Rollercoaster

  • 1977
  • Movie
  • PG
  • Thriller

What begins as a crackling-good high adventure peters out at the end--the result of management's decision to hold back on a spectacular closing sequence, not the authors' idea. The original idea was from child star Tommy Cook, then scripted by the two men who created TV's "Columbo" and wrote the teleplays for some excellent made-for TV movies, including...read more

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What begins as a crackling-good high adventure peters out at the end--the result of management's decision to hold back on a spectacular closing sequence, not the authors' idea. The original idea was from child star Tommy Cook, then scripted by the two men who created TV's "Columbo" and

wrote the teleplays for some excellent made-for TV movies, including MY SWEET CHARLIE and THAT CERTAIN SUMMER. Levinson and Link have been writing together since high school, more than 30 years ago, and this was their first full screenplay after having supplied the adaptation for THE HINDENBURG.

The picture opens at a seaside resort, an upscale version of Coney Island, where Bottoms is surreptitiously placing a small bomb under the tracks of the roller coaster that is the park's top attraction. Dissolve to evening. The place is packed to capacity with revelers. Bottoms watches as the cars

go through their paces, then he electronically sets off the bomb, and the result is a terrible crash with innocent victims being sent to their deaths and falling on the crowds below. Fonda is the local chief of the city's Standards and Safety Department, and he sends an underling, Segal, to see if

this accident was caused by a dereliction of the park's duty to keep the rides in good condition. Segal, in a role not unlike the one he played in NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY, is a nervous type, trying to quit smoking and also attempting to keep his emotions in check after having been shed by his wife,

Tristan. The preliminary investigation seems to indicate that this was an accident. A short while later, another amusement facility is burned down in Pennsylvania. Segal begins to snoop around and discovers that the proprietors of both parks have traveled to Chicago at the same time. Segal goes to

the hotel where they are staying and learns that five parks have been the recipients of cassette tapes from an extortionist who wants $1 million from them to cease and desist. The owners--McGarvin, Redecker, Basch, and Peterson--discuss the matter as they are being eavesdropped upon by Bottoms as

well as Segal. Segal tells the owners that they have a formidable opponent in this nut-case. Widmark, the head of a government department, arrives and takes Segal off the project. Segal goes home to California, but Bottoms, who heard every word Segal said in the room (by using an electronic

listening device), likes Segal and thinks that he is the only one attached to this crime who has a scintilla of brains. Bottoms communicates with the owners and says he'll accept the million only if Segal delivers it. The exchange is to take place at a Virginia amusement park, and Segal is tapped

for the assignment, over Widmark's carping. Segal is given a two-way radio and told to tune it to a certain frequency and await further instructions. Bottoms begins giving Segal orders as the man with the money is sent all around the Virginia park, going on ride after ride, purchasing food, etc.

Bottoms is watching Segal every inch of the way, and despite the many operatives in the park, Bottoms gets away with the money on a daring snatch. When Bottoms sees that the money is all marked, he is enraged and phones Segal to tell him that he is now about to unleash his explosive equipment in a

spectacular display. But he won't say where this will happen. More deducing from Segal (which is an unlikely leap of faith) determines that the park where Bottoms will strike next must be Magic Mountain in the Los Angeles suburb of Valencia. It could have been Coney Island's "Cyclone" or any of

several other parks or roller coasters, but Segal manages to convince Widmark that MM is the location because the approaching Fourth of July weekend will see the initiation of "Revolution," a spectacular new ride. ("Revolution" has a total loop in it and is, in fact, among the very best coasters

ever built.) The park is filled with agents dressed in janitorial clothes. Sure enough, Segal was right. The bomb is found and rendered harmless. Bottoms watches this and decides that it isn't over until it's over, so he builds another bomb, gets on the coaster for its very first ride, and puts

the new bomb under his seat. Segal is there waiting when the inaugural riders disembark and are questioned by reporters. He recognizes Bottoms' voice, and they are about to close in when Bottoms holds up his electronic detonator for all to see. The ride has taken off again and is filled with many

innocent people, all of whom will be killed if Bottoms presses the button that will kaboom the bomb under the seat. Bottoms wants a gun given to him and safe passage out of the park where he is now surrounded. A radio expert (Steffens) jams the frequency, and Bottoms, knowing the game is over,

tries to run away. Segal wounds him with a shot, Bottoms runs for the coaster and climbs it, then is killed when hit by the cars as they race along the track. Widmark, who has been a grim-faced cynic the entire time, wants to finally thank Segal, but Segal, who has developed a respect for Bottoms

during the picture, feels awful and walks away. The movie used Universal's "Sensurround" sound technique, which was so well done in the studio's EARTHQUAKE and MIDWAY. Here it is expertly utilized to excellent advantage. The script is more than unusually intelligent for this type of picture and

owes more to the suspense films of Hitchcock than the blatant disaster epics by Irwin Allen. When director Goldstone is good, he can be superior, as in this picture. When he is bad, as in SWASHBUCKLER and THE GANG THAT COULDN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT, he is just miserable. The "Sensurround" equipment is

expensive, about $2000 each, and many theaters did not have it, so the sound effects were lost on many ears. Producer Lang cast his wife, singer Monica Lewis, in a small role. Other cameos worth mentioning are Henry Olek, who later became a writer and has a credit on Steve Martin's ALL OF ME;

Michael Bell, who is seldom seen in films but is a hugely successful voice-over actor who made a fortune saying "butter" in the Parkay margarine commercials; and Charlie Tuna, a local LA radio disk jockey with an enormous following. Location shooting took place at Magic Mountain; King's Dominion

in Richmond, Virginia; and Ocean View in Norfolk. Fonda had very little to do in the movie, and one wonders why he took the job. One of the picture's problems is that Bottoms' character is never truly developed. His motivation is money, not mania, and the fact that he served in Vietnam is tossed

in as an attempt to motivate his actions. Lost in all the action is Strasberg, as Segal's girl friend, and Hunt, as his daughter. With a little more attention paid to Bottoms and a bit more of a finale, this would have done far better business than the $12 million or so that it garnered.

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  • Released: 1977
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: What begins as a crackling-good high adventure peters out at the end--the result of management's decision to hold back on a spectacular closing sequence, not the authors' idea. The original idea was from child star Tommy Cook, then scripted by the two men… (more)

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