Heartbreak Pass (1975) – A Review
It’s the cold 1870s Nevada. There’s an outbreak of diphtheria at a garrison and an express train loaded with medical supplies traverses through the steep snowy mountains to supply the ill.
Also on this locomotive is a Governor (Richard Crenna), his mistress (Jill Ireland), a U.S. Marshal (Ben Johnson), an Army Major (Ed Lauter), a caboose of reinforcement soldiers and a ‘wanted man’ (Charles Bronson) who is really a secret service agent on a mission.
A whole lot of suspicion erupts when folks start to get murdered and go missing on this trip. And wait a second, is it really medical supplies that are being hauled on this train?
No one is who they say they are. Gunfights, train top brawls, accusations, a gang of outlaws and an attacking tribe of Indians make this anything but a leisurely train ride.
It all sounds more exciting than it ends up. Heartbreak Pass is a fine light diversion with few highlights. Bronson fans might enjoy it more than the average viewer.
There are some very impressive old school fights and stunts around this old locomotive. There’s a few very cool train crashes and explosions and the locations are eye-popping. All the cast fills their roles fine, but the story just doesn’t gel and never really hooked me in.
It begins as sort of a ‘Murder on the Orient Express‘ western style tale. A clausttrophic steam-powered battle between these characters with Brosnan trying to figure out who to trust and killing the rest. It starts to look like the exciting train action will also have an intriguing story and characters to bring it all together.
Then it quickly seques into a very standard shoot-em up that really doesn’t have much mystery to it. I imagine the novel by Alistair MacLean the film is based on was better and was perhaps a bit more of a page turner with the reader, anxiously awaiting to find out what each characters true motivations are. With the casting the film does, you can pretty easily pick out who’s behind what and who’s not being truthful. I mean it’s pretty predictable casting choices here.
So, watching it felt a bit like riding a very straight rail line with no curves or unexpected turns. I wasn’t surprised by any of it.
On the plus side, the movies does contain some great old school stunts and wild train wrecks. I mean, some are really very well done!
There’s an exciting scene of Bronson fighting a bad guy on top of the train and the guys are hanging off the side of it dangling over a ravine, and it’s impressive as hell! The guys really look like they’re close to buying it.
And I have to say Jerry Goldsmith provides a terrific western score to the movie. Some of the tracks playing while we watch this locomotive travel through the snowy scenery got my heart racing and feet tapping. It certainly put me in the mood for a fun western actioner or even taking a nice train ride through the wilderness.
It’s great to see folks like Crenna, Durning and Lauter play off Bronson, who does his tried and true taciturn hero character. Somehow all the actors don’t really seem too passionate about their roles and just kind of go through the motions. It’s a great cast and it’s nice to see them all sharing the screen, but unfortunately they can’t do much to elevate the story and no one really gets to do anything really remarkable.
Ireland doesn’t get to do much at all. Despite her starring alongside Bronson so frequently, I never thought she was ever that good of an actress and regardless of her being his real life wife, thought many times a lot of his movies would have been better had they cast a different leading lady for him.
For Bronson fans this will probably satisfy. It has enough fun action bits and macho staredowns that will provide a Bronson fix. For others, I don’t think they’ll be taking away much more than that, at least I didn’t.
Here’s the trailer, which not surprisingly gives away a lot of the best bits from the film. I wish the movie itself was as exciting as the trailer makes it seem.