By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Chuck’s on a train.
John Deacon (Charles Bronson) is a prisoner on a train headed Fort Humboldt. The train is carrying medical supplies to help the people there who are suffering from a plague outbreak. Amongst the passengers on the train is a Governor (Richard Crenna) a U.S. Marshal (Ben Johnson), a priest (Bill McKinney) and a load of Calvary soldiers, but as the ride progresses strange things begin to happen. People disappear and then turn up dead. Everyone seems to have a secret to hide and what is inside the boxes labeled medical supplies isn’t medicine.
This is the first Bronson/Ireland production to be given a big budget and the wintry Rocky Mountain landscape is sumptuous. The plot itself is intriguing and full of interesting twists that grabs you right from the start and keeps you enthralled until the end. Based on the Alister Maclean novel who also wrote the script it is no surprise that it seems more like a spy/espionage thriller than a conventional western yet there is enough gritty elements to keep it passable at both ends. The mixture of the two genres is unique and exciting and for a bubblegum actioner this one hits the mark.
The stuntwork is impressive and one of the film’s highpoints. Some of the best moments are when a man is thrown from a train and you see him fall from a bridge all the way to the river below. What makes this stand out is that the conventional, lightweight mannequin was thankfuly not used. Instead it looks like a real human body that even thumps along the wooden posts of the bridge as it goes down making it vivid. Watching the trainload of soldiers spiral off the tracks and go crashing along the mountainside has the same realistic quality. The fight on top of one of the snowy train cars between Bronson and former boxer Archie Moore is well choreographed and the scene of a telegraph operator getting a bullet shot through his head is surprisingly graphic.
The supporting cast is good and for a while they outshine Bronson who seems in a way outclassed by their colorful personalities and different acting styles. However, as it evolves Bronson comes into his own and it becomes a lot of fun watching the way he singlehandedly outsmarts and outmuscles all of them.
Ireland is beautiful as always and manages to hold her own to the otherwise all male cast. The music becomes an excellent added element. The booming orchestral sound of the opening theme is reminiscent of ones used in classic westerns. The unique score played whenever the Indians appear on screen has an interesting beat and sound. This is an entertainment winner for not only Bronson fans, but for action lovers as well.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 25, 1975
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Tom Gries
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video