Friday, June 3, 2011

See the way it works is, the train moves, the station doesn't...

The Cassandra Crossing  (Avco Embassy, 1977)

Before the Camera:

Sophia Loren  (Mortadella) - when your husband produces the movie, you get top billing...
Richard Harris  (Dumbledore 1.0 himself!)
Martin Sheen  (The Dead Zone)
O.J. Simpson  (Murdering sociopath)
Ann Turkel  (The Ravagers)
Ingrid Thulin  (Hour of the Wolf)
Lee Strasberg  (Going in Style)
Ava Gardner  (Earthquake)
Burt Lancaster  (Twilight's Last Gleaming)
Lou Castel  (Beware of a Holy Whore)
John Phillip Law  (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)
Ray Lovelock  (Oh, Grandmother's Dead)
Alida Valli  (Lisa and the Devil)
Lionel Stander (TV's Hart to Hart)
as Max, the conductor

Behind the Camera:

Directed by George Pan Cosmatos

Produced by Carlo Ponti and Giancarlo Pettini, and presented by Lew Grade

Written by Tom Mankiewicz & Robert Katz and George P. Cosmatos   (from a story by Robert Katz and George P. Cosmatos)


Ah, we get to dip our toes in to that beautiful pool called the 1970's Disaster Movie. When producer Ross Hunter and director George Seaton brought us a very eventful evening in a major metropolitan Airport in 1970, they had no idea they were starting a new genre in film - one that led to very successful flicks about capsized ocean liners (The Poseidon Adventure-1972), burning skyscrapers (The Towering Inferno-1974), and off the scale seismic activity (Earthquake-1974). Take a large well-known group of actors (the "all-star cast"), put them in deadly danger from some natural or manmade cataclysm, throw in some special effects and stunts, and kill off about 2/3 of the cast across a couple of hours. Simple. And profitable. Amazingly there were something like 21 of these movies across the decade, and that's not counting several TV movies which also tried to bring us the spectacle of a disaster movie, but usually came off pretty sketchy thanks to the TV movie budget. Eventually the genre neatly came to an end in 1980 with the release of producer Irwin Allen's When Time Ran Out (how fitting, that title), which gave us a volcanic eruption right next door to a new hotel resort; unfortunately for Irwin Allen, we didn't want it, and used the gift receipt to take it back. And that same year, Airplane! came out and mercilessly ribbed the genre into a coma for about 16 years. The advent of computer generated imagery in special effects has brought the disaster movie back in full force for the last fifteen or so years, starting with Independence Day in 1996 and continuing right on through 2012 in 2009 (heh-heh) and across scads of Syuh-Fyuh channel movies.
    But here we have one of the prime examples from the decade that started it all. We get off to a start in Sweden at the headquarters for the International Heath Organization (with International replacing World to appease the lawyers) as Swedish terrorists (they have those?) bust in to rob the joint. During the counterattack two of the three are splashed by a big glass jar of germ goo, and one makes it safely away. The authorities, led by military Col. MacKenzie (Lancaster) quickly discover that the corpse of the other splashed terrorist is scorching with a new germ warfare bug being developed at the IHO labs, and set out to find the remaining terrorist. He has made to the local train station, and stows away in the baggage car. We then start to notice there are a lot of familiar faces getting on the train, like doctor Harris, author Loren, priest Simpson, annoying old sad sack Strasberg, annoying rich lady Gardner, and amusing boytoy Sheen, and then we find out that the conductor is Max from Hart to Hart, here conveniently named Max!
    Eventually the terrorist infects half the train, and Lancaster gets the train stopped and decked out with armor plates over the windows to prevent escape, and puts several armed men on the train to keep the passengers inside. Then, with a story of sending the train to a quarantined medical camp - but really deciding to cut losses before the infection can spread further - he gets the train diverted onto a new track, one that will take them across a bridge so old and outdated no train has dared cross it in thirty years. Thanks to knowledgable people on the train, Doctor Harris finds out about the weakened bridge about the same time he starts to believe the infection is not nearly as bad as it was first made out. But Lancaster won't listen to him, and neither will the oblivious soldiers on the train. Will anyone be able to escape before the train makes...the Cassandra Crossing?

It turned out Martin Sheen thought he was in the sequel to the Poseidon Adventure
and kept waiting for the train to flip. He'd forgotten about the chilly Polish winter, though.

SPOILER ALERT HERE ON IN - actually, it's not much of a spoiler, as even the poster up there pretty much tells what happens... In any case, I never watched this particular disaster movie as the disaster involved didn't seem particularly...er, disastrous. But it's actually a pretty solid thriller. It's a good cast (although as always now, it's no fun seeing Simpson in these things anymore), and it's an interesting predicament. The real disaster is not the train crash, but the disease, and the eventual crackup at the end just the climax of a suspenseful movie. Harris is a stalwart hero, and Loren matches him as his ex-wife. I've not seen a lot of Sophia Loren movies, but she's really good in this one. The script keeps building the suspense, and doesn't go for many inplausibilities. I also appreciated the character arc Sheen gets - which I won't lay out here - but suffice to say - when you think the character's shown you all of the sides there are to see - there are a couple more. I would have expected more witty lines and lighter moments from co-writer Mankiewicz, but maybe with the whole "disease and crashing train" things the darker tone was more appropriate. The pace is kept up and the dramatics and mayhem are well orchestrated by director Cosmatos. The train is actually not all that great, as it would have been cool if they'd built a big flashy supertrain with a full size version complemented with lots of model shots. The train here is actually pretty boring. But that's a quibble. The effects are well handled, though they are mostly confined to the last reel as the bridge does collapse, sending the choo-choo to its doom-doom. The model work is not spectacular, but it is solid, and I really liked the full size physical effects shots of the the people in the cars as they are smashed- pretty realistic, and very horrifying, with not one computer in sight. If you have enjoyed some of the more recent disaster movies, I definitely recommend checking out some from the decade when it all started, and this one is certainly worth a watch.

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 1:47:20, Richard Harris grows weary of catching German women during hails of bullets. And then around 1:55:20 Sophia Loren has gas but doesn't want anyone to know.

Eye Candy ?

Sophia Loren! Come on down! You're the next winner on Eye Candy!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says: "The Cassandra Crossing is a disaster
in genre only. Give it a watch."

Thanks Buddha Man! And that wraps this one up, so til next time, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Disaster movies...so much fun back in the day. I paraticularly remember the Poseidon Adventure and if it weren't for Gene Hackman, I don't think I could have "hacked" it.

    Love your pics of Sophia. She is stunning. I've never seen this movie but the cast is amazing!


  2. It's so interesting to see how genres become big at certain times whether in movies or in books. And yeah, it's no fun seeing Simpson in movies anymore.

  3. Luana - I love the disaster movies - Poseidon Adventure is one of my faves too! And nice pun on the Genester! Yeah, I was stunned by Loren's beauty in the movie. Thanks for stopping by!

    Jennifer - Good to see you! It is interesting to see the hills and valleys of the popularity of a genre, and how it usually cycles. And as far as Orenthal goes, despite his high billing on the poster, he's not really in it all that much, thankfully.