Blu-ray Review – ‘Breakheart Pass’ over-complicates a simple action movie premise

Cover art for the 2018 Blu-ray release of thriller-western Breakheart Pass

Genre: Western
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 21st May 2018
Runtime: 92 minutes
Director: Tom Gries
Writer: Alistair MacLean
Starring: Charles Bronson, Ed Lauter, Ben Johnson, Jill Ireland, Richard Crenna
Synopsis: A train transporting soldiers to an illness-hit military base falls victim to an apparent serial killer, picking off the passengers one at a time.



Breakheart Pass is a slightly unfortunate film in that it was made in a pre-blockbuster world, but first appeared in American cinemas just over six months after Jaws changed the world of movies forever. As a result, it feels like a movie out of its time – a commercial western-thriller featuring a marquee film star in Charles Bronson – that was dated as soon as it crawled into the multiplex, like a slightly-too-old partygoer turning up to a nightclub as soon as it opens and wondering where everybody else has gone.

Bronson plays John Deakin, whom we first meet as a wanted outlaw caught hustling card players in a small town. The local US Marshall (Ben Johnson) takes Deakin on a passing military train, which is housing tonnes of soldiers being brought in to support an army base ravaged by an outbreak of diptheria. Major Claremont (Ed Lauter) is in charge, but just barely, especially when his fellow passengers are picked off in apparent murders. Deakin seems to have more knowledge of the crimes than everyone expected, which suggests he’s not who everybody thinks he is.

The biggest issue with all of this is that it’s a needlessly complicated plot for a lean 90-minute thriller. In a special feature on this new Blu-ray release, film critic Kim Newman suggests novelist and screenwriter Alistair MacLean – best known for Where Eagles Dare and The Guns of Navarone – may have been inspired by the recent success of a film based on Murder on the Orient Express. That certainly rings true given the labyrinthine plotting, which is out of place in a movie that’s ostensibly about Bronson taking part in various fistfights on top of a moving steam locomotive.

Bronson himself looks rather bored throughout the story, as if he’s struggling to keep track every bit as much as the audience is. Breakheart Pass both gives the audience too much information early on, essentially revealing the answer to the biggest question in the first act, and withholds an awful lot. It’s a case of trying to piece together the various narrative breadcrumbs MacLean tosses around into a full slice of bread – which is no easy task when you’re watching a movie sold as a popcorn thriller.

All would be forgiven if the action sequences were compelling, but they feel rather pedestrian and lacking in invention. The train-set fight scenes have nothing on similar moments in Bond movies and dozens of spy thrillers made around the same time, despite the potential for visual pizzazz presented by the snow-covered landscapes of the third act. Breakheart Pass lacks personality, is entirely missing anything approaching thrills and feels dramatically inert in just about every way.


Special Features

We’ve got a trailer and an interesting discussion with ace critic Kim Newman, who lays out some interesting context around the film and its position in 1970s commercial cinema.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Charles Bronson isn’t exactly known for his array of amazing movies, but Breakheart Pass is a disappointment even within that context. It’s a pedestrian thriller that manages to move slowly, even given the amount of plot it tries to cram into a lean running time. There’s no character, no sense of energy and nothing that comes close to the thrills the story is reaching towards.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

Breakheart Pass is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.

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