The Elevator (1974)

Genre: Made-for-TV Disaster Movie

After watching made-for-TV disaster movies in the late 70’s/early 80’s, such as Hanging by a Thread (1979), I was more or less put off by them. Hanging By a Thread and a few others I saw followed the same premise of a group of people stuck in a situation where there was no escape. In Hanging By a Thread, the unlucky people were trapped in a cable car, dangling high above the ground. If my memory serves me correctly, I think there was also one where a similar group of people were also trapped in a cave. I maybe wrong.

Anyway, I would settle down in front of the TV for what I was expecting to be some great cliff-hanger viewing on a par with the The Towering Inferno (1974) or The Poseidon Adventure (1972), but my young hopes were soon dashed. The characters in the plot would all be connected to each other in some way and in the middle of all the suspense, one of the characters would start thinking about an event which happened in their past and how they have the connection to one of the others trapped. It would be something like a secret love affair or being two-timed by their partner. These little melodramatic vignettes would take place for each character through the entire film's running time and any action was only secondary. Once these irritating characters were rescued they would have come to terms successfully with their past. This was smultsy insipid TV at it’s worst and would only have appealed to the bored Thursday afternoon housewife who’d just had her prescription renewed for valium, had finished her housework, and wanted a rest from reading her Mills & Boon.
 There was a short satire of one of these scenes during the comedy disaster movie Airplane! (1980). For me, being so badly cheated out of some great disaster movie entertainment caused me to stay clear of any 1970’s made-for-TV disaster movies from then on… That is, until now.

The Elevator is different. It’s actually worth watching - and it’s good!

Made with a cast of old movie stars and good character actors, The Eevator begins with a security guard entering a tower block carrying a brief case containing cash. A very dignified elederly lady, Amanda Kenyon (Myrna Loy), also enters the tower block. They both climb in side the elevator.
 Mrs Kenyon arrives at the office of Marvin Ellis (Roddy McDowall), whose job it is is to find new residents for the newly completed, or should I say still in the stages of completion, tower block.

Mrs Kenyon has come to look at a penthouse suite for her son, so Marvin takes her up to the top floor in the elevator. Meanwhile, the security guard delivers the briefcase of cash to a wealthy business executive who is also on one of the top floors.
 Marvin wants to show Mrs Kenyon an already completed fully-furbished apartment, so he takes her to see one which is owned Dr. Stuart Reynolds. Dr. Reynolds uses his as his psychiatric consulting room. While his wife is in the other room, Dr Reynolds kisses his nurse/receptionist. He is obviously having a secret love affair. Meanwhile, out in the hallway a mother and her late teen’s son argue. The boy is spoilt brat.

In the basement arrives a car carrying Eddie Holcomb (James Farentino), his girlfriend Wendy (Arlene Golonka) and Pete Howarth (Don Stroud). They know about the arrival of money at the business exec’s office and are on their way to rob it.

Eddie and Pete enter the elevator and make their way to the top of the building. Eddie struggles with his claustrophobia.

On entering the office of the businessman, Pete shoots dead the exec and they both leave hurriedly with Eddie carrying the briefcase of money. Eddie enters the elevator with all the other characters and some workmen, except that is, Pete, who can’t get in and has to take the other elevator.

The elevator stops a few floors down and the workmen wheel out the heavy box they were carrying as the elevator shudders from the weight. Cut to the elevator pulley systems loosening themselves from the ceiling of the elevator shaft.

The elevator’s doors close and it begins its descent, when suddenly it grinds to a holt. There is concern amongst those inside and their calls for help go unanswered. This is mainly because the elevator hasn’t had the emergency phone fitted and also because the tower block is emptying for the exra-long holiday weekend. Only a few security guards will be left on patrol.

This all becomes too much for the claustrophobic Eddie, who begins to freak-out and lose control. Eddie ends up waving the briefcase around as Dr Reynolds tries to subdue him. It isn’t long before the briefcase opens and the contents falls out. Everyone realizes that Eddie has stolen it and to make matters worse the un-controllable Eddie gets his gun out.

Meanwhile in the basement Pete and Wendy realize something is wrong because Eddie hasn’t arrived, but they are told to leave by the security guard because the tower block is about to be closed-up.

Returning undercover that evening, the trigger-happy Pete realizes the elevator is jammed and goes up to rescue Eddie and the money. Without hesitation he kills a security guard, but not before the security guard has notified the police of the murder of the business man.

Now it’s a race for time for Pete to rescue Eddie, who is becoming more and more unstable in the elevator. Also every minute or sudden movement of the elevator brings the elevator closer to hurtling down the elevator shaft.

At only 65 minutes running time, this movie is short and sweet. It builds nicely from the beginning as we are introduced to each character and the scenes inside the trapped elevator are tense with the claustrophobic Eddie lashing out in the confined space at those around him. Things get worse when he pulls out his gun and starts making demands. This is all performed well by James Farentino.

Don Stroud is good as his psychopathic character shoots his victims without remorse. Is he interested in helping his friend Eddie or does he just want the money at any cost? One cost being that there is an elevator full of witnesses to the stolen money and they can’t be allowed to live.

Roddy McDowall is great as always. In the beginning he’s the typical salesman, but once trapped in the elevator and facing certain death he confesses that the tower block has been built on the cheap and is riddled with problems.

This film is a real time-piece from the 1970’s, with it fashions and attitudes, but nevertheless it is an entertaining way to spend 65 minutes.

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