well as being the movie that reinforces to me that Jack Albertson and Arthur O’Connell were two different actors.
What’d He Wear?
Reverend Scott appears for dinner at the captain’s table in a plain black wool suit over an off-white turtleneck, a look that evokes seafaring if less formal than his dinner-suited shipmates.
Apropos his modest vocation, Reverend Scott seems like the type who would not invest heavily or frequently in clothes. The slim, narrowly notched lapels of his single-breasted suit jacket suggest that it predates the early ’70s, likely made during the mid-to-later years of the prior decade. The 3/2-roll jacket has two buttons on the cuffs, a single vent, straight flapped hip pockets, and a breast pocket that our humble hero naturally wears sans ornamentation.
Rather than a dress shirt and bow tie like his fellow passengers or even a clerical collar like chaplain John (Arthur O’Connell), Reverend Scott appears at dinner in a simple cream-colored turtleneck that gets progressively dirtier and more damaged over the course of the eponymous adventure, until the right shoulder is completely torn away. The sweater has a ribbed roll-neck and cuffs and a jersey-knit body.
Reverend Scott’s suit has matching black wool flat front trousers with straight pockets along the side seams, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms. He holds them up with a black leather belt that closes through a shiny gold-toned square single-prong buckle.
Unsurprisingly, Reverend Scott chooses ordinary footwear for his outfit, a pair of black leather derby shoes worn with black socks. By this point in the early 1970s, loafers were finding increased acceptance with suits and even evening-wear—particularly among Americans—though wearing lace-ups would ultimately serve Frank well as they’d be more likely to remain on his feet throughout his ordeal.
Earlier that day, chaplain John had asked Reverend Scott to serve as guest preacher during Sunday services (and, indeed, December 31 fell on a Sunday in 1972.) Frank had dressed similarly for the sermon, in a navy serge sports coat over a gray turtleneck with charcoal trousers, the daytime alternative to his nighttime turtleneck and suit.
Paul Zastupnevich lost the Academy Award for Best Costume Design to Anthony Powell for Travels With My Aunt, but Zastupnevich would get several more opportunities to dress the decade’s biggest stars for disasters as the costume designer for The Towering Inferno and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. Zastupnevich was born December 24, 1921, in Homestead, Pennsylvania, just a stone’s throw from where I live in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
How to Get the Look
Reverend Frank Scott was one of the coolest priests this side of Fleabag thanks to Gene Hackman’s confidence, charm, and costume that swapped out a clerical collar for a hip turtleneck under an otherwise priestly black suit.
- Black wool ’60s-era suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with narrow notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Flat front trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, jetted back pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Cream-colored turtleneck with ribbed roll-neck and set-in sleeves
- Black leather belt with gold-toned square single-prong buckle
- Black leather cap-toe derby shoes
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie. I also dig Ernest Borgnine’s festive and creative black tie ensemble, but we’ll save that exploration for a future New Year’s Eve!
What more do you want of us? We’ve come all this way, no thanks to you. We did it on our own, no help from you. We didn’t ask you to fight for us, but damn it, don’t fight against us!