On track for an all-star cast headed for disaster…
Things are not as clear-cut as they seem when a pneumonic plague infected passenger boards a Swiss train.
The Cassandra Crossing – Trailer, The Cassandra Crossing – Trailer
The Cassandra Crossing (1976), on first appearance a disaster movie, but proving instead to be a mixed bag of genres in this (for the most part) surprisingly cohesive, well written story. The movie plot starting in one direction, then going (randomly) to another and another in a zig zag way making it a more intelligent watch than others of this genre. The developments in the tale, keeping you in suspense (or in stitches). And you wonder just how this apparent hodge-podge of a journey will end. The film encompassing a disaster-thriller genre in a dramatic, poignant and sometimes comic tale with romance, world politics, germs warfare, the horrors of World War II and a local prophecy. There’s something for everyone.
Similar to the norm for the 1970s disaster movie genre, the film boasts a fantastic all-star cast. With a number of the cast alumni from recent disaster movies including Burt Lancaster, O.J. Simpson, Richard Harris and actress Ava Gardner. Others include Martin Sheen, Lee Strasberg, Sophia Loren, Ann Turkel and Lionel Stander. The opening haunting wistful melody and accompanying dramatic score composed by Jerry Goldsmith.
With the film music changing pace and tone dramatically in the opening scene. Three Swedish terrorists disguised as ambulance workers and a patient – complete with ambulance and siren – enter the International Health Organization in Geneva. This trio aim to sabotage the Americans secret illegal cultivation of a plague virus. One terrorist is shot by a watchman. The others trying to escape terrorists break the sealed beaker containing this virus. Both contract the virus, with one man shot and injured, the other escapes.
Interpol and American Military Intelligence are now involved. The escapee boards a train from Geneva to Stockholm. The injured terrorist left critically ill by the virus. He is hospitalised and quarantined and cared for by Dr. Elena Stradner (Ingrid Thulin). With a ticket for this same train found in his belongings. The quarantined terrorist dies. Observed by a mysterious man in black revealed as US Colonel Stephen Mackenzie (Lancaster) from Military Intelligence. He tells Stradner this virus was being destroyed and orders the dead terrorist burnt.
With the Stockholm bound train leaving the station, the passengers read like a list of Agatha Christie suspects. With like a Christie novel, only a handful or two of
important relevant characters. As well as the plague infected terrorist, there’s an elderly con-man, a priest, a prolific neurosurgeon, his authoress ex-wife, an arms dealer’s wife and her young dog handler. With two of these characters not being who they seem, there’s more (less relevant) intrigue with a drug trafficker on board, who is being monitored by an undercover Police Enforcement Officer.
As the train sets off, its time for that random appearance by a musical number – here in more than a disaster movie song and clichéd role – performed by actress Ann Turkel and her 1970s jumper clad guitar playing buddies. And very catchy it is too. Meanwhile in Geneva, Stradner’s concerned that the ill terrorist must be removed from the train. Insisting he is quarantined by before infecting others. MacKenzie tells her that its an airborne virus, with no antidote and 60% of the 1000 passengers will die. The train to be rerouted to an isolation camp for treatment and quarantine.
On board there’s (luckily) Dr
Richard Jonathan Chamberlain (Harris) the world-famous neurosurgeon. He’s on his way to receive prestigious honour for discovering a medical wonder (that’s surprisingly not really relevant). With his ex-wife Jennifer “accidentally” meeting him on board. Leading to some snide comments then flirty banter with Chamberlain and this woman who he married then divorced twice, Jennifer (Loren). Jennifer has now written a potential best seller, telling all on their relationship. Cue Loren and Harris proving a soap writer’s dream pairing with some fantastically performed love-hate dialogue between the two. Their on-screen growing rekindled relationship is a delight to watch, in spite of their on-off explosive chemistry.
Ava Gardner’s Nicole – is married to a German arms dealer – and has succumbed to an adulterous affair with her dog handler, Robby (Sheen). Robby, a young stud she met mountain climbing but neither of these facts important right now. Gardner providing some of the best timed comic lines in this movie with a smirk or a deadpan way. Sheen as her toy boy lover, Robby Navarro shows more than one side to his character, with some of his more dramatic scenes both pointless and over the top.
Meanwhile O J Simpson’s priest is rousing the suspicions of a young girl. As he smokes and doesnt say his prayers at dinner. The infected terrorist is helping out small children (cue the same irritating child actor who appears far too much) and mothers and babies, coughing into food and attacking the singer and her lover (happily after she’s sung her song) despite the terrorist being (and looking) critically ill. (And he doesn’t utter a word, not that he needs to. It’s all in his performance.)
MacKenzie contacts Chamberlain on the train’s radio, telling him to find and isolate this infected passenger. Accompanied by Jennifer, it’s a case hunt the “20-year-old plus, bloated Swede” (their words not mine!) in the carriages. Helping them are train conductor, Max (Stander) and con man Herman (Strasberg), who for plot convenience has knowledge of the Swedish language. The terrorist finally spotted in the same room as they started from. All try (unsuccessfully) to transfer the now dead terrorist and Nicole’s infected dog to a helicopter from a moving train by a wee basket. This before the train enters a mountain range.
And oops… there’s a tunnel so they can’t, but the basket does contain the dog who is then taken back to be observed and tested in Geneva. The train now with just a few passengers – and coincidentally only one of the listed cast – infected. The train rerouted to Poland heading for an isolation camp in Janov, via Nuremberg. The camp only reachable by a dilapidated Nazi bridge known as the Cassandra Crossing by the locals. This due to fears the bridge will collapse. Stradner’s fears that weight of the train may lead to this killing all on board… with Chamberlain and the passengers learning this, the film heads in another direction (or two).. with still enough time for him and Jennifer to reconcile and make love in the face of adversity…
This film was an interestingly told, less clichéd disaster film with a wonderful cast. It was a bold move to use a number of other genres with in this type of film, with the film adding some more action and dramatic sequences. At times the storyline funny, touching and dramatic and this inclusion of humour a refreshing change to the usual doom is upon us dramatic overtones to the genre. The storylines giving each of the actors their time in the film to shine. Scenes showcased their talents in these genres, even if at times their inclusion in storyline didn’t make sense.
The developing Military Intelligence storyline with MacKenzie giving the film a chilling overtone throughout the movie. You felt all the characters might be doomed once the infected terrorist boarded the train. This after MacKenzie is told to cover up existence of the plague virus and the very idea of it. At all costs. This leading to a chilling ending for all. The film leaving you with many questions unanswered, but those ending scenes enough for a storyline for what could be an intriguing sequel.
Many of the images of this film stay with you. Led by poignant moments such as when a passenger faces demons from his past, or dramatic when Sheen’s character shows he’s more than Nicole’s pretty
toyboy. Or more ridiculous scenes primarily those of with Ava Gardner and her witty banter with young Martin Sheen as her young lover. With a scene showing Sheen doing a handstand on her bed, in just his undies. Leaving you to ponder if Ava Gardner did this film one for the money and two for this show…
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Ava Gardner Blogathon 2018, No 62
This post was added to Maddy Loves Her Classic Films Ava Gardner blogathon. With Ava Gardner also starring in Earthquake. Martin Sheen also stars in my post on Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and in Columbo. Lionel Stander in Hart to Hart. Ann Turkel in Knight Rider, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. O.J. Simpson starred in The Towering Inferno and Naked Gun.<