If I had been alive in the 70s, I would have been terrified if I had ever found myself in the same general location of Paul Newman, William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Jacqueline Bisset, or Burgess Meredith. Just based on the movies that they spent that decade appearing in, it would appear that disaster followed them everywhere.
Both Paul Newman and William Holden were trapped in The Towering Inferno.
Ernest Borgnine and Red Buttons both ended up taking an unexpected Poseidon Adventure together.
Jacqueline Bisset was a flight attendant in the first Airport and nearly got killed by a mad bomber.
And finally, Burgess Meredith was a passenger on The Hindenburg.
Seriously, that’s a dangerously disaster-prone bunch of thespians!
So imagine how terrifying it must have been on the set of the 1980 film When Time Ran Out when all 6 of those actors — along with a lot of other disaster film veterans — were first gathered in one place. People were probably running for their lives, both on-screen and off.
When Time Ran Out takes place on an island in the South Pacific. Shelby Gilmore (William Holden, playing yet another ruthless but essentially good-hearted businessman) owns a luxury resort that happens to be sitting dangerously close to an active volcano. Oil rigger Hank Anderson (Paul Newman) is convinced that the volcano is about to erupt but Shelby’s son-in-law, Bob Spangler (James Franciscus), refuses to listen and claims that even if the volcano does blow, the resort will be safe.
(As a sidenote, why were William Holden’s son-in-laws always too blame in disaster movies? First, you had Richard Chamberlain in The Towering Inferno and now, it’s James Franciscus in When Time Ran Out…)
You can just look at the film’s title (When Time Ran Out!) and guess that Bob is probably wrong. However, Bob has other things on his mind. First off, he’s cheating on his neurotic wife (Veronica Hamel) with a native islander (Barbara Carrera) who happens to be married to the hotel’s general manager, Brian (Edward Albert). Brian also happens to be Bob’s half-brother and is therefore owed at least half of Bob’s fortune but nobody but Bob realizes that.
And, of course, there are other colorful guests at the hotel who will soon find themselves either fleeing from or drowning in molten lava. There’s a white-collar criminal (Red Buttons) who is being pursued by a detective from New York (Ernest Borgnine, of course). There’s also two retired tightrope walkers (Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortese) and you better believe that there’s going to be a scene where one of them is going to have to walk across a plank that happens to be suspended over a river a lava…
Eventually, that volcano does erupt and…well, let’s just say that When Time Ran Out is no Towering Inferno as far as the special effects are concerned. The scene where one random fireball flies out of the volcano and heads for the resort is particularly amusing for all the wrong reasons. Not only does the volcano apparently have perfect aim but it’s also painfully obvious that the fireball is streaking across a matte painting. This is the type of film where, when people plunge into a river lava, they do so with heavy lines visible around their flailing bodies. That, along with the cast’s obvious lack of interest in the material, adds up to make When Time Ran Out a film that is memorable for being so ultimately forgettable.
When Time Ran Out is something of a historical oddity because it was the last of the old 70s all-star disaster films. (This may have been released in 1980 but it’s a 70s film through and through.) The movie was such a monumental failure at the box office that it pretty much ended an era of disaster films.
For that reason, it also feels like an appropriate film with which to close out the 70s. Tomorrow, we’ll continue to embrace the melodrama with the 1980s.