Plot: Train with medical supplies and small U.S. Army unit is heading through Rocky Mountains towards plagued Fort Humboldt. Among its passengers are territory governor, priest, doctor and U.S. Marshal with his prisoner, John Deakin (Charles Bronson). However, nothing on that train is what it seems.
Review: The novel and the screenplay to Breakheart pass were written by Alistair McLean; he is most famous for his novels (which were turned into very successful movies) When Eagles Dare and the Guns of Navarone.
Alistair Mclean novels and movies guarantee exciting adventure and even though Breakheart Pass is not on the same level as the previous two, it’s still a pretty good movie. It was made arguably at the high point of Charles Bronson career.
One year before the first Death Wish movie was released and after Breakheart Pass, Hard Times and Breakout were the next two to follow. It is a nice mix of a murder mystery, western and action. It is a period piece with stunning landscape shots of the Rocky Mountains and a beautiful setting in the train. The rugged landscape is kind of its own character in the movie.
The film had high production values and was by no means a cheap movie. In the first half it has kind of a “murder in the orient express” feel to it (Orient Express was released one year earlier). Every character is kind of shady and you have some twists and turns that keep you guessing. Sadly after 60% of the movie the “bad guy” and all mysteries are quickly resolved and then the rest is pretty predictable and generic. On the other hand, the pace picks up and we get more action, but I would have liked the movie even more if the shift was not so abrupt.
The Cast is great. too with a motivated and very mysterious Charles Bronson as the lead, Richard Crenna (Col. Trautman in an unusual role and Ben Johnson in high-profile roles and of course Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland (and she does a good job in this one). On top of that you get a who’s who from the character actor department: Charles Durning, David Huddleston, Bill McKinney and Ed Lauter. Director Tom Gries has done a lot of TV but also two movies with Charlton Heston and another collaboration with Bronson (Breakout). The most notable action sequence is a fight on top of the moving train between Charles Bronson and Archie Moore (ex-light heavyweight champion of the world). There is also a pretty spectacular train crash which was all done for real. No CGI back then, kids. The music by Jerry Goldsmith is as always, classic and immediately recognizable but he always delivered the goods when it came to providing great scores.
Overall, Breakheart Pass has a great score, excellent cast, a slow but tense first half and some nice action sequences in the second. Without the abrupt change of pace and direction it could have been even better.