In our digital age of letting computers and savvy designers deliver much of what ends up on the screen (especially in all manner of action and space-oriented films), it is like a wonderful breath of fresh air that this Blu-ray remaster reminds one and all of how things used to be—and to excellent effect (pun intended).
Crafting his own screenplay, suspense meister Alistair MacLean has guaranteed his legion of fans a treatment that is just as taut and fast-paced as the best-selling novel. For newcomers, the twists and turns are bound to surprise, shock and draw “I knew that was coming” (they didn’t) as the And Then There Were None-like murders unfold.
And with such a stellar leading man as the characterization from wily Charles Bronson driving the action (first as prisoner Deakin, before gradually revealing his real calling in life—much to the chagrin of numerous bad guys) the term ‘take no prisoners” takes on an especially ironic meaning. His cast colleagues know a leader when they see one and artfully tailor their performances (notably Richard Crenna as the typically corrupt Governor, Ben Johnson playing the despicable upholder of the law and Jill Ireland—Bronson’s real-life wife: a typical model of radiance and grit under pressure), all complementing Bronson’s rugged—at times ruthless approach—to meting out justice.
Veteran director Tom Gries marshals all of this talent both on camera and off, neither shying away from bloody violence when required, or failing to let the train (a virtual character in its own right—pulled forwards and backwards by voluminous steam engine No. 9) rivet the eye as present-day rail travel can never do again.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith turns out a scintillating score that is also supportive of the action and features some dazzling “screech” trumpeting that will delight the most demanding of home theatre systems.
Proving he was/is far ahead of his time, MacLean tosses in a few moments of deliberately fake news and—more importantly—manages to set up both opportunistic Indigenous warriors and greedy white men as equally shameless and unscrupulous.
By journey’s end, Deakin stands alone amidst considerable carnage with a quiet look of satisfaction that most certainly can be shared with his literary creator.