With Paul Newman's passing in 2008, Warner Bros. must have figured it was time to issue more of his films on disc that they had not released before. The trouble is, there was a reason they hadn't released the current batch on disc before: Most of them are not very good; and the one film in the series that fares best is the one Newman directed but does appear in. Oh, well....
The movies in the new "Paul Newman Film Series" are "The Silver Chalice" (1954), "The Helen Morgan Story" (1957), "The Outrage" (1964), "Rachel, Rachel" (1968, his directorial debut), and the film under consideration here, "When Time Ran Out" (1980).
How "When Time Ran Out" turned out so badly is anybody's guess. Its producer, Irwin Allen, had fashioned successes with "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "The Lost World," "The Poseidon Adventure," and "The Towering Inferno." Co-screenwriter Carl Foreman had scripted "High Noon," "The Bridge on the River Kwai," and "The Guns of Navaronne." Co-screenwriter Sterling Silliphant had penned "Village of the Damned," "In the Heat of the Night," "The Poseidon Adventure," and "The Towering Inferno." And director James Goldstone had done "They Only Kill Their Masters," "Swashbuckler," and "Rollercoaster." Where did they go wrong?
Supposedly, the filmmakers based "When Time Ran Out" on the novel "The Day the World Ended" by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, but it looks more like they went over their notes for past disaster films, collected together everything they had previously thrown out, and then devised a makeshift plot in order to put it all back into a new stew. The characters in the film may find themselves running out of time, but the filmmakers never run out of clichés.
Anyway, the movie throws in all the usual ingredients: a few top stars, a host of lesser stars in essentially cameo roles, a catastrophe of epic proportions, and a flight for survival. Substitute a burning building, a sinking ship, whatever, for a raging volcano, and you get the same movie. The first half of it tells the back stories of the primary characters, and the second half tells of their struggle to make it out alive.
First, we meet the characters, all of whom seem to be carrying on either romantically or financially with someone else. They're on a small volcanic island owned by a snake, Bob Spangler (James Franciscus), who is opening a resort, the Kalaleu Gilmore Hotel, and drilling an oil well on the place. His partners are Shelby Gilmore (William Holden), a multimillionaire hotel owner, and Hank Anderson (Newman), a successful oilman.
Also on the island are Kay Kirby (Jacqueline Bisset), a beautiful woman who is handling the publicity for Gilmore's hotel. She is also the current light of Gilmore's eye, who would like to make her wife number seven, and she is also Anderson's old flame. You can see where that is going.
Then, there's a flock of minor players: Nikki (Veronica Hamel), the snake's wife; Brian (Edward Albert), Gilmore's personal assistant; Iolani (Barbara Carrera), the hotel's manager and the snake's paramour; Francis Fendley (Red Buttons), a prissy fellow on the run from the law for stealing bank bonds; Tom Conti (Ernest Borgnine), a New York City cop hot on Fendley's trail; Rene and Rose Valdez (Burgess Meredith and Valentina Cortesa), an older couple vacationing at the hotel; Tiny Baker (Alex Karras), one of Anderson's oil buddies; and Sam and Mona (Pat Morena and Sheila Allen), who own a bar and bordello in the island's little town.
Needless to say, the island's volcano is about to blow, but the snake won't accept it. If the volcano goes off, his hotel and his oil well go pfft. When the volcano does explode, everybody with a mind heads out to safety on the high side of the island, and the folks who deserve to die because they're idiots, do.
In its defense, the movie does generate a few tension-filled moments, like toward the beginning with a descent into the volcano to check its activity. In addition, Lalo Schifrin's music is appropriately atmospheric; the location shooting in Hawaii is easy on the eyes; and, yes, Newman is always charming and watchable.
But, really, "When Time Ran Out" is so lacking in common sense, realistic characters, decent visual effects, and simple originality, I'm sure seeing a theatrical trailer would have sufficed to cover everything. Unfortunately, the disc does not include a trailer, so if you buy or rent it, I suppose you'll have to watch the whole movie.
The picture quality in this widescreen anamorphic transfer is quite good, the disc reproducing the movie's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio nicely. The print WB used appears to have been in excellent condition, and although there is no major restoration involved, some undoubted touching up in the remastering process produced fine results. Colors are bright, vivid, and natural; definition is reasonably sharp; and black levels and contrasts maintain good clarity. There is a bit of clearly noticeable film grain in wide expanses of outdoor footage, like sky, and there are occasional age lines and flecks, but they are never obtrusive.
Warner's audio engineers do a good job with the Dolby Digital 1.0 sound. For monaural, it's probably about as good as it could get. There's a big, authoritative bass; a well-balanced midrange; and fairly extended highs. What's more, when the action begins, we hear a passably strong dynamic response. It's too bad there is only one channel involved and that dialogue can sometimes seem a tad pinched and nasal.
I have the feeling that Warner Bros. tried their best to get these discs out as fast as possible after Mr. Newman's death. As a result, there are few to no extras on any of them. English is the only available spoken language; there are French subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired; and there are eleven scene selections accessible only through the remote because there is no chapter listing in the disc's menu.
Paul Newman made several disaster films in his career. First, there was his big-screen debut, "The Silver Chalice" (1954), which was an unwitting disaster by anyone's standards. Then there was "The Towering Inferno" (1974), which the filmmakers at least intended to be a disaster movie, followed by "When Time Ran Out." The actor should have quit when he was ahead. "When Time Ran Out" starts running out of entertainment value pretty early and continues on fumes until it sputters to a close. It's best to remember Newman for films like "Hud," "The Hustler," "Cool Hand Luke," "Butch Cassidy," and "The Sting," and pretend this one didn't happen.