Okay, so it’s not one of the great crime films from the 1970s, but I recently had another look at a movie called Rollercoaster and I think it stands up pretty well.
It’s very straightforward – a guy lets off a bomb at an amusement park and then demands a million dollars from a bunch of amusement park owners or he’ll let off more bombs at more parks.
There’s some pretty good stuff about the amusement park owners trying to keep it out of the press and, of course, just like Jaws, the big finale is on the Fourth of July – I get the feeling that American tourist attractions are not completely empty the other 364 days a year, but who knows?
And George Segal is pretty good as the building inspector who puts the whole thing together and thwarts the bad guy. It must be the first (only?) time when the building inspector is the hero. My 13 year old son had a tough time believing that the grandfather from The Goldbergs was ever that young, but he doesn’t believe I was ever young, either.
The one thing that really stuck out for me with Rollercoaster, though, was the bad guy. We spend a fair bit of time with him, and Timothy Bottoms is very good, but we never find out anything about him. There’s no backstory at all. He doesn’t even have a name.
At one point a carny asks him if he was in Vietnam and for a brief moment it looks like the movie will be offering up that cliché but Bottoms only gives a wry look.
Of course, there’s extortion so his motivation is the money but there’s no lame reason given why his plan involves amusement parks instead of airplanes or trains or office buildings. The amusement parks looks good, sure, but there’s no monologue at the end where he tells us his mother was killed on a rollercoaster or his father was a carny who abandoned him when he was a baby, or anything at all.
The whole movie is on YouTube:
There are a couple of bonuses in the movie, too. For one, George Segal’s teenage daughter is played Helen Hunt and for another the band performing at the amusement park is Sparks.
Oh yeah, the title of this post is from a surprisingly positive review of the movie when it first came out.
I recently found a scrapbook of movie stubs I collected for a while in the 70s so I can tell you I saw Rollercoaster at the Cineplex Odeon Atwater theatre in Montreal on June 11, 1977.
The following week I saw Black Sunday, I guess it’s up next (it has a “disgruntled Vietnam vet’ and plenty of backstory on the bad guy if I remember correctly…)