Category Archives: Political Thrillers

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Nuclear silo under siege.

Loosely based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager the story centers on Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) a former military general who was sent to prison on trumped on murder charges, but manages to escape and is now out for revenge. With the help of three accomplices (Paul Winfield, William Smith, Burt Young) he breaks into a nuclear silo and threatens to launch it unless the President (Charles Durning) agrees to come clean on the government’s secret agenda in regards to the Vietnam War.

I’ve never read the film’s source novel, but have been told that this takes many liberties with it. The biggest problem is that it jumps ahead too quickly showing the four men right away breaking into the silo when it should’ve started back further to when they escaped from the prison and how they were able to get the access codes in order to break into the silo system to begin with. Winfield has a few great lines and Smith’s hair-trigger personality allows for interesting conflict, so these characters should’ve remained, but instead they are unwisely killed off leaving only Lancaster to pace around nervously, which quickly becomes boring.

Whenever someone escapes from prison the nearby area gets warned usually through the media. Certainly military personnel would’ve been put on high alert and thus making Dell’s ability to break into the silo, which was too easy to begin with, much less likely. The fact that a crazed general could break into a silo system and threaten to start WW III and have it never leaked to the media is highly unlikely as well, which along with various other loopholes makes this thing hard to fully get into.

Charles Durning is a great supporting actor, but here is badly miscast as the President. His facial expressions during his phone calls with the other Generals warning him of what is going on are unintentionally comical and too much time gets spent focusing on him contemplating on whether he’ll given into Dell’s demands until it seems like he is the star and Lancaster only a secondary player. Having him described as being an ‘honest politician’ and ‘a President who would never lie’ seems like an oxymoron as I don’t think a politician could even survive in Washington if they weren’t able to spin the truth sometimes and only helps to make the character seem too idealized.

Spoiler Alert!

This thing though really ‘jumps-the-shark’ at the end as I cannot imagine any circumstance where the secret service would allow the President of the United States to enter into a nuclear silo all alone and be used as a hostage. If they were real desperate they might try to pawn off an imposter in an attempt to fool them, but never the actual President as it would put him into too vulnerable a position. Also, the ‘shocking secret’ about why the U.S. got involved in the Vietnam War really isn’t all that earth shattering and certainly not worth sitting through simply to find out.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Director Robert Aldrich’s prolific use of the split screen is the one entertaining aspect and almost enough to overlook its other many faults, but at best it’s only a mindless programmer that manages to elicit minor tension only if you don’t think about it too hard.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 9, 1977

Runtime: 2 Hours 26 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Aldrich

Studio: Allied Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Brainstorm (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: They corrupt his invention.

Michael (Christopher Walken) heads a team of researchers who’ve been able to create an invention that allows the sensations from one person’s mind to be recorded onto tape and then transferred to someone else’s. Michael and his team see this as a profitable enterprise, but become uneasy when the government, who want to use it for military purposes, tries to intervene and take over. When Michael attempts to stop them he is fired, which forces him to take extreme measures to destroy the plant before the machine can be made.

This is to date the last feature film to be directed by special effects guru Douglas Trumbull and on a visual level it’s an inspiring ride particularly during the first half. I was also impressed with how the technology that the researchers used in the film didn’t have that dated quality to it like so many other films from that era,  which proves what a keen eye for detail Trumbull had as everything at least on the visual side looks believable and helps keep the film interesting.

Unfortunately the story, which was written by Bruce Joel Rubin, who had intended to direct the film himself years earlier before the financial backing pulled out, is quite contrived and the complete opposite from the state-of-the-art effects. The plot goes off into too many different directions and the pace lumbers along too slowly. The side-story involving Michael’s reconciliation with his wife Karen (Natalie Wood) makes the thing seem more like a romance and should’ve been discarded while the main story suffers from having two different screenwriters, Robert Stitzel, Philip Frank Messina, working off of an idea that was not their own and results in an unfocused final product.

Spoiler Alert!

The climatic sequence, in which Michael and Karen are able to destroy the plant remotely through the phone lines, is too far-fetched. Destroying the plant doesn’t really stop the government from moving forward with their plans anyways as they could simply rebuild the factory and come up with a tighter security system to alleviate the loophole that Michael used so he wouldn’t be able to do it again.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The concept of an invention that would allow someone to essentially read another person’s mind doesn’t really jive as the film portrays the thoughts and memories that people have to be quite linear when in reality it’s more fragmented. Sometimes people can have several conflicting thoughts and emotions going on at the same time making it virtually impossible for another person to decipher the barrage of flashing images that they would encounter from someone else.

The film’s biggest notoriety though is the fact that it was Natalie Wood’s last movie project and while most of her principle scenes where already completed before her untimely death the few that remained were shot using her younger sister as a stand-in. Wood’s presence though and her character are completely transparent and she could’ve been written out of it and nothing would’ve been lost. Louise Fletcher, who plays a bitchy, chain smoking research scientist, gets a far more plum role and ends up being the film’s scene stealer especially with her prolonged death scene. I also got a kick out of Joe Dorsey, who plays this graying middle-aged man who locks himself inside his basement and then uses the device to watch himself having sex with a hot blonde babe over and over again until he becomes completely shut off from the rest of his family and illustrates to a degree an interesting precursor to the porn addiction phenomenon.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Douglas Trumbull

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon video, YouTube