Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Do the Locomotion: "Breakheart Pass" (1976)

While most of Alistair Maclean's work is formulaic, consisting of good guys with a traitor in their midst (don't believe me, watch "Guns of Navarone" and "Force 10 from Navarone"), action director Gries brings together enough elements to make this a very effective film.

Bronson is arrested and taken aboard a train bound for a remote fort ravaged by diphtheria. Aboard the train is a whole list of suspects, including Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, and Jill Ireland. Next, we get a wild west version of "Murder on the Orient Express," as dead people turn up constantly, and the list of criminals narrows to reveal our killer and the real reason for the trip to the fort.

For a ninety five minute film, the plot does get a little complicated. Bronson is in fine form as the mysterious criminal who figures it all out. The real star here is the action sequences, with a now classic fight on top of a moving train car. Yakima Canutt does a great job coordinating the stuntwork.

This is a change of pace western is entertaining and moves quickly, with capable cast and crew. "Breakheart Pass" is not a modern classic, but a good change of pace from young guns and American outlaws. (* * * *) out of five stars.