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Earthquake (1974) Poster

(1974)

Trivia

The producer, Jennings Lang, offered a cameo role to his friend Walter Matthau, which Matthau accepted without compensation, on the condition that he be billed under his "real name" (which it's not), "Walter Matuschanskyasky". Matthau's role was originally scripted as "a drunk sits at the end of the bar", which was expanded by writer George Fox, giving the character lines of dialogue (involving toasts to celebrities). When the film was completed, as agreed by Lang and Matthau, "The Drunk" was credited as "Walter Matuschanskayasky". This lead to a long-standing, but false, rumor that "Matuschanskayasky" was Matthau's real name.
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Jump to: Spoilers (1)
In a bizarre coincidence, the location on the first day of shooting was rocked by an earthquake. In an even more bizarre coincidence, an earthquake also struck the location where the last day of shooting occurred.
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In the scene where Stewart Graff (Charlton Heston) is running lines with Denise (Geneviève Bujold), the script he is holding is actually for this movie, and is on the page for the scene being shown.
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From the outset, this movie was designed to be an event film, ultimately settling on the Sensurround gimmick. But at one point, it was seriously entertained that chunks of polystyrene should be dropped on the unsuspecting viewers during the quake itself.
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Sensurround was only used three more times, on Midway (1976), Rollercoaster (1977), and Battlestar Galactica (1978).
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Shots of the "Black Tower" (a twelve-story office building on the movie lot) swaying was accomplished by shooting its reflection in a mirror, and then warping the mirror back and forth. This sequence was shot as a test prior to production, and wound up in the final film as an in-joke at Universal Studios' expense. At the time, the "Black Tower" housed Universal's top executives.
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The United Artists Theater in Chicago, Illinois was forced to shut off the Sensurround speakers when small pieces of plaster from the ceiling fell on audience members. The same thing happened to the Bethany Theater in Phoenix, Arizona.
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John Williams composed the score to this and The Towering Inferno (1974) concurrently. Having previously scored The Poseidon Adventure (1972), he briefly earned the nickname "King of the Disaster Scores".
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Before stereo television sound was commonplace, NBC aired the movie with the soundtrack simulcast on local FM radio stations, so that viewers could re-create "Sensurround" at home.
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The television premiere of the 123 minute movie was scheduled by NBC to air in September, 1976, and was going to kick off the network's new series of "Big Events" that fall. The theatrical version was too long to fill the "Big Event's" two hour time slot (with commercials), so NBC needed to air the film over two nights, one week apart. By doing this, the theatrical film was now long enough to spread out over the two night slot, so NBC contacted Universal Studios to re-insert footage shot for the theatrical film that was initially "left on the cutting room floor." As only a few minutes of this original footage could be included (mainly an opening about the San Andreas Fault and a short scene with Reb Brown and Victoria Principal), Universal gave NBC permission to write and film new sequences, and insert them into the theatrical version to create a two-night "television version." An entirely new plot line involving a structural engineer husband Sam Chew Jr. and wife Debralee Scott flying to Los Angeles to interview with Stewart Graff was inserted (the plane nearly crashes when trying to land at Los Angeles International Airport during the earthquake). In addition, original cast members Victoria Principal and Marjoe Gortner were re-hired to shoot additional scenes to expand their character's plot line from the original film, as were Jesse Vint and Michael Richardson for a short scene in a pawn shop. Various other small edits were made to the theatrical version (mainly to edit for content). When aired in this format, the first night of the film ended in a "cliffhanger" format in the middle of the earthquake.
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At the time, this set the record for the biggest number of stunt people employed on one movie, with a total of one hundred forty-one.
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Some of the scenes of panicking extras in the movie theater is footage from Torn Curtain (1966).
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Once production commenced, it was discovered that Warner Brothers were also working on a disaster movie at the same time. Not only that, but they had teamed up with 20th Century Fox to make the big budget extravaganza, which turned out to be The Towering Inferno (1974).
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Mario Puzo contributed the first draft of the screenplay, which bothered many of the executives at Universal Pictures, because it was so multi-layered with numerous characters. A re-write was required to bring the budget down, but Puzo was suddenly unavailable to do it when Paramount Pictures greenlit The Godfather: Part II (1974).
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Ava Gardner surprised Director Mark Robson by insisting that she do her own stunt work, including dodging blocks of concrete and heavy steel pipes.
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The movie that Rosa (Victoria Principal) is watching in the theater is High Plains Drifter (1973).
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As part of a new marketing gimmick to promote action and disaster movies in the 1970s, theaters were asked to install a new audio system called "Sensurround". Sensurround produced a low frequency sound vibration along theater seats giving an audience the feeling of being in the movie. For this movie, when there was an earthquake, Sensurround would vibrate the seats like an actual earthquake. Unfortunately, the speaker system was a custom job that often required removing a couple of rows of seats, and it was expensive. It was used for a few more films throughout the rest of the 1970s, but after theaters received structural damage, patrons got ill from the experience, and nearby businesses complained of noise pollution, Sensurround was halted.
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Ava Gardner agreed to appear in the film, primarily because she wanted to spend the summer in Los Angeles that year.
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The crash that motorcycle daredevil Miles Quade has coming out of the loop on the stunt track was not scripted, but an actual spill taken by stuntman Bud Ekins. Ekins was uninjured, and the crash was worked into the final cut.
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There were documented cases of nosebleeds occurring amongst audience members because of the Sensurround system.
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Many scenes shot for the movie were left on the cutting room floor (over thirty minutes' worth). Notable scenes include: additional footage of Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and Lloyd Nolan (specifically, a subplot involving a previous abortion by Gardner's character); George Kennedy (after his character, Officer Lew Slade, is suspended by the police Captain); Barry Sullivan and Kip Niven (whose seismologist characters survive the quake, and discuss the magnitude); and Geneviève Bujold (her character, Denise Marshall, shows up to a movie studio for her "bit part" in a movie, only to be turned away due to quake damage on the set). Additional stunt sequences during the earthquake were also deleted.
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For the television version, scenes of the fire engines pulling up to a building on fire after the foreshocks, are stock shots borrowed from both Hawaii Five-O (1968) and Emergency!: One of Those Days (1975).
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The part of Miles Quade (Richard Roundtree) was originally written for an Italian-American. Joe Namath and Richard Dreyfuss were considered before the character was re-imagined.
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Lorne Greene was only 7 years 10 months and two weeks older than his on-screen daughter Ava Gardner.
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Producers travelled to Europe to interest Audrey Hepburn for the role of Remy Royce-Graff. Audrey had been retired from films for nearly ten years at this point, and did not like the dialogue of the character, nor the physical requirements of the film role, and turned the producers down. The part of Remy Royce-Graff was filled at the last minute by Ava Gardner after filming had already started.
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A sequel, "Earthquake II", was planned, and a first draft of the script was written by George Fox, who wrote the script for this movie, but it never made it into development. The sequel follows several of the surviving characters of this movie: George Kennedy, Victoria Principal, Richard Roundtree, and Gabriel Dell, as they settle in San Francisco, California. The multitiered plot centers on a group of scientists trying to predict future earthquakes on the west coast, a corrupt builder constructing high rise apartments on unstable land, and the original characters adjusting to new relationships (George Kennedy and Principal) and new business ventures (Richard Roundtree and Gabriel Dell). An unexpected, massive earthquake hits off the coast of San Francisco, levelling the city, as a tsunami threatens to wash the Bay Area off the map. Completed in late 1975, the script went through several channels at Universal (up to Sid Sheinberg) and the project was active up until early 1977 ("EQII" and Rollercoaster (1977) were in pre-production simultaneously) but the "EQII" project was killed. This original script was discovered in 2005 in Director Mark Robson papers stored in the UCLA Film and Television Archives.
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Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were approached to star, but had already committed to appear in The Towering Inferno (1974).
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When the movie played at Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood in 1974, it was shown in "Sensurround" with heavy bass speakers set on the floor around the theater. Very soon after the preview performances, a giant net had to be rigged above the patrons because of fear that the ornate ceiling decorations might break loose and fall on the audience below, due to the low bass rumble of earthquake sequences. During the film's initial preview performances at the theatre, the Sensurround vibrations actually caused an occasional, very small, and harmless piece of plaster or paint to crack and fall down onto the audience. Worried that continuous periods of strong sound waves throughout the film's exclusive run might loosen elements of the ceiling's ornamentation and light fixtures, the theatre management ordered the safety net to be slung below the entire auditorium ceiling, just below the ornamentation. This action was publicized in the local papers. Whether or not the ceiling's very visible "safety net" was an actual, workable safety measure, or whether it was merely a publicity gimmick, it did serve to heighten audience anticipation of the film's effects.
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Elizabeth Montgomery, Candice Bergen, Jacqueline Bisset, Sharon Gless, Sondra Locke, Meredith Baxter, Kate Jackson, Susan St. James, and Susan Clark were all considered for the part of Denise.
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Despite Ava Gardner being one year older than Charlton Heston, critics have traditionally felt she looks far too old to play his wife. Also, another long-standing criticism is that Lorne Greene, who plays Gardner's father in the film, was only seven years older.
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The fourth biggest grossing film of 1974. Its main rival at the box-office that year, The Towering Inferno (1974), was the biggest film of the year.
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1974 was a banner year for the disaster movie genre with this film, The Towering Inferno (1974), and Airport 1975 (1974) all scoring big at the box-office.
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After the runaway success of Airport (1970), Universal were very keen to try another disaster movie, recruiting Producer Jennings Lang for the task. The idea for a film based around an earthquake came from the seismic activity that rocked the San Fernando valley on February 9, 1971.
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The "Hollywood Dam" featured in the film is actually the Mulholland Dam, named after famed engineer William Mulholland. The nearly identical St. Francis Dam, near Valencia, California, collapsed due to a geological fault on March 12, 1928, and the resulting flood killed over 450 people. It remains California's second-deadliest natural disaster, behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
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Within this two hour and three minute movie, the earthquake sequence lasts nine minutes. The average length of an earthquake of any size runs between ten and forty seconds.
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With the departure of Mario Puzo, development of the screenplay lapsed for a few months. The runaway success of 20th Century Fox's The Poseidon Adventure (1972) refueled Universal's desire to get the disaster movie back into production.
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George Fox, a magazine writer, was hired to pen the screenplay based on Mario Puzo's draft. As he had never written a screenplay before, Director Mark Robson helped him work on it. All in all, eleven drafts were submitted before the screenplay was approved.
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The character of Sam Royce (Lorne Greene) was originally offered to James Stewart, who declined. The part was then offered to Fred MacMurray, Robert Young, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson, and Lee J. Cobb, before the role went to Lorne Greene.
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When Jody (Marjoe Gortner) pulls Rosa (Victoria Principal) out of the police roundup of looters and into the abandoned store, a poster for American Graffiti (1973) is seen on the wall behind them, which was also a Universal Pictures film.
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The movie featured five actors who were in or would be in movies in the "Airport" franchise: Charlton Heston "Airport 1975," Lloyd Nolan "Airport," Monica Lewis "Airport '77" and "The Concord...Airport '79," Eugene Dynarski "Airport 1975," and George Kennedy who was in all four "Airport" franchise movies.
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Victoria Principal's role was originally created for Susan Sarandon or Kay Lenz.
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Beau Bridges, Alan Alda, Stacy Keach, James Brolin, Rock Hudson, John Cassavetes, Kevin Tighe, and William Atherton were considered for the part of Officer Lew Slade.
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George Kennedy and Lloyd Nolan were in Airport (1970), which is considered by many to be the grandfather of the disaster movie genre. Kennedy and Charlton Heston starred in Airport 1975 (1974), which was filmed roughly around the same time as this movie.
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Jon Voight, James Caan, Burt Reynolds, and James Brolin were all considered for the part of Stewart Graff.
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Early in the film, Slade says to Jody, "You have something against religion?" Marjoe Gortner was a well-known evangelist who turned to acting.
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Clips of this movie were shown on a television set in the infamous chainsaw scene of Scarface (1983). The television was turned up to drown out the sound of the chainsaw. Both movies were from Universal Pictures.
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Lee Grant, Jessica Walter, and Elizabeth Allen were considered for the role of Remy Royce-Graff.
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Victoria Principal and George Kennedy are the only members of the cast who were on Dallas (1978). Principal portrayed Pamela Barnes Ewing until the 1986 to 1987 season, and Kennedy portrayed Carter McKay from 1988 to 1991.
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One of two films Geneviève Bujold made to fulfill her contract to Universal Studios. The other was Swashbuckler (1976).
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Victoria Principal (Rosa Amici) and George Kennedy (Lou Slade) both later starred in Dallas (1978), though not at the same time: Principal played Pamela Barnes Ewing from 1978 to 1987 while Kennedy played Carter McKay from 1988 to 1991.
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With the exception of a then-new Chevrolet Caprice and Chevrolet Vega seen in several shots, most of the wrecked cars seen in the disaster sequences are 10 or more years old.
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A number of scenes thar were scripted for the movie didn't make the final cut for the theatrical release (some of these scenes were either filmed but not included while others not). These scenes include: -The San Andreas fault rupturing at the beginning of the main earthquake -A lumberyard were many workers are buried by the falling lumbers -High steel workers being flung from a skyscraper under construction -A multiple car crash on a freeway -A old lady being decapitated by a falling piece of glass -The people on the crashed elevator from the Royce Building being ejected to the roof and then thrown to the ground -The Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport collapsing and killing many people -The air conditioning system at the Royce Building exploding -Lou's Police Station crumbling down and the upper floors crushing the jail cells and killing the hit and run suspect (the one who was chased by Lou and Emilio at the beginning of the film) -The upper floors of the Los Angeles City Hall being damaged -The letters of the Hollywood Sign falling one by one -An apartment building wall collapsing, revealing a woman in a bathtub.
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Lorne Greene was only 7 years older than his onscreen daughter Ava Gardner.
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Despite many assertions to the contrary, Victoria Principal hair in this film was not a wig. This is confirmed by her during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Robert Blake/Fernando Lamas/Victoria Principal/Charles Fleischer/John Twomey (1974) on May 15, 1974 (while "Earthquake" was still in production) when Johnny Carson asks her if her curly hair is a wig, to which she replies it is all her own hair.
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Randolph Mantooth was considered for the part of Seismologist Walt Russell.
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At about 1 hour and 25 Minutes in, where Rosa is instructed by an officer to take cover inside a store, there is a poster of the 1973 George Lucas film "American Graffiti". Also released by Universal Pictures.
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Lloyd Nolan initially had a much larger role in the film, which established the character of Dr. Jim Vance as a Remy Royce-Graff's personal doctor, and Stewart Graff's friend. In the final edit of the film, Dr. Vance, makes his first appearance as the doctor who examines Sam Royce at the Wilson Plaza. The deleted scene that establishes the relationship occurs early in the film after Remy's faked overdose, and involves Dr. Vance inadvertently telling Stewart Graff that Remy Royce-Graff had an abortion a few years prior (Stewart was told it was a miscarriage - he wanted to have children). The scene was cut at the last minute prior to the film's release.
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M.G.M. showgirl Beth Renner was Ava Gardner's double in "Earthquake".
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The customized 1974 Chevrolet Blazer K5 Cheyenne driven by Charlton Heston was built specifically for the film. Originally a light blue color (as evidenced by the interior), the SUV was painted silver, with a red stripe and black rocker panels, by the Universal Studios transportation department. The largest customization to the SUV was a "Targa" top that was open over the driver and passenger seats, which replaced the factory removable hard top. Other more minor modifications include an air deflector on the hood, custom front grille insert, American Racing slotted wheels and 31 inch tires, removal of the side mirrors, a chrome roll bar, and - as was almost unheard of at the time - an in-car telephone and corresponding "whip" antenna.

While a plot point in the film mentions a difficult to operate "customized" transmission with "eight forward speeds and three reverse," the actual Chevrolet Blazer used in the film had no such transmission. With the factory automatic transmission and the four wheel drive transfer case, the movie car did have six forward speeds and two reverse. Had the vehicle had a manual transmission, it would indeed have eight forward speeds... but only two reverse.
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Lloyd Nolan and Lorne Greene previously appeared together in "Peyton Place" (1957). Nolan played Doc Swain, who underwent questioning on the witness stand by Greene's prosecuting attorney.
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When the elevator crashes to the ground there is a very unrealistic animated splash of blood thrown up on the screen. They originally intended to spray stage blood but could never get it to work correctly. Eventually they decided to simply use animation instead. This lead to a rumor that the MPAA required them to use the obviously cartoon blood to cut down on the on-screen violence, but that rumor is false according to the director's notes.
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Spoilers 

The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

The original shooting script had Charlton Heston survive at the end of the film, while Ava Gardner and George Kennedy were killed (separately) in the storm drain tunnel (with Slade being crushed in the small tunnel by a concrete block that falls, and Remy being swept away by the flood). However, Heston was dissatisfied with the script as written, since his character survives to rebuild the city with his mistress by his side (which he felt was not "morally sound" and a "predictable ending"). Since Heston had script approval, he insisted his character die while trying to save his drowning wife. Despite Mark Robson 's attempt to film the original ending (to which Heston flatly refused), the change was made. Slade survives, and said the final lines of the film originally intended for Heston.
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See also

Goofs | Crazy Credits | Quotes | Alternate Versions | Connections | Soundtracks

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