Blu-ray Review: Breakheart Pass

STUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Tom Gries | CAST: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Ben Johnson, Ed Lauter, Richard Crenna, Charles Durning, David Huddleston, Robert Tessier, Bill McKinney
BLU-RAY RELEASE DATE: 8/12/2014 | PRICE: DVD $19.95, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: PG | 95 min. | Western action thriller | 1.85:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio | English  subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

It’s a good time to be a Charles Bronson fan, particularly if you own a Blu-ray player.

The last year has seen the release of a handful of high-definition versions of some of Bronson’s best Seventies entries, including Hard Times and The Mechanic from Twilight Time and, most recently, Mr. Majestyk and Breakheart Pass from Kino Lorber.

Breakheart Pass movie scene

Charles Bronson takes the train in Breakheart Pass.

Helmed by respectable genre journeyman Tom Gries, the solid 1975 western action thriller Breakheart Pass is based on a 1974 Alistair MacLean novel and proved to be a rare example of a adaptation being more popular than the original text. (He wrote Guns of Navarone, Ice Station Zebra, and Where Eagles Dare, all of which were made into popular films.)

It’s the late 19th Century, and Charles Bronson is mystery man John Deakins, a possible criminal who’s on board a steam locomotive riding through the Rocky Mountains alongside men who’s mission is to deliver medical supplies to a frontier outpost that’s dealing with an outbreak of diphtheria. But it’s not just Deakins who isn’t all that he appears to be—a local marshall (Ben Johnson), a politico (Richard Crenna), a train man (Charles Durning, Twilight’s Last Gleaming), a soldier (Ed Lauter, Magic) and a pretty young thing (Jill Ireland, The Mechanic) traveling to see her soldier father all seem to have hidden agendas. Could the secret possibly be found in the numerous crates labeled “Medical Supplies?” Time is running out–and the body count is rising–as the train’s appointment at Breakheart Pass approaches…

The first half-hour of Breakheart Pass ambles a bit, but the sumptuous location photography by veteran DP Lucien Ballard and Jerry Goldsmith’s grand score take up the slack, as does the manly presence of a cast of recognizable Seventies mainstays, which includes Lauter, Crenna, Johnson, Durning, David Huddleston, big bad Robert Tessier and, Bill McKinney—who’s best known as the backwoods sodomite in Deliverance and is here playing, bizarrely enough, a preacher! But it’s Charlie B who leads the way, slinging a rifle while riding a horse, dynamiting the tracks, and fighting former boxing champ Archie Moore atop a speeding, snow-covered train (the image of which is captured on the Blu-ray box art). It’s actually a great fight—when was the last time you saw two middle-aged men going at it on top of a train?—culminating with one of the two being thrown from the choo-choo and plummeting into a ravine. Guess which fella is left standing atop the train?


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.