Monday, January 10, 2011
THE CASSANDRA CROSSING
(October 1976, U.S.)
If you grew up in during the 1980s, then it's quite possible you'd have heard of Italian/Greek director George P. Cosmatos. He directed the popular Sylvester Stallone action vehicles RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II and COBRA; popular, but very forgettable, in my opinion.
When THE CASSANDRA CROSSING was released in 1977, it's unfortunate that it was marketed during a time of the 1970's disaster genre. It features the cliche all-star cast that includes Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Lee Strasberg, Martin Sheen and even O.J. Simpson who will all typically be involved in some sort of journey that will inevitably be doomed by disaster. As mentioned, this marketing is unfortunate because it's the promise of a disaster film, which the studio, no doubt, hoped would help the film is what probably hurt the film more than anything else. THE CASSANDRA CROSSING is NOT a disaster film, but rather a well-executed thriller about a plague-infected escaping terrorist who infects the passengers aboard a European transcontinental train bound from Geneva to Stockholm. The passengers, including a world-renown doctor (played by Harris) become aware of their predicament when they’re re-directed to Nuremberg by a colonel of the World Health Organization (played by Lancaster). The train is sealed with an enclosed oxygen system and a U.S. Army medical team is placed aboard to make sure the infected passengers do not try to escape the train (why is it these guys always look so damn frightening in their white protective uniforms and their oxygen masks?? I guess that's the whole point, right?). The disaster element is that they are deliberately being re-directed over the Cassandra Crossing, an old, very unstable bridge that will very likely not support the weight of the train and collapse, killing all aboard. The passengers retaliate against their armed guards and manage to seize the back half of the train before reaching the bridge and detach it, hoping that with less weight, the front half will cross safely. The train reaches the bridge and it DOES collapse (the innocent are NOT saved!). The back half has applied the brakes and stops just prior to reaching the downed bridge, saving those involved. The interesting element of irony here is that those infected with the disease are the ones who end up saved from the train disaster.
As I said, despite the plot factor of the collapsing bridge, THE CASSANDRA CROSSING is a riveting thriller released at the wrong time under the wrong presumptions. I would consider it the director's best film and an easy prelude to other "plague" thrillers like OUTBREAK (1995) or even the Stephen King TV mini-series, THE STAND (1994).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Col. Stephen Mackenzie: " Good God woman! Do you think I would personally send a thousand people to their deaths?"
Dr. Elena Stradler: "No. No. But I think you'd simply let them be killed. And that's almost worse."