Category Archives: Movies with a train setting

Finders Keepers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stolen loot inside coffin.

Based on the 1974 novel ‘The Next-to-Last Train Ride’ by Charles Dennis, the story centers on Michael Rangeloff (Micheal O’Keefe) who is a con-man on the run from a women’s roller derby team by hiding out as a U.S. Army General. He boards a train that has a coffin on it with millions of stolen dollars hidden inside. Once he becomes aware of this he tries to hatch a plan with a kooky actress (Beverly D’Angelo) that he meets along the way in helping him to get the money out of the coffin and off the train without being detected.

This is the type of film that gives comical farces a bad name. I’m all for comedies with a hyper-frantic pace and mistaken identities, but it still needs to have some grounding in what’s possible. This thing relies way too heavily on coincidences and random events to hold it together. The whole scenario that leads Michael getting onto the train is too much of an overreach. A more sane and less dizzying premise would’ve had Michael working on the train as a conductor from the start and then coming onto the money by chance, which would’ve been far less protracted.

His relationship with D’Angelo is dumb too. The women immediately comes-off as a babbling nutcase, even admits to suffering from mental health issues, and the type of person who usually gets thrown off of trains and planes for their disruptive behavior. Most people would be glad to be away from her the first chance they had and yet here the two end up going to bed together and profess their undying love for each other within 24-hours of first meeting.

The original concept was to use this as a vehicle for Dudley Moore, but that idea got nixed when the studio decided they wanted to make it an ensemble comedy instead, which was a big mistake. O’Keefe plays the role admirable, but he doesn’t have enough finesse that a comic star would. The supporting cast doesn’t help either. David Wayne’s portrayal of the world’s oldest conductor relies too heavily on the stereotype that every person who gets elderly must also be senile and it’ hard to imagine how anyone could hold done a job being as forgetful and out-of-touch as his character is. Ed Lauter, who wears a wig here, does not have the needed comic flair to make his bad-guy role either interesting or amusing. Oh, and Jim Carrey appears briefly too, but it’s a small bit that isn’t anything special.

Richard Lester directed many good comedies in his career, but the stylish quality that made up so much of his films from the 60’s is completely missing here. Everything gets captured in a flat, uninspired way and I didn’t like the Canadian province of Alberta being substituted for Nebraska as its flat wheat fields look nothing like the rolling prairie of the Midwest and the bleak late autumn topography complete with leafless trees gives off a chilly, depressing feel.

The scene where D’Angelo and Lauter find themselves inside a house while it is being trucked down a highway is kind of cool and outside of the low budget 80’s flick Mind Trapthe only time I’ve seen this done on film. Watching the house then end up losing its roof, after it goes under a low hanging overhead sign, and going down the road with skeletal frame exposed is fun too, but everything else is a bore that tries too hard to be frantic when it wasn’t necessary.

I was also confused why the setting of the story had to be in the year 1973 as it doesn’t play-up the 70’s era enough to make it worth it. My only guess was that with the Vietnam War still raging that it fit into the storyline of having dead soldiers returning home in coffins. However, since the US continually gets involved in foreign conflicts all the time this same scenario could easily work in any time period and sadly wasn’t unique just to that decade.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Lester

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS

Mr. Billion (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Italian mechanic inherits fortune.

When his rich uncle dies in a freak accident humble mechanic Guido (Terence Hill) learns that he has inherited the man’s billion dollar fortune. However, everything is contingent that he sign the legal papers at precisely 12 Noon on Monday, April 12th in San Francisco in order to receive the money. John Cutler (Jackie Gleason) who has worked many years in the uncle’s corporation wants all the money for himself and will do anything to stop the signing, which requires Guido to travel across the country in various forms of transportation to get there.

This was Hill’s American movie debut, but the results and effort are mediocre at best. It was written and directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who was still in the Roger Corman production phase of his career, which makes the film come-off looking like just another pedestrian dive-in fare that he had been doing up to that point. The plot is thin and unimaginative, relies too heavily on car chases to make it interesting, and gets filled with a lot of logic loopholes that just don’t add up.

Hill gets upstaged by the talented supporting cast of characters actors at every turn. Sam Laws as an aging black man who brings Hill home with him only to end up getting into a big argument with his son (Johnny Ray McGhee) about it is fun as is R.G. Armstrong as a stereotypically over-the-top southern-styled sheriff. Gleason is a lot of fun here too especially his facial expressions and reactions that make his scenes enjoyable.

There are a few interesting moments including a helicopter crashing onto a little league game and all the people shown, from a bird’s-eye perspective, running out of their homes to witness the accident. Watching the police vehicles getting smashed-up in a stock car race is cool too and the aerial views of the Grand Canyon where the characters battle each other while literally teetering on the edge of a massive cliff are breath taking. Unfortunately there are a lot of slow, dull moments in-between. The dialogue is not sharp enough to be consistently amusing and the script is too run-of-the-mill like it was written in a matter of hours with no heart or thought put into it at all.

This film also marks the last screen appearance of William Redfield. He was an actor who had been working in films since 1939 when he was just at child, but never gained much fame until he was in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. However, it was while working on that film that he got diagnosed with leukemia. He decided to forge on with his acting work as best as he could and here he looks perfectly healthy, and even plays a character that has an interesting arc, and yet he ended up dying just month after filming had completed.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 3, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jonathan Kaplan

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Released: DVD-R (Fox Cinema Archives)

Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Must arrive on time.

Bert (George Kennedy) is an unscrupulous, conniving owner of a football team who’s having an affair with the beautiful Maggie (Barbara Eden) whom he promises to marry once the father (Parley Baer) of his wife Estelle (Bridget Hanley) dies. He’s hoping to get a large chunk of the will, but finds that it comes with one big stipulation: he must restore the historic locomotive, the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and take it from New York City to Chattanooga, Tennessee within 24-hours and make sure that it arrives precisely on-schedule and if not he’ll lose out on a million dollars.

Producer George Edwards inadvertently struck gold in 1977 when he produced a film based on a hit song, Harper Valley PTA, that did marginally well, so he decided to try his luck with another one, but this time the attempt is an embarrassing failure. Part of the reason is that at least with the Tom T. Hall ditty it had a plot already in the lyrics, but this one doesn’t and the lame scenario that gets written around it is both threadbare and corny.

While Kennedy manages to be amusing he’s also unlikable and the viewer has no interest in seeing him achieve the challenge. For the story to have been more effective the character should not have already been rich, but instead poor and needing the money to help his family survive, which would’ve built more of an emotional interest at seeing him succeed.  Kennedy should’ve also driven the train himself, which would’ve created more comic scenarios instead of just seeing him basically sit back in the diner car doing nothing but nervously glance at his watch while others do the actual work.

Eden is a bore and speaks with in an annoying accent that makes her seem like a floozy from the streets. Bridget Hanley overdoes it with her caricatures of nouveau riche wife that is irritatingly cliched although it’s interesting to note that she did costar with Eden 17 years earlier in a season two episode of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ titled: ‘My Master, the Swinging Bachelor’.  Jineane Ford, a former Miss USA winner who spent 16 years as a news reporter for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, gets exploited by being forced to play a stutterer, which the filmmakers apparently thought should be a source of amusement, but it isn’t and shouldn’t have been implemented.

Watching Parley Baer’s dead body entombed inside a large box car, which then gets lowered into a giant grave is the film’s one and only original moment. Some may also find Tony Azito as a double-jointed waiter whose never dropped a drink amusing too, but everything else falls flat. More focus needed to be spent on the train scenario, like having it run into a storm, which could’ve threatened its arrival time, or dealing with mechanical problems, instead of dwelling in silly juvenile escapades that are both unfunny and pointless even for mindless escapism.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Bilson

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: VHS

Big Trouble (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Insurance agent commits fraud.

Leonard (Alan Arkin) is an insurance agent who does not have enough funds to put his three sons through Yale, which causes him a lot of stress. During a random sales call he meets Blanche (Beverly D’Angelo) who has a sick husband named Ricky (Peter Falk) who has only a week to leave. They hatch a scheme to write-up a life insurance policy that has a double indemnity clause that offers a big payout if Ricky dies by falling off a moving train. The plan starts out fine only to ultimately backfire when Leonard realizes he’s been double-crossed.

At the outset one might assume that this is a sequel to The In-Laws since it has the two stars from that film as well as the same screenwriter, though done under the pseudonym of Warren Bogle, but that’s not the case because Andrew Bergmen got the bright idea of trying to do a parody of Double Indemnity instead. This became a complete disaster for its studio Columbia Pictures because after the script was completed it was deemed a remake of the original film, which Universal Studios still held the rights to, forcing Columbia to give up the rights to Back to the Future and given to Universal as compensation who made a ton of money off of it while this film flopped badly.

A lot of the problem is that unlike in The In-Laws the two stars don’t play off of each other enough and in fact for most of the film they seem to be adversaries. The tone is also inconsistent seeming at times that it wants to be a parody/farce while at other moments it comes off more like a surreal comedy. It doesn’t help matters that John Cassavetes took over directing the production when Bergmen dropped out and his forte was more in drama with a cinema vertite approach causing many of the scenes here to go on longer than necessary while lacking a good comic pace. I also thought it was ridiculous that the plot features many twists, but then ends up telegraphing to the viewer well ahead of time that they’re coming, which takes away any surprise.

Arkin’s character is particularly problematic. Part of why he was so funny in The In-Laws is because he played this sane man thrown into an insane situation, but here he allows himself to get swept up into the nuttiness too easily until he seems almost as crazy as the rest. There’s also no way that a seasoned insurance agent, such as the one he played, would be dumb enough to think he could pull off such a poorly thought out scheme. Being an agent he would know that an autopsy would be done on the dead body and they would find that the victim had been strangled well before he fell off the train and the fact that this all occurs less than 24-hours after the policy was signed would send off massive red flags to anyone working in the industry.

While there are a few funny moments which includes Arkin trying to disguise himself as Falk and even speak in his voice as well as Arkin’s reaction when he takes a sip of Falk’s very exotic liqueur, the rest of it falls depressingly flat. The worst of it is the ending, which throws in a wild coincidence that has no bearing to the main plot nor any forewarning or connection to anything else that came before it, which helps to cement this as a big mistake that should’ve never have been given the green light.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 30, 1986

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Cassavetes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Posse (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Everyone has their price.

Howard Nightingale (Kirk Douglas) is an ambitious Marshall looking to run for U.S. Senate and realizes his best bet of winning the seat is by bringing in the notorious train robbing gang led by Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Howard manages to kill off the gang by having his posse set fire to the hideout that they were in, but Jack escapes only to be captured later and brought to jail. While on the train ride to Austin where he’ll be hanged Jack comes up with an elaborate escape and turns-the-tables by handcuffing Howard and returning him to the town where they came from and holding him prisoner inside the local hotel. When the posse returns to the town everyone is convinced they’ll free Howard, or will they?

In an era where revisionist westerns were all the rage it’s confusing, at least initially, not to understand why this one, which story-wise goes completely against-the-grain of the conventional western, isn’t propped up there with the best of them and a lot of the blame could possibly be put on the direction. There’s nothing really wrong with the way it’s presented and there are some exciting moments including a realistic shootout as well as a running train being set on fire while also exploding from dynamite, but the rest of it does have a certain static feel. There’s too much reliance on music and not enough on mood or atmosphere as well as actors looking more like modern day people in period costume.

The script though, which is based on a 1971 short story called ‘The Train’ by Larry Cohen is full of many offbeat twists that keeps the viewer intrigued. Of course in an attempt to stretch out the short story into feature length there are some slow spots, particularly in the middle and the emphasis is more on concept than character development, but Jack’s crafty way at escaping is quite entertaining and the surprise ending is one of the best not because it’s a gimmick, which it isn’t, but more because it’s quite believable and yet something that’s never been done in any other western.

Douglas gives his conniving character just the right amount of pompous camp to make him enjoyable and it’s great to see James Stacy in his first movie role after his tragic motorcycle accident where he lost both his left arm and leg. In any other film this handicap would have to become a major issue, but here it doesn’t even get mentioned. The character doesn’t use it to feel sorry for himself nor is he treated any differently than anyone else, which I found to be quite refreshing.

A minor drawback though it that it’s supposed to take place in Texas and my hometown of Austin even gets mentioned a few times, which is kind of cool, but it was actually filmed in the state of Arizona. To some this might not be a big deal, but Arizona’s landscape is much sandier and has more mountains. Their cacti is of the upright kind while in Texas the cactus is of the bushy variety known as the prickly pear. All of which helps to ruin the film’s authenticity. If they didn’t have the funding to film it in Texas then have the story’s setting take place in California or Arizona, but trying to compromise it and hoping that astute viewers won’t know the difference doesn’t work.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: June 4, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Kirk Douglas

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Great Train Robbery (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: A daring gold heist.

In 1855 Edward Pierce (Sean Connery) comes up with an idea to rob a large shipment of gold from a traveling train.  He recruits the services of his mistress Miriam (Lesley-Anne Down) and a screwsmen named Robert Agar (Donald Sutherland) to help him do it. The heist requires that they make copies of four keys that are used to open the safe, but each are possessed by four different bank executives forcing them into an elaborate scheme to attain them all. Eventually the authorities become aware of their plan making their heist even trickier to pull off.

The story is based on an actual incident that occurred in 1855 that Michael Crichton became intrigued by, which inspired him to write a fictionalized account that became a best-selling novel and in turn lead to him being offered the chance to direct the film version. As a period piece it succeeds as I loved the variety of wardrobes that the characters wear and the lavish settings that not only reveals London’s rich neighborhoods of that era, but its poverty-stricken ones as well all in amazingly accurate detail.

The film has an underlying quirky tone that is engaging, but this also makes it seem less authentic. For a crime caper to be enjoyable one must believe that it could really happen, or what the characters do is actually possible. There were times when I wasn’t convinced of either and the blame goes to the film trying too hard to be cute instead of just sticking to the detail.

Henry Fowler (Malcolm Terris) is one of the bank executives with a key who proudly proclaims to wear it around his neck, which he states that he ‘never’ takes off. In order to get the key and allow Robert to make a wax impression of it, Miriam pretends to be a prostitute who convinces him to take off the key, so they can make love, which he immediately does. This seems too easy as rarely do humans behave exactly as you think they will. When things come together without any hitch you start to question its validity. If a guy says he ‘never’ removes his key than make it much harder to convince him to do it, or force Robert to make the wax impressions of the key while Henry still has it around his neck and making out with Miriam, which would’ve been funnier.

Another segment has Robert breaking into an office at the railway station where two of the keys are stored inside a cabinet. The night watchman that guards the office always leaves at the same time for exactly 75 seconds to go to the bathroom. Robert is then forced to break into the office and make the wax impressions of the keys and then get out within that same 75 second time frame, but who goes to the bathroom at the exact same amount of time each and every time they go? Most people will go within a certain time range, but no one is that robotic to literally ‘count out the seconds’ as they pee. Having a character behave in such an extreme way only accentuates the film’s whimsical quality while throwing the believability out the door.

Later on in an effort to get inside the train compartment Robert pretends to be a corpse inside a coffin. To create a stench a dead cat is put in alongside him, but how was Robert able to withstand the horrible odor as people standing outside the coffin kept complaining about the unbearable smell. What was it about Robert that made him tolerate it as long as he does when almost no one else could’ve? This makes Robert seem super-human and gives even more leverage to the fact that this couldn’t have really happened at least not in the way done here.

The exciting ending features Connery, not a stunt double, but the actor himself getting on the train roof as the train is running at 55 mph and trying to go from the front of it to the back while ducking under numerous bridges that come whizzing by at lightning speed. This had me holding my breath, but I still came away wishing the film had stuck more to the original account. I read a brief overview of the real crime that was written in more detail by David C. Hanrahan in ‘The First Great Train Robbery’.  There are many differences between the real event and how it gets portrayed here with the real account being far more interesting.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Michael Crichton

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

The Lady Vanishes (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where’s the old lady?

In 1939 while traveling by train from Bavaria to Switzerland American Heiress Amanda (Cybill Shepherd) befriends an English nanny named Miss Froy (Angela Lansbury). The two sit across from each other inside a train compartment. When Amanda awakens from a nap she notices that Miss Froy has disappeared and when she asks others where she went to everybody denies having even seen her. Amanda starts to question her own sanity and tries to use the assistance of American photographer Robert Condon (Elliot Gould) to help her figure out what is going on.

This film is a remake of the classic 1938 movie of the same name, which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and based on the novel ‘The Wheel Spins’ by Ethel Lina White. I last saw the original over 30 years ago while attending college, so my memories of it are fuzzy and I’ll be unable to compare the two. However, I do remember enjoying it and feeling that this thing doesn’t quite reach the same level.

The biggest issue is the casting of Shepherd. I think she’s a gorgeous lady, I loved seeing her in the low cut white dress and at one point she even appears to bravely do her stunts by jumping off a moving train, but her acting is not up to par. She can be great as a bitchy, sarcastic woman or even as a kooky eccentric, but as someone we want to root for or sympathize with, no way. Some of her former co-stars including Bruce Willis and Christine Baranski have described her as being cold and competitive to deal with and that’s the exactly same vibe I get every time I see her. Her efforts to cover that up in an attempt to play a more likable character doesn’t work, so instead producers should cast her in parts that mesh with her personality while getting someone else more affable for this role.

Gould has the same problem. He looks bored and out-of-place and I don’t know why the nationalities of the two lead characters, which had been British in the original, were changed to American here, but it doesn’t help. Besides there is absolutely no chemistry between he and Shepherd, which makes the romantic angle come off as quite forced. He was also considerably older than her and they should’ve at the very least cast two people more in the same age range.

Even the great Angela Lansbury is all wrong here. She still gives the role a stellar performance with her best moment coming when her eyes well up with tears as the other passengers openly contemplate throwing her off the train and into the clutches of an SS officer standing outside, which proves that the truly great stars don’t need any speaking lines to convey just the right emotion.  However, she was only in her 50’s at the time and didn’t come off looking elderly. Dame May Whitty played the part in the original and was in her 70’s, which is what the age of the actress playing the part here should’ve been.

The basic premise is still entertaining enough to keep things passable, but I would’ve liked the mystery angle played up more by showing things only from Amanda’s perspective until the viewer started to question her sanity as well. The scene where Amanda sees the name Miss Froy written in the dust of a train window by the Lansbury character earlier and then having that name strangely disappear off the window after they go through a tunnel makes no sense. This was supposed to be a ‘realistic’ thriller and therefore surreal elements should not have been thrown in.

The climactic sequence is entertaining, Arthur Lowe is enjoyable in a supporting part, and the Austrian scenery is luscious, but the movie is marginal and only helps to make the viewer appreciate the original more than anything.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 8, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Anthony Page

Studio: Rank Film Distributors

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: They all did it.

The time is December, 1935 and world-renown detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) boards the Orient Express as an unexpected guest who’s able to find a spare compartment due to his friendship with the train’s owner (Martin Balsam). During the night one of the other passengers (Richard Widmark) is found dead and it is up to Poirot to solve the crime while the train remains stalled by a large snow bank.

This production is considered by many to be the best film version of any of Agatha Christie’s novel-to-screen attempts and in fact the author herself said as much when she attended a showing of the movie on the night of its premiere. Director Sidney Lumet’s ingenious touch is on-target the whole way as he creates a nice blend of kitsch and camp until the over-the-top costumes, playfully sharp dialogue, and glossy camerawork become more of the fun than the mystery itself.

In fact it’s Lumet’s ability to capitalize on the little things and control every minute detail that makes it so captivating even on repeat viewings. Their ability to turn an abandoned warehouse into a bustling train station is just one example. I also enjoyed the moment when the train leaves the station that gets done to the sound of a waltz composed specifically for the film by Richard Rodney Bennett. Originally they were going to have train sounds edited in and had hired a sound engineer who had spent his whole life recording these noises for specifically this purpose only to get the disappointment of his life when he was told that they had decided to go with the music alone, which crushed him so much that his eyes welled up with tears and he never returned.

Finney’s performance is outstanding. He was not someone you’d have in mind initially for this type of part, but through his brilliant acting and effective make-up he disappears into the role and immerses the viewer in the presence of this highly eccentric character and his unusual habits including the way he puts both his hair and moustache into a hair net before going to bed and reads a newspaper while wearing gloves.

The star studded supporting players are perfectly cast for their parts too. Anthony Perkins nicely plays-up his nervous man routine while Wendy Hiller is enjoyable as the caustic aging Princess who wears a constant frown because her doctor advised her that smiling ‘was not good for her health’. Widmark has an amusing conversation with Poirot particularly with his inability to correctly pronounce the detective’s last name and Ingrid Bergman shines in a small bit as a poor, but devoutly religious woman, which was enough to net her the Oscar for best supporting actress.

Spoiler Alert!

The murder scene in which all the passengers file into Widmark’s cabin and systematically take turns stabbing him is, like with everything else, astutely captured particularly with the way it’s shot by using only a blue tinged light as its sole light source. Lumet craftily uses a two-camera set-up here in which one camera captures the characters and the other focuses on Lauren Bacall’s character’s reactions to it as she stands at the doorway as a lookout. Bacall was never known as an actress to show much vulnerable emotion, but here, at least through her facial expressions, she does quite well. However, this segment also reveals a fatal flaw as Poriot’s cabin was right next to Widmarks’s and earlier in the film he was able to hear the conversations going on in the cabin next him almost perfectly, but then as each participant takes turns stabbing Widmark they say something out loud and yet for whatever reason Poirot never hears this, which makes you wonder why.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The script, by Paul Dehn, gets talky but is saved by its amusing verbal exchanges and Lumet’s use of different lenses to capture it, so I didn’t find it a problem in a movie that deserves its classic status both a mystery and cinematic achievement. The remake directed by Kenneth Branagh is set to be released in November.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: November 24, 1974

Runtime: 2 Hours 8 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Sidney Lumet

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2, A/1)

The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

cassandra-crossing-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Virus on a train.

A terrorist (Lou Castel) who’s infected with the pneumonic plague sneaks onto a train in order to escape capture, but in the process infects the other passengers. U.S. Colonel MacKenzie (Burt Lancaster) devises a plan to have the train rerouted to a quarantine camp in Poland, but this will require the train to go over a bridge known as the Cassandra Crossing, which has not been used since 1948 and could be structurally unsound. When the passengers realize what the plan is they revolt and make an attempt to stop the train before it gets there, but will it be too late?

The way the bridge gets photographed is excellent and helps make it seem like a third character. An actual working bridge known as the Garabit Viaduct was used and is still in operation today, so the filmmaker’s ability to effectively make it look old and weakened is impressive. The climactic sequence showing the train going over the bridge is very exciting and well shot even if certain angles look conspicuously like a toy train instead of a real one it’s still a showstopper and well worth sitting through just to get to that point.

The film though fails on many other levels. For one thing the characters are not likable, or even all that interesting, so the viewer has little empathy as to whether they are able to make it through their quandary or not. The train is too ordinary looking with little pizazz or visual appeal and more attempts should’ve been made to have a luxury one used instead. The fact that the patients begin to miraculously recover from the disease during the second half makes sitting through the first part almost pointless.

The cast is filled with a lot of familiar faces. Ava Gardner is great in a role that allows her to show some key comic touches, but Sophia Loren, who was cast because her husband at the time was the producer, is completely wasted and forgettable. Lancaster is equally stymied in a role that has him virtually locked inside a control room with not much to do except look perpetually worried. Having his character decide to not panic the passengers by telling them about the virus, but instead he chooses to lie and inform them that the train is being rerouted to avoid bombs planted onto the railway line by terrorists ends up inadvertently getting the passengers just as upset to the point that it’s unintentionally funny.

Richard Harris who plays a doctor trying to treat the infected people while also working to prevent the train from driving into an impending disaster is the only cast member who gives the film any life. Like in the similarly themed Juggernaut his brash and irreverent approach that openly stands up to authority without hesitation helps to make his anti-hero persona seem genuine and refreshing, which in turn makes the film more gripping. His attractive real-life wife Ann Turkel, who plays a singer in a hippie band here, isn’t bad either, or at least not on the eyes.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1976

Runtime: 2Hours 8Minutes

Rated R

Director: George P. Cosmatos

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD

Fever (1989)

fever 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review:  Suspense in the desert.

This review will be a first in a series in which we celebrate Australian cinema by reviewing one film each week from Down Under. Today’s movie centers on Jack Welles (Bill Hunter) who comes upon a suitcase full of money after a shootout with a drug dealer. He decides to keep the loot and take it home to his lovely wife Leanne (Mary Regan) unfortunately when he gets there he finds that she is in bed with another man named Jeff (Gary Sweet). The enraged Jack attacks Jeff, but Jeff and Leanne manage to fight him off while knocking him out in the process. Thinking that they’ve killed him they take his body out to the desert and dump it into a vat. The problem is that Jack isn’t dead and he proceeds to relentlessly chase the two while also being followed by a busy-body deputy named Morris (Jim Holt) who thinks that Jack is hiding something and who in-turn is also being followed by criminal kingpin Mr. Tan (Lawrence Mah) who is out to retrieve his drug money.

For the most part this film works pretty well and has a story that is compact and original and will keep the viewer guessing all the way through to the end. It also has some particularly novel camera angles including seeing the inside of a car, with the driver still at the wheel, as it flips over.

The film manages to avoid most of the expected loopholes that you usually see in these types of stories, but there are still a few discrepancies. The biggest one is that Jack recovers from the blow to his head a bit too quickly and magically. There is no dried blood, or bandages needed despite the fact that he does initially bleed when he is first hit. In fact there is no sign of even a cut and no after effects like headaches, swelling or dizziness that most assuredly would affect anyone else after being hit over the head with a vase and knocked unconscious. There is also a scene near the end where, in an effort to find his wife, Jack barges into a lady’s washroom and kicks open all the stall doors before finding a woman sitting on the toilet, but for some reason she doesn’t scream or react at all when he does this, which is weird.

The casting is another issue. Hunter is way older than the actress who plays his wife and it doesn’t look right or make sense. Why would such a young beauty settle for some tubby middle-ager? It clearly wasn’t for love or money and the actor playing her lover has too much of the chiseled male model features of a soap opera star. The solution would’ve been to cast performers to play the wife and lover that were of the same age and looks range as Hunter.  Average looking, middle-aged people have sex and affairs in real-life, so why can’t characters on the big screen ever reflect this?

The story also suffers by having characters that are not likable and nobody to root for. Any screenwriting coach will tell you that no matter how clever, or creative the plot may be if it does not have three dimensional characters then it won’t work.

However, with all that said there are still enough unexpected twists to keep it interesting particularly the ones that occur during the final ten minutes. The last one is especially good and one I would never have guessed, nor seen done in any other film, so the movie gets kudos for that.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 1, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Rated R

Director: Craig Lahiff

Studio: Genesis Films

Available: VHS