Breakheart Pass is currently available on instant Netflix.
Breakheart Pass (1975) – Rated PG
“An undercover agent on a train bound for an Army fort finds that nothing is what it seems when passengers turn up dead or mysteriously disappear.”
Last week, after sitting through the utterly generic Alistair MacLean’s Air Force One is Down, I bemoaned the lack of Alistair MacLean movies on Netflix. While we are still lacking The Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, and Where Eagles Dare, Netflix has given us Breakheart Pass.
As with yesterday’s The White Buffalo springing forth from Jaws, Breakheart Pass didn’t develop in a vacuum. In 1974, we got a big budget adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. Alistair MacLean’s novel, Breakheart Pass, clearly draws a lot of inspiration from Christie’s novel. Since the movie version of Murder was a success, it comes as no surprise that MacLean’s novel was greenlit. MacLean himself was given the job of adapting the screenplay.
Breakheart Pass is a western in name only. It has plenty of western trappings: gunfighters, the army, Indians, horses, the train, a fort, etc. but at its heart, Breakheart Pass is a mystery. Actually, a bit of several mysteries as we don’t really know who Bronson’s character is nor do we know what is going on or who is killing people off.
Charles Bronson plays the enigmatic John Deakin. Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real life wife, plays Marica. Ben Johnson is Marshal Pearce. Richard Crenna is the Governor. Charles Durning is O’Brien. Ed Lauter, who played army officer Tom Custer in The White Buffalo, is army Major Claremont here.
Bronson is quite good here, alternately an action movie tough guy and a charming smooth-talker. He was always more of a star than an actor but he’s a lot of fun to watch and he has a nice drawl. That and his rough looks led to a large number of western roles, both large and small, throughout his career. This is not that dissimilar from the aforemention Ben Johnson, though Johnson never achieved star status.
In addition to all of the western trappings, MacLean has thrown in all the things one would want in a train picture. We have explorations of the train, action in the engine, the obligatory traintop chase, and much more. The action is brisk, the music lively and hummable, and the mystery interesting.
While Once Upon a Time in the West is the best Bronson vehicle on Netflix, you won’t go wrong with Breakheart Pass.