Tag Archives: Sophia Loren

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

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gotta love Sophia Loren.

This is a delightful comedy that won the Academy Award in 1964 for best foreign film. It consists of 3 vignettes all starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni and directed by the legendary Vittorio De Sica.

The first segment is entitled ‘Adelina’ and is a story about Adelina (Loren) who lives in poverty and sells cigarettes for a living. She is arrested for selling contraband products, but is released when it is found that she is expecting with the condition that six months after she delivers the baby she will be forced to serve her sentence. However, Adelina and her husband Carmine (Mastroianni) decide that the best way to avoid the sentence altogether is by keeping her continuously pregnant. Once she delivers one child she immediately gets pregnant with another, which creates overcrowding as well as an exhausted Carmine.

This segment is original and amusing throughout. Watching them trying to handle and maintain a household with such a large brood has its share of funny moments including one scene where Adelina tries to give one of her petulant children his medication. This setting vividly shows the poor side of Italian society, but unlike De Sica’s neo-realist films of the 40’s this one has a very engaging and even upbeat quality to it. The impoverished townsfolk become like a third character and their resiliency and support of one another proves to be a major plus to the story. Loren is fantastic in every scene she is in and makes this one special. Mastroianni is interesting playing against type as he is usually debonair and sophisticated, but here is simple and dominated.

The second story entitled ‘Anna’ deals with characters on the completely opposite end of the economic spectrum. Anna (Loren) is a spoiled rich woman who in an effort to alleviate her boredom with her husband who spends too much time working she has an affair with Renzo (Mastroianni). Renzo though fears that he is being used and that Anna has no intention of ever leaving her luxurious lifestyle to be with him.

All of the action takes place in a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud III convertible as the two characters discuss their relationship while driving through the streets of Rome. This story is not as lively as the first and the characters aren’t as likable. However, the part where Renzo has an accident with the car and Anna’s reaction to it is quite funny.

The third and final act is entitled ‘Mara’ and deals with a prostitute named Mara (Loren) who becomes interested in Umberto (Gianni Ridolfi) a young man living next door with his Grandmother (Tina Pica) and studying to become a priest. The grandmother does not approve of Mara’s ‘profession’ and openly shuns her causing a major discord between the two, but when Umberto decide to drop out of the seminary the two work together to try and bring him back to his senses.

This story, like the first, has many amusing moments. Loren shows impeccable comic ability. I loved how the character goes from sexy seductress to a woman pleading with Umberto to go back to seminary and escape this ‘wicked world’. The shift between having Mara and the grandmother hating each other to becoming friends is equally funny. Mastroianni doesn’t have as much to do here, but still makes the most of it playing one of Mara’s customers who is just looking for a little sex, but is reluctantly thrown into the middle of the controversy.

This segment became famous at the time for a striptease that Loren does for Mastroianni. However, by today’s standards it is not much and hardly even seemed worth mentioning. I actually thought the part where Loren walks outside wearing nothing more than a towel and provocatively singing a flirtatious song to the young Umberto, who has a face that looks like it had not reached puberty, was much steamier.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 19, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Studio: Embassy Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix streaming, Amazon Instant Video