From the Archives: A cinematic earthquake rocks Los Angeles

This scene had panicked pedestrians dodging boulders as a section of Los Angeles was “destroyed” during Universal’s 1970s entry in disaster feature films.

For “Earthquake,” the temblor was the protagonist. The movie also featured a sound system designed for “maximum register” on the audience’s Richter scale, according to the Los Angeles Times’ 1974 caption.

This image accompanied a story on the making of the film by staff writer Mary Murphy. She reported that for a movie-promotion/sound-system test, “an audience of 93 tourists, unceremoniously plucked from the regular tour buses,” were shown a five-minute segment of the movie.

The newly developed sound system was even more startling than the film footage. The theater shook and seats rattled as a deafening roar combined with low-frequency vibrations caused strong women to feel nauseated and infants to cry.


Thanks to movie magic, L.A. Times staff photographer Don Cormier was never in any danger. The rocks were feather light, and the actual rocking was done by a special motorized system that shook the Panavision camera, not the ground.

This post was originally published on Dec. 20, 2010. The two photos appeared in the May 3, 1974, Los Angeles Times.

April 1974: Charlton Heston and Ava Gardner film a scene for the movie "Earthquake."
(Los Angeles Times )

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