Friday, June 22, 2012

Train Week: The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

One of the first DVDs I ever bought was the UK widescreen release of The Cassandra Crossing, and that might tell you something about my love for train- and disaster movies. It's also a fitting final movie in Ninja Dixon's Train Week because to me it's one of those movies I revisit from time to time and it never fails to entertain me. Maybe it's one of those movies only for us that appreciate disaster movies filled with well-paid stars, but he story itself isn't half bad and the typical criticism against government and military that was so popular in 70's cinema is very evident here. Probably a way for producer Carlo Ponti to cash in a little bit extra on the anti-establishment trend, but it still works quite good.

Three Swedish "terrorists" from the Swedish Peace Movements infiltrates the World Health Organisation building in Geneva, but everything goes wrong and they get shot - inside a secret laboratory. One of them, played by Lou Castel, escapes but is infected with a deadly disease! He manages to get aboard the train to Stockholm and soon he's spreading the illness to the other passengers. A representative from the US government, Mackenzie (a tired Burt Lancaster)  shows up and takes control over the situation and he decides that the only way to deal with the illness is to quarantine the train - and maybe, just maybe, kill everyone aboard!

The Cassandra Crossing is a very competent and maybe a bit to calculated disaster-drama with an awesome cast of both superstars and has-beens (and I love has-beens). Just casting Richard Harris and Ava Gardner as an ex-couple who really loves each other is brilliant. Or Lionel Stander as the conductor... OJ Simpson (when he still was someone people liked) as a priest, or Martin Sheen as Sophia Loren's toyboy! Lancaster is always good and his nearest man is John Philip Law. Add Lee Strassberg, Ann Turkel, Ingrid Thulin, Ray Lovelock and you have one of the best casts in a disaster movie ever. It might not be as good or awesome as Mark Robson's masterpiece Earthquake or John Guillermin's luxurious The Towering Inferno, it's has a more gritty and European feeling and the sense that the government officials doesn't care about us anyway - far from the heroic stars in the two movies mentioned aboved. Maybe The Cassandra Crossing is more connected to the conspiracy thriller in theme and style, something the final scene echoes quite much.

What I never noticed before is the strong holocaust-theme of the movie. Not only because of concentration camp survivor Kaplan (Lee Strassberg), but rebuilding of the train to an air sealed container, the oxygen pumped into the train, which looks like gas, the trip through Poland and into Germany and the sounds of the guards screaming "Achtung!" outside. The movie gets darker from this moment and and ends in disaster for many of the passengers.

As an action-adventure this is a great movie. The fantastic aerial footage on the train and locations looks just stunning and that in combination with some train-climbing stunts, a nice explosion and lots of shoot-outs and even some blood and graphic violence this is a winner. The highlight is the final, and I don't wanna ruin it for you - but it has a lot of very cool and violent scenes (that was cut from the US video version that was released in the eighties) and really good miniature effects and big scale destruction.

The Cassandra Crossing is one of those real underrated thrillers that never seem to handle the bullying from the Hollywood big shots, but if you find the widescreen version on DVD - buy it! A good, spectacular train movie  and one of my personal favourites. 


Alex B. said...

Been meaning to watch that for years!

Ninja Dixon said...

You should watch it Alex. Good one. Excellent actors and more mature than some of the american counterparts.

Exploding Helicopter said...

I thought Burt Lancaster was wasted in this film. He pretty much spends the film stuck in a windowless office talking into a phone.

Ninja Dixon said...

Yeah, a typical Henry Fonda-part:

Lancaster actually looks more sick than some of the passengers.

Anonymous said...

"Probably a way for producer Carlo Ponti to cash in a little bit extra on the anti-establishment trend, but it still works quite good."

He wasn´t the only one doing that....but I guess that´s why so many like watching exploitation cinema from 70´s....becasue the films have better subtext/message then most films today.

"but it has a lot of very cool and violent scenes (that was cut from the US video version that was released in the eighties)"

I thought US only cut nudity scenes, maybe they thought the movie was too long.

I was supposed to see this film on TV4Film but missed it.

Great review, Ninja.


Joule's Waterfall said...

great review; spot on the holocaust theme, but correction: the still in love ex couple are: SOPHIA LOREN with Richard Harris!