As critic Kim Newman points out in his interview that accompanies this new Blu-ray release of 1975’s Breakheart Pass, the decade produced all kinds of films, not just revolutionary classics by Scorsese, Coppola et al, the birth of the modern blockbuster or the various genre pictures that came out. This action-western-mystery sits within the broadly populist set of films that also featured many other westerns, cop thrillers, disaster pictures and romantic comedies designed to achieve nothing grander than entertaining their audiences for a couple of hours in theatres.
That’s not meant as a slight against it either, after all a full film appreciation is made up of at least a little of everything and simply being entertaining is an entirely noble aim for a movie. And so it proves with director Tom Gries’ lean and thrilling flick, which follows the mystery that unfolds when alleged cowardly killer Charles Bronson is picked up by Marshall Pearce (Ben Johnson) in a small outpost town and loaded onto a train headed for an army camp. Also along for this ride is Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna), the daughter of the army camp’s colonel and the Governor’s fiancé Marcia (Jill Ireland) and army Major Claremont (Ed Lauter) amongst a number of other solid character actors.
The mystery side of the film kicks in when, Murder on the Orient Express-style, the train’s inhabitants start getting picked off one by one. Someone on board doesn’t want their secret to come out and will kill to protect it. Perhaps Bronson, who is more than he first seems, will be the one to solve it. It’s a convoluted journey to the truth which is reached through plenty of (often literally) punchy action sequences as that great cast and the train hurtles across dangerous high bridges and through the snowy wilderness. It’s a fun film that whips by and, a few moments of brief but bloody violence aside, is one for the whole family.
This new release has a solid transfer which is for the most part sharp and clear. It’s good enough to display the wonderful scenery throughout and the plentiful action scenes with detail. That Newman interview is the only extra but it’s a good one, 25 minutes in which he enthusiastically sings the praises of such films, talks about author and screenwriter Alistair MacLean and provides context for what makes Breakheart Pass and films like it such a good time. Fans of the film won’t find a better release of it out there and, with the movie itself a great example of crowd-pleaser done right, it’s easy to recommend.
BREAKHEART PASS (1975) / CERTIFICATE: / DIRECTOR: TOM GRIES / SCREENPLAY: ALISTAIR MACLEAN / STARRING: CHARLES BRONSON, BEN JOHNSON, RICHARD CRENNA, JILL IRELAND, CHARLES DURNING, ED LAUTER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW