Breakheart Pass (1975) 720p

Movie Poster
Breakheart Pass (1975) - Movie Poster
Mystery | Western
Frame Rate:
23.976 fps
English 2.0  
Run Time:
94 min
IMDB Rating:
6.8 / 10 
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Directors: Tom Gries [Director] ,

Movie Description:
Train with medical supplies and small U.S. Army unit is heading through Rocky mountains towards plagued Fort Humboldt. Among its passengers are territory governor, priest, doctor and U.S. Marshal with his prisoner, John Deakin. However, nothing on that train is what it seems.


  • Breakheart Pass (1975) - Movie Scene 1
  • Breakheart Pass (1975) - Movie Scene 2
  • Breakheart Pass (1975) - Movie Scene 1

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Fatalities On a Train

One thing I do like about Breakheart Pass is that absolutely nobody is who he pretends to be. For the first time viewer, 90% of the fun is figuring just who the good guys and bad guys are on this train to Fort Humboldt in the Rocky Mountains. It's not revealed until about 75% of the film is done and when it is revealed the action steps up considerably. A special train is being sent to Fort Humboldt with medical supplies and a relief force as cholera has broken out there. The territorial Governor Richard Crenna is taking personal charge of the operation, the troops are commanded by cavalry Major Ed Lauter. Along for the ride is U.S. Marshal Ben Johnson, Doctor David Huddleston, the Commanding officer's daughter, Jill Ireland. The engineer is Roy Jenson, the conductor is Charles Durning. Governor Crenna travels in style with a private car with a cook, Archie Moore and a server Victor Mohica. As you can see Breakheart Pass has a good cast. Marshal Johnson arrests a fugitive, Charles Bronson, before the journey starts and circumstances force him to take Bronson along. People start getting killed on this trip, even before the train leaves and as I said no one is exactly who he seems to be. Alistair MacLean for a non-American writer managed in this story to get the western ambiance down pretty good. Breakheart Pass combines the best elements of a western and a mystery and I wouldn't miss it if I was either a western or a mystery fan.

A train worth catching

Anyone who's ever had to slog through his soul-destroying ITC or Cannon-years output will find it hard to imagine that there was ever a time when Charles Bronson was a half-decent actor who not only made films that were actually released in cinemas, but good ones at that. Breakheart Pass is probably the best of the last burst of quality output in the actor's oeuvre that also saw Hard Times (aka The Streetfighter) and the whimsical From Noon Til Three; for that matter, the last good Alistair MacLean screen outing before what seems like an eternity of formulaic made-for-TV efforts with C-list casts. The plot has all the MacLean staples - sabotage, secret identities, wolves in sheep's clothing and a plot where no-one and nothing is what they appear to be. The only novelty is the location, a train rushing through the old West to bring medical supplies to a cholera-infected fort through strikingly snowbound mountain countryside beautifully captured through cinematographer Lucien Ballard's lens. But the fact that so much of the film is simply one of the author's beloved WW2 plots with outlaws and Indians instead of Nazis doesn't matter: it's the telling that counts, and with a tight script and strong direction from Tom Gries that is equally adept at the mystery (more a 'what the heck's going on?' than 'who's behind it all?') as action (most notably a good rooftop punch-up and a spectacular wreck) it's never a dull ride. Bronson, still making an effort in those days, comes over well, while the strong supporting cast (including John Ford and Sam Peckinpah regular Ben Johnson, as well as Richard Crenna, Charles Durning and Ed Lauter) add a pleasing layer of professionalism and credibility. Even Jill Ireland, never the most interesting of leading ladies, acquits herself well here. Everyone here has done better work (check out Gries extraordinarily affecting Will Penny or Ballard's work on The Wild Bunch), and it's not a life-changing experience, but that's not the point. This is an audience picture that sets out to entertain you for an hour-and-a-half, and succeeds admirably. And Jerry Goldsmith's terrific and exhilaratingly exciting score - his best in the genre - is the icing on the cake.

It's generally considered to be the odd one out in the list of MacLean's books, but the film adaptation is reasonably worthwhile.

Alistair MacLean spent most of his novelist days writing wartime suspensers or twisting, turning thrillers. The one book that he wrote which doesn't fit either of those descriptions is Breakheart Pass, a western set aboard a train. This film version of it is surprisingly enjoyable, and features the added bonus of an expressive, colourful characterisation by Charles Bronson. The train is travelling to a fort in the Wild West with medical supplies to cure an outbreak of a nasty disease. However, some of the soldiers aboard the train are mysteriously disappearing, and anyone who's ever seen a film like this will figure out straight away that there's a murderer on board. Furthermore, the train must make its journey across hostile Red Indian terrain, where a fearsome ambush or a sabotaged stretch of track is only a spear throw away. Bronson plays a mysterious outlaw who is held prisoner on the train, though there are plenty of clues that he may not be exactly who he says he is. Other well delineated characters are played by Richard Crenna, Jill Ireland, Archie Moore (yes, the boxer!), and Ed Lauter. One truly amazing sequence involves a rooftop scuffle between Bronson and Moore.... indeed most people who have ever seen the film remember it for that sequence more than any other. All things considered, Breakheart Pass is one of the better adaptations of a MacLean novel, admittedly not quite in the same league as Fear is the Key or Where Eagles Dare, but definitely worth seeking out, especially on DVD.
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