More Bronson – Breakheart Pass

Breakheart Pass is currently available on instant Netflix.

Breakheart Pass

 

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.

Sisters – Brian De Palma week

This is Brian De Palma week. Sisters is currently available on instant Netflix.

Sisters

WATCH: Sisters (1973) – Rated R

“Reporter Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) sees model Danielle Breton (Margot Kidder) commit murder in the apartment across the way and promptly alerts the police — who find no corpse or other evidence of the crime. Left to her own devices, Grace teams with private eye Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) to crack the case, with the trail leading to Danielle’s once-conjoined twin and a creepy mental asylum in director Brian De Palma’s disturbing shocker.”

“Did you know that the germs can come through the wires? I never call and I never answer. It’s a good way to get sick – very, very sick. That’s how I got so sick! Someone called me on the telephone!”

Brian De Palma both wrote and directed Sisters. He also cast two of his friends, Jennifer Salt and Margot Kidder as the leads. This is an early film of his and is a bit rough around the edges. He uses his split-screen a bit here (then a new technique) three years before his iconic use of it in Carrie.

Again De Palma is in Hitchcock mode here. He uses odd camera angles and tracking shots a la his role model. Bernard Herrmann, a frequent Hitchcock composer, provides a good score here.

Acting is a little uneven. Jennifer Salt underplays her role as the intrepid reporter allowing the other cast members to dominate the film. Margot Kidder is quite good as the mysterious Danielle. The show is stolen by the delightful Charles Durning as an investigator.

Obsession, yesterday’s film, is clearly the stronger mystery but Sisters certainly has its rough charms.  I recommend watching this because it is entertaining but not very highly because the twist is easy to guess and some of the third act shenanigans don’t make much logical sense.

People Watch: Look for Olympia Dukakis as Bakery Shop employee #2.

Dog Day Afternoon – Al Pacino week

This is Al Pacino week. Dog Day Afternoon is currently available on instant Netflix.

Dog Day Afternoon

WATCH: Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Rated R

“To get money for his gay lover’s sex-change operation, Sonny (Al Pacino) — who’s married with kids — teams up with Sal (John Cazale) to rob a New York bank on a scorching-hot summer day. The stickup goes awry when the press gets wind of the circus sideshow-esque story. Chris Sarandon, Charles Durning and James Broderick co-star in this classic Sidney Lumet-directed film based on an actual event from the 1970s.”

As with all Sidney Lumet films, this is more of a character study than an action or crime film. As mentioned at the opening of the film, this is based on an actual event that occurred on August 22, 1972. The plot follows the incident fairly closely with the major exception that the real bank haul was $213,000.

Lumet does a fantastic job of staging the movie in a naturalistic fashion. He eschews the use of a musical score. There is almost no makeup apart from omnipresent sweat. You can see lots of people eating in the background as the siege drags on. There are no flashy camera tricks, stunts or special effects and extremely little gunfire.

The acting is wonderful – Lumet really knows how to get performances from his actors. Al Pacino is incredible and was nominated for Best Actor. While the vast majority of screen time belongs to Pacino, three of the supporting actors give riveting performances. Chris Sarandon does not smirk at all during the film (a later trademark of his) and gives his best ever performance. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. John Cazale is just as good and deserved a nomination as well. Charles Durning is great but his character arc doesn’t have enough meat to be as good as Sarandon and Cazale.

In a terrible moment of irony, Sal (John Cazale) mentions that the one thing he is afraid of is cancer. John Cazale died three years later of bone cancer at the age of 42. He only made 5 films in his career – most notably assaying the role of Fredo in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II. All 5 films that he starred in were nominated for Best Picture Oscars. At the time of his death, he was engaged to be married to the divine Meryl Streep.

I very highly recommend this film. The first few minutes, you’ll be thinking “what a bunch of idiots” and not think much of the film. As the situation degenerates, the film quickly ratchets up in intensity. This is definitely one of Al Pacino’s best performances even if Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are more iconic.

People Watch: Look for a young Lance Henriksen briefly as Murphy.