Warning: Spoilers ahead.
It came to be known in Phalon family lore as “The Poseidon Incident.” First, some background.
My siblings and I were just small kids when the movie “The Poseidon Adventure” was released 50 years ago this week. That film was the granddaddy of disaster, big event movies. The story concerned an ocean liner being capsized by a tidal wave trapping an all-star cast in the bowels of the ship.
We didn’t get out much when I was a kid. With four kids, two dogs, four cats and one car most of the time, there wasn’t a lot of flexibility. But once in a while there would be an event that call for extraordinary efforts. That would be “The Poseidon Adventure.”
My mother was a fan of disaster movies. I think she felt some kinship with the victims. She was also a big fan of actor Gene Hackman, the Movie Star with the Everyman Looks. Most of the time she had to settle for these guilty pleasures when the appeared on the TV set. Mom was determined to see this movie on the silver screen.
This would be no easy task. With one station wagon, my mother would have to drive my father to Suffern, N.Y., where he began his job as a railroad conductor at 6 a.m., which meant getting everybody up and dressed. This task was accomplished with minimal levels of drama.
We returned home, eagerly anticipating carnage on an epic scale. After a smattering of lunch, we piled in the car again. We would see the movie around noon at the Willowbrook Mall Cinema, which at that time was a red-carpet, premiere movie venue. It’s an empty food court today.
We found parking, and Mom corralled us to the theater entrance with the skills of a fine border collie. She bought the tickets. We went inside where we were greeted by tuxedoed ushers. To the snack stand. My mother would spare no expense today to keep us quiet and placated. We stopped at the bathroom. “But I don’t have to go!” Go anyway.
Then we entered the theater itself, the sparkling screen poised to take us on a tragic, yet magic, voyage across the sea. Mom directed me to take my brothers to the bathroom again, just in case. We really didn’t need to, but we had fun annoying people by making all the sinks and toilets run at the same time. We returned to our seats, the packed auditorium humming with anticipation.
My mother had pulled it off. We were at The Movies. A disaster flick with Gene Hackman. The lights lowered. We were treated to previews of upcoming movie events we’d only get to see on TV in a couple years. Then the main attraction.
It should be noted at this point that even in the pre-internet age, spoilers could still rear their ugly heads. My mother spent the previous couple of weeks diligently avoiding any newspaper articles or TV shows that might give away the plot or who would survive.
What my mother did not take into consideration was my brother Michael’s friend Harold having already seen the movie.
Mom sat back, basking in the glory of having done the impossible. Then, as the opening credits rolled, my brother Michael, with the innocence of an 8-year-old, turned to my mother and said: “Gene Hackman dies at the end.”
Suddenly it felt as if the temperature in the theater dropped 30 degrees, so icy was the speechless glare my mother cast over my brother. Fortunately for Michael, our mother was not prone to acting out in public. That last thing she’d ever want to do is create A Scene.
She quietly stewed for the next two hours. The movie was ruined! We know this because all the way home she said “You ruined the movie!” I didn’t actually hear him spill the beans at the time, so the movie was not ruined for me, but I wisely kept that fact to myself.
She never let him live this down. To this day, the phrase “Gene Hackman dies in the end,” is often quoted within our family when referencing an act extreme dumbness.
And if you haven’t seen the movie yourself and I ruined it for you, all I can say is, I did say spoiler ahead.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.