Juggernaut (1974)

Juggernaut (1974), directed by Richard Lester.

Seven barrel bombs have been placed on an ocean liner by a villain who knows what he is doing. He'll trade defusing instructions for cash. The clock is ticking. Gale force winds prevent evacuation of the passengers by lifeboat, so it is time to parachute in the bomb squad and see if they can apply their combined wit and white-knuckled craft.

This is an unusual action project for Lester, more accustomed to absurd comedies and costume pictures. He was an emergency hire after the first two directors quit, but he still had time for a complete rewrite of the script. He said it was fun to make and fun to watch.

How well does it work? It has a good cast with Richard Harris a standout as the bomb squad leader. The use of a real ships and docks helps the story quite a lot. Love of commandos and particularly of the bomb disposal squads is embedded in British mythology, particularly since the Blitz when unexploded bombs were a daily menace.

Given all that it seems like a half-baked effort, something like When Eight Bells Toll (1971) or Force 10 from Navarone (1978) (both Alistair MacLean stories, as it happens). The passengers are relatively unconcerned, even continuing with their costume ball in the face of sudden fiery death. It is harder on the policemen back home, hunting for the bomber. The bomb squad have to appear cool no matter what they are feeling.

The cast:

Part of the plot is that all seven bombs have identical triggers. A serious mad bomber would have varied the design.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino.

Steven Soderbergh's book Getting Away With It has many interviews with Lester, interleaved with diary passages from a neurotically wry filmmaker.

Lester is both casual and confident by comparison. He works fast and doesn't wring his hands with indecision. The only feedback he values is from his editor.

In Soderbergh's opinion, Lester has produced:

Three Masterpieces

Four Classics

Six Worthwhile Divertissements

Three Really Fascinating Films That Get Better With Age