A relatively late entry into the disaster film cycle of the 1970s, Rollercoaster is as much a psycho-thriller as it is anything like Earthquake or Airport. The film begins with the unnamed ‘young man’ (Timothy Bottoms) placing a bomb on the tracks of a roller coaster that he later detonates, killing a number of people. Safety inspector Harry Calder (George Segal) had cleared the track as safe fairly recently and so he is called to investigate. When there’s a fire at another location Calder begins to suspect something else is going on and inserts himself into a high-level meeting of theme park owners to find out more. However, Calder becomes more deeply entwined in the blackmail scheme of the young man than he had either expected or desired.
Rollercoaster was written by Columbo creators Richard Levison and William Link. Although there are certainly disastrous events, the majority of the film finds Levison and Link weaving a psychological thriller about the efforts to stop the young man, a coldly remorseless villain. It’s often beautifully shot and comes with a heavy late-‘70s vibe that now acts as a fascinating time capsule of America as it was as well as writing and filmmaking techniques. Director James Goldstone is restrained in his approach, concentrating instead on tried and tested methods of building suspense. It’s certainly anachronistic in this respect and occasionally, the pace flags. Most things really still work, however, not least the charming and charismatic Segal in the lead. It refreshingly ignores motivation for its bomber and takes narrative swerves here and there, avoiding obvious tropes. Although overlong, it’s compelling and exciting, and for fans of the period and disaster or high-stress ‘70s thrillers, it’s definitely recommended.
This new release comes with a fine print that highlights an age now lost to time. It’s a little soft here and there, but so rarely that it’ll never bother you. The soundtrack might not be in 'Sensurround' anymore, but the fantastic score from Lalo Schifrin still thunders from the speakers. For extras, there’s a good 22-minute piece with film historian Simon Fitzjohn talking about the film and the disaster movies of the decade. Writers Allan Bryce and David Flint provide a very worthwhile commentary that’s done with affection for the film and veers off in all sorts of different directions. There’s a second disc with an ever-so-slightly different German ‘uncut’ version, and the accompanying booklet features writing from Bryce and also from Scott Harrison. A solid package for an entertaining film ripe for rediscovery.
ROLLERCOASTER (1977) / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JAMES GOLDSTONE / SCREENPLAY: RICHARD LEVINSON, WILLIAM LINK / STARRING: GEORGE SEGAL, RICHARD WIDMARK, TIMOTHY BOTTOMS, HENRY FONDA, HARRY GUARDINO, SUSAN STRASBERG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW