While it unfortunately hewed to all the worst conventions of the genre (multiple one note characters each with a personal issue we care nothing about combined with large scale disaster that utilizes decidedly low scale special effects), it further tormented the audience with a villain who was moronically stubborn and a lengthy climax involving Burgess Meredith breaking out his ancient tight rope walking skills to ferry a child across a destroyed foot bridge. (That doesn’t count as a spoiler since it was randomly revealed early in the movie that William Holden’s Shelby Gilmore saw the high wire act years ago in Vienna thus alerting the audience that a sweaty-faced Meredith would surely be dramatically putting one foot in front of the other on a narrow beam near the end of the film while the rest of the cast worked on their tense and gasping reaction shots.)
The film also continues a grand tradition of the genre that dates back to its very beginnings with Airport. Yes, it stars another Hollywood legend who admits the film was garbage and that he was just picking up a fat check. There’s no shame in Paul Newman being up front about going on cinema disaster welfare again (see also The Towering Inferno). Icons like Burt Lancaster (Airport) and Jack Lemmon (Airport ’77) also owned up to doing the same thing. But at least the viewer can feel good about watching a model volcano belch all over James Fransiscus since Newman reportedly used the money to start his charity salad dressing business. (I’m pretty sure this means the IRS allows a tax deduction if you watch the film once a year.)
Bob Spangler (Fransiscus) runs the South Pacific island paradise he inherited from his father and is intent on turning it from a isolated sugar cane producing backwater to a money making resort and oil producing backwater. He’s partners with Gilmore on the resort and partners with Hank (Newman) on the oil wells. There’s just one small problem. Old Mt. Whathisname, the volcano that dominates the island landscape, appears to be readying to take a volcanic dump all over everything!
Hank knows something isn’t right because when he hit that gusher, along with the oil, he also smelled sulfur! We all know what that means – a trip into the goofy model of a volcano studying capsule where Hank can get a first hand look at the inside of old smokey. Since Hank is an oilman and not a vulcanology expert this makes zero sense, but Bob wants to put Hank’s doubts to rest (Hank wants to shut the oil well down, while Bob is ready to start filling up tankers) so they and a scientist go into the volcano where they are almost incinerated!
Hank is convinced the volcano so going to erupt but Bob doesn’t want to spoil his other partner into getting out of the resort business with him so he unconvincingly downplays the risk when Gilmore asks questions. Even after the volcano erupts and causes a tidal wave that destroys the town, he blames Hank for the death of his own men (they died in the tidal wave chasing after a rooster they were going to use in a cock fighting contest while Hank was somewhere else having a picnic with Jacqueline Bissett) and tells everyone that the resort is safe, even after a flaming chunk of volcano lands on Ernest Borgnine setting him on fire! (At this point Newman must have been reminding himself how many cases of salad dressing this movie was going to help him sell.)
Bob and most of the anonymous guests choose to stay at the resort and ride out the eruption while Hank and the big names (Holden, Bissett, Borgnine, Meredith, Red Buttons and Pat Morita) leave in search of higher ground to avoid the lava flow that Hank is convinced will reach the resort. Bob almost has the last laugh because the lava never does reach the resort! Take that you nervous know-it-all Hank! But then a big chunk of fiery volcano hits the resort blowing it up. Dang it!
Navigating a small ledge and trying to cross a little bridge with lava flowing underneath it make up the bulk what is supposd to pass for an exciting finish. After seeing how long it took Meredith to tight rope walk with one child on his back, you can be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief when Newman just decides to take they other kid over himself.
Disastrous on all levels, When Time Ran Out… shamelessly displays its spectacularly shoddy special effects at every opportunity with unconvincing models and laughable matte shots. The dialogue (Holden’s monologue to Fransciscus about trying to get out from a successful father’s shadow is one that only occurs in movies like this or 1950s melodramas) and what feels like subplots generated by a computer program (Bob is cheating on his wife, his wife is Gilmore’s goddaughter, Gilmore wants to marry Bissett’s character but she really loves Hank, Borgnine is a cop chasing Red Buttons for an alleged bond heist) easily earn the film its title of “last Irwin Allen movie to receive a theatrical release.” But how bad was it really? It lost more money than even Meteor. And it deserved to.
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