Saturday, 12 May 2018

Breakheart Pass (1975)

"Throw Bronson From the Train"

Eureka are bringing out this Charles Bronson-starring 1975 western adapted from the Alistair MacLean novel.

We're in the frontier era. A train loaded with supplies sets off for isolated Fort Humbolt in Nevada, where apparently there has been an outbreak of Diphtheria. On the train are a couple of carriages full of soldiers; a moustache-twirling, could-he-possibly-be-up-to-no-good Governor (Richard Crenna); his rather unemotive ladyfriend (Jill Ireland); a liberal sprinkling of character actors (Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, Ben Johnson, David Huddleston); and prisoner-but-actually-the-good-guy-unsurprisingly Charles Bronson.

Off they go! Choo choo! But pretty soon it's choke choke, bang bang and various other methods of despatch as passengers start to get bumped off by an unseen killer. Is the train actually loaded with medical supplies? Is the no-good Governor there for reasons other than altruism? Does Charles Bronson have a fantastic fight on top of a moving train just like in the poster?

The biggest problem with BREAKHEART PASS is that, while the action sequences are terrific (and likely all directed by prominently credited second unit legend Yakima Canutt) the stuff in between, and especially during the first act, is all rather uninvolving. 

In fact, these bits are a good example of the difference a good director can make to a script (written by MacLean himself). We don't see the murders (that plus perhaps some black-gloved hands would have been good) and Bronson is given nothing to do for the first half an hour, with the film floundering with no POV character. During all of this I have to say I did find myself wondering what someone like Sergio Martino or even Michael Winner (yes Michael Winner) might have done with this material instead of actual director Tom Gries, and I suspect we would have ended up with something a bit livelier, more interesting and better paced.

Once it gets going BREAKHEART PASS isn't bad, but everyone here either had done or would do better. Surprisingly bloodless for a 1970s Western (it gets a PG certificate here) and without the inherent nihilism and bleakness of most of the decade's best pictures in the genre, it's still a decent timewaster if you fancy a bit of adventure and trains crashing.

The only extra is a talking head piece from Kim Newman, which lasts nearly half an hour, and in which he talks at length about the MacLean properties that were adapted for the screen in the 1960s and 1970s (I had forgotten there were quite so many). He even shows us some of his MacLean paperbacks, but not the tie-in edition of BREAKHEART PASS which I remember seeing everywhere at the time and which must have been prominently positioned in every WHSmith's and Woolworths throughout the land.

Alistair MacLean's BREAKHEART PASS is out from Eureka on dual format Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 14th May 2018

1 comment:

  1. A lot of Bronson's movies of that time were TV level dreck. Breakout, Love and Bullets (which was ITC), Telefon, St. Ives...