Cinema has been the forum for many lone renegades or small groups of freedom fighters setting out to reveal the truth to the sleeping public about how those in power plot to control and manipulate them. Directed by Robert Aldrich, 1977's Twilight’s Last Gleaming was one of a number of suspicious thrillers from a busy period for this approach throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s that sought to reflect the mood of the time.
Burt Lancaster is the disillusioned and angry ex-General Dell who heads a team of men who take over a silo of nuclear missiles in order to get the president to tell the country the twisted reasoning behind America’s intervention in the Vietnam War. A stand-off ensues as they demand $10m, Air Force One and the President himself, and everyone wonders how far Lancaster is willing to go.
It’s a long, arguably talky journey to get to the answer, but one that’s tense, intelligent and gripping. Highly-charged and possessed of a belief that people both deserve to and would even want to know the whole truth, it’s also bitter, cynical and defiantly unwilling to compromise. Times haven’t changed that much, what with the protests, fighting and general insanity (that means you, demented groping Wotsit) of the world these days but what has changed is the unlikeliness of any modern studio going near backing a film like this. Even at the time, Twilight’s Last Gleaming was not a financial success, rejected perhaps by a public wearying of conspiracy and talk of Vietnam.
If you’re a student of film or interested in the cinema of the ‘70s (this almost couldn’t exist in any other decade, certainly in this form), or you like the work of Aldrich and fine actors like Lancaster, Richard Widmark, and Charles Durning then it’s a great film and recommended. Though a thriller very much of its time, the themes still resonate strongly and it entertains and provokes. Included as an extra is an interesting feature-length making-of documentary Aldrich Over Munich.
As a side note, if you were ever curious to know what this earnest and idealistic movie would be like if directed by a cinematic violator, it’s worth noting that the bones of the plot were unofficially co-opted for 1996’s ludicrous and admittedly entertaining The Rock, a film of 100% less contemplative subtlety but equally arse numbing length and 100% more explosions.
TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING (1977) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ROBERT ALDRICH / SCREENPLAY: RONALD M. COHEN, EDWARD HUEBSCH / STARRING: BURT LANCASTER, ROSCOE LEE BROWNE, JOSEPH COTTEN, MELVYN DOUGLAS, CHARLES DURNING / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 31ST