Connect with us

Clint Eastwood

Brosnan was a minimalist, much like Clint Eastwood, and his harsh, almost expressionless face made him perfect for playing mysterious tough guys

The words are spoken by none other than Charles Bronson, perhaps the last actor in the world one expects to say these words. The film is the 1975 Western adventure Breakheart Pass, directed by Tom Gries, and no, Bronson is not playing either Jesus Christ or Mahatma Gandhi in the film, though his initial actions in the film might raise suspicions to that account – Bronson’s character, John Deakin, is kicked, slapped around and then cuffed, tied and relegated to the floor of a train, with nary a protest or hint of violence from the macho star, who just keep repeating that he is non-violent. Bronson films are usually filled with violence of every kind, and Breakheart Pass is no exception; the film has action, adventure, mystery, and yes violence too, but it’s still one of those rarest of rare films: a PG rated Charles Bronson action thriller from the 1970s, and that too just a year after Bronson himself took violence in movies to a new level with his vigilante thriller Death Wish. So, the much toned down nature of Breakheart Pass is truly surprising. The film concentrates on building suspense, rather than in random acts of violence.

The film is adapted from an Alistair MacLean novel and this is one of the most faithful MacLean adaptations, maybe because the author himself wrote the screenplay. MacLean usually writes either suspenseful action thrillers set during WWII, or more contemporary twisty thrillers, Breakheart Pass is the lone MacLean novel set in the Old-west, and though every Maclean novel has an element of mystery involved in it, here, he makes the mystery the main aspect of the film. The film borrows equally from John Ford’s iconic Stagecoach(1939) as it does from Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, which was made into a very popular movie by director Sidney Lumet in 1974.

The plot of the film goes something like this: it’s the 1870’s. A special train is being sent to Fort Humboldt, a frontier outpost, with medical supplies and a relief force to combat the diphtheria that has broken out there. The territorial Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna) is taking personal charge of the operation, the troops are commanded by cavalry Major Claremont(Ed Lauter). Along for the ride is a U.S. Marshal, Pearce (Ben Johnson), Doctor Molyneux(David Huddleston), Fort Humboldt’s Commanding officer’s daughter, Marica Scoville (Jill Ireland) and Reverend Peabody(Bill McKinney). The train engineer is played by Roy Jenson and the conductor O’Brien is Charles Durning. Governor Fairchild travels in style in a private car with a cook, Carlos (Archie Moore), and a server (Victor Mohica). On the way, they pickup a wanted criminal, John Deakin (Charles Bronson). As the Train makes it journey thought the Rocky mountains, the passengers start getting killed one by one. First, a few of the Major’s soldiers goes missing; then the doctor is found dead; after that, the fireman is thrown from the engine car while the train is crossing a steep wooden bridge. Obviously, there is a killer or a group of killers on the train. It soon become obvious that none of the passengers- including Deakin – are what they appear to be, and neither is the purpose of the journey as clean cut as delivering medical supplies. Deakin turns out to be an undercover government agent (this is revealed pretty early in the film) and it’s up to him to uncover the mystery, which involves corrupt government officials, angry native tribes, illegal arms sales and gold smuggling.

As it is obvious from the plot synopsis, the film boasts of a great star cast , and one of the pleasures of the movie is seeing them play off each other, especially as the mystery deepens and it is left to the audience to guess who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Bronson, Johnson, Lauter, all veterans of Westerns, does great work here, with Crenna, Durning and others lending great support. Jill Ireland, Bronson’s wife in real life and his regular screen partner, lends her feminine charms to this otherwise masculine drama. The film borrows the basic template from Stagecoach – a group of disparate American characters travelling through hostile Indian territory; only here, the Coach is replaced by a smoky train. Also, Bronson’s John Deakin intrudes into their journey in the same way as outlaw, Ringo Kid (John Wayne) does in Stagecoach; Both Deakin and Kid turns out, not to be the bad guys their reputation suggests, and in the end they emerges as the heroes who save the day. The buildup of the suspense set around a train journey is very reminiscent of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, with Deakin becoming the Hercule Poirot surrogate; investigating the murders\disappearances and unearthing clues to the unfolding mystery. The film also borrows from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes(1938) – another mystery thriller set on a train, with its themes of espionage and political conspiracies.

Though the film is one of the most faithful adaptations of an Alistair Maclean

novel, It does departs from the novel at several points, the most important one being that it is revealed much early in the film that Deakin is a secret service agent, as opposed to the book where it is revealed only very late. Also, in the novel, Marica is Fairchild’s niece, while it’s changed to a sort of romantic relationship in the movie; Richard Crenna portrays Fairchild as a cunning and resourceful person, while in the novel, he’s a rather stupid coward. Bronson wanted to stick close to the book regarding the revelation of Deakin’s identity, but the filmmakers changed it – much to the chagrin of Bronson – so that the last hour of the film could play as a regular Cavalry Vs. Indians Western. I feel the generic last half hour, which provides us with the typical genre pleasures – chases on horseback, shootings, confrontation with Native tribes, derailing of trains, cavalry charges etc. – is inferior to the suspenseful first hour of the film. The climax is also changed from the novel- where the story ends with a spectacular “Bridge on the river Kwai” style exploding bridge and derailing of a train. Maybe producers didn’t have enough budget to shoot that climax, so they set it around a stationary train.

Though the film concentrates more on suspense, the film still has some great action scenes choreographed by the legendary stunt coordinator Yakima Canutt. Canutt had directed the climactic gunfight in Stagecoach and the Chariot race in Ben-Hur, Breakheart Pass was his last film. Here he designed some spectacular scenes, like the one where the troop carriages are detached from the main body of the train and they crash off the rail line into a ravine. But the most memorable action sequence is the thrilling fight between Bronson and boxing champ Archie Moore on the snow covered train roof-top as the train hurtles along though the mountain pass. The scene is superbly shot by the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard – who had shot great westerns for Sam Peckinpah like The Wild Bunch (1969) . Though the film is set in Nevada, shooting was mainly done in Idaho; and Ballard showcases the beautiful landscape to the optimum. The terrific Jerry Goldsmith score complements the film; it is both rousing and ominous, befitting a suspenseful western adventure. The film is directed by Tom Gries, who started off in television and later made his film debut in the late 60’s with some well respected revisionist movies like the western Will Penny and sports drama Number One, both starring Charlton Heston. But by the mid 1970’s, he had become a very traditional filmmaker; he had made the contemporary crime thriller Breakout with Bronson earlier that year. Here, he does a very efficient job of mixing genres, keeping the narrative straightforward, without going into too many twists or turns. He realizes that, at the end of the day, this is very much an escapist Charles Bronson action\adventure movie and he strives to make it a fresh and enjoyable experience for the audience without disappointing the hardcore Bronson fans- and Gries accomplishes this very successfully.

The film was made at the height of Bronson’s career. After doing supporting parts in very successful ensemble dramas like The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape , The Dirty Dozen etc., Bronson had attained international stardom with Sergio Leone’s Once upon a time in the West. The success of Death Wish(1974) would solidify his American stardom. He was one of the highest paid actors at the time and also the most prolific; in 1975 alone he made three movies, apart from Breakheart Pass and Breakout, he also made Walter Hill’s depression era dram Hard Times. It was also a time when Bronson was trying to expand his image by doing slightly different roles (films) from his regular stone-faced avenging angels; films like Hard Times, White Buffalo, From Noon Till Three etc. were expected to broaden his audience appeal. Unfortunately, none of them, including Breakheart Pass, was commercially successful.

This was the reason why he never became a star of the magnitude and durability of a Clint Eastwood, and he was soon relegated to his bread and butter B action movies and countless Death Wish sequels. Bronson was 53 when he made this movie, and though his face showed the ravages of age – he was never a conventionally good looking movie star to begin with anyway – he was in superb physical shape, clearly evident from the fighting scenes in Hard Times. In this film, he is fully up to the challenges of doing difficult stunts; whether fisticuffs on the roof of the train or gunfights on the horseback. As an actor, Brosnan was a minimalist, much like Clint Eastwood, and his harsh, almost expressionless face made him perfect for playing mysterious tough guys, whether it is the avenging angel Harmonica in Once upon a time in the West or the secret service agent masquerading as an outlaw here. In that regard, Breakheart Pass is one of the best Charles Bronson films, where he is perfect.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood May Replace Steven Spielberg as ‘American Sniper’ Director

American Sniper – based on the late Chris Kyle’s memoir “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History” – has attracted some big Hollywood talent, ever since Bradley Cooper’s 22nd & Indiana production company picked up the rights in 2012 (with Cooper attaching himself as the star and producer). Case in point, Cooper’s Silver Linings Playbook writer/director David O. Russell was reported as being the first serious contender in consideration for the helming job on Sniper.

Russell has decided to look elsewhere, where it concerns the possible followup to his next project: the true-story historical dramedy American Hustle (also starring Cooper). Steven Spielberg appeared to be all-ready to commit as director on American Sniper back in May of 2013, but he then dropped out around three months later.

Deadline is reporting that Warner Bros. wants American Sniper to begin filming by the first quarter of 2014. That could mean the studio intends to release the movie during the subsequent awards season; or, at least, have the Sniper adaptation ready in time to make an Oscar-qualifying limited theatrical run in December next year.

However, in order for that to be feasible, WB is going to need a director known for working fast, efficiently and effectively to captain the American Sniper ship – which may be part of the reason why the studio has begun “tentative negotiations” with Clint Eastwood, so as to have the Oscar-winning legend take the helm. If a deal is struck, then Eastwood will begin filming his Jersey Boys musical adaptation at the conclusion of this month (August 2013, at the time of writing this), before he wraps up production a couple months later and then jumps head-first into principal photography on Sniper.

Kyle’s American Sniper book – detailing how the former Navy SEAL went “from Texas rodeo cowboy to expert marksman and feared assassin” – has been adapted into movie script form by Jason Dean Hall. The latter’s artistic credibility took a hit this past week, due to the poor critical reception for Paranoia (which Hall co-wrote). I’m taking the time to note this because Eastwood has a tendency to direct scripts with potential – something that Hall’s American Sniper script draft clearly has (given the talent it has managed to attract).

Problem is, Clint the director is able to work faster because he skips on polishing or fine-tuning the scripts he works from, as has become increasingly noticeable in his more recent films (see: Invictus, J. Edgar) – meaning, he may not be the right guy to give Hall’s American Sniper script draft any necessary tweaks it needs to realize its full promise. Moreover, Eastwood’s no-budge directorial temperament often gives rise to a slow-paced and soulfully-morose final product – but is that the right approach to Kyle’s story, passing over how respectful Eastwood would be towards his subject?

How about it, then: Clint Eastwood to direct American Sniper, yay or nay?

Continue Reading

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood to Direct ‘Jersey Boys’ Film?

These days, actor/director Clint Eastwood is best known as the filmmaker behind hard-hitting dramas like Million Dollar Baby and Mystic River. However, the former Dirty Harry has been looking to try his hand at a very different genre for quite a while – the musical.

For years, Eastwood has been developing a remake of A Star Is Born, which was most recently brought to the big screen in 1976 with Barbara Streisand in the lead. Eastwood’s version – which would be the third remake of the original 1937 production – was set to star Beyoncé Knowles. However, Knowles has since dropped out of the project, leaving it in a state of limbo for now.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Eastwood will instead shift his focus over to another musical project with the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production Jersey Boys. The plot focuses on the rise and fall of musical group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and uses the group’s music to tell its story. Jon Favreau had previously been attached to direct the film.

If Eastwood takes on Jersey Boys, the film would likely be his next directorial project, followed (presumably) by A Star Is Born. The latter film is currently courting Grammy-winning jazz singer and bassist Esperanza Spalding to star, though the project has also faced difficulty in casting its male lead. Sean Penn is among the most recent crop of actors being discussed for the role.

Eastwood’s decision to move on from A Star Is Born is a wise one, considering that project looks like it will take a while to gain any traction. Besides, a filmmaker as accomplished as Eastwood can lend just the right amount of gravitas to something like Jersey Boys. After last summer’s Rock of Ages failed to score at the box office, audiences may need convincing to check out another “jukebox musical.”

Do you think Eastwood is a good fit for Jersey Boys? Let us know in the comments section below.

Stay tuned to Screen Rant for the latest news on the Jersey Boys movie as this story develops.

Continue Reading

Clint Eastwood

‘Trouble with the Curve’ Images: Clint Eastwood Returns to Acting

Clint Eastwood hasn’t appeared onscreen in four years, and the last time he acted under the direction of someone other than… well, himself was in 1993. The 82-year old Hollywood legend returns to the big screen in Trouble with the Curve from his protégé Robert Lorenz, who’s worked on-and-off as an assistant director and/or producer on Eastwood’s films (beginning with Bridges of Madison County).

Eastwood co-headlines Trouble with the Curve alongside three-peat Oscar-nominee Amy Adams. The supporting cast isn’t shabby either, including John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Robert Patrick, Matthew Lillard (The Descendants), and semi-newcomer Joe Massingill.

Trouble with the Curve is a father-daughter relationship drama explored through the lens of an off-the-field sports drama. Newcomer Randy Brown’s script revolves around an Atlanta Braves scout (Eastwood) who on the verge of being put out to pasture, due to his diminishing eyesight and old-fashioned approach to recruiting players (obviously, he doesn’t subscribe to the Moneyball school of thought).

Eastwood’s character convinces his estranged daughter (Adams) to accompany and assist him on what could be his last assignment, to determine whether or not a promising power hitter (Massingill) has potential to make it in the big leagues. Timberlake plays a player-turned-scout who’s on good terms with Eastwood, but risks trouble when he starts getting too friendly with Adams.

Lorenz has the opportunity to demonstrate the directorial tricks he’s picked up on working with Eastwood over the years, while establishing himself as a reputable storyteller on Trouble with the Curve (his feature-length directorial debut). The two-time Oscar nominee certainly works as efficiently as his mentor, given the six-month turnaround between the film’s production start date and its release this fall.

Moreover, Trouble with the Curve could satisfy as a capstone to Eastwood’s acting legacy, much like Unforgiven did for his days working in the western genre; not to mention, Gran Torino served as a swansong to his career playing characters who’re rough around the edges (ex. Harry Callahan). If Eastwood turns in a performance deemed awards-worthy by his peers, well, that’s icing on the cake.

Continue Reading

Trending