Breakheart Pass (1975)

For most of this film treatment of MacLean's sole Western thriller (see my review of the book Breakheart Pass here), I was quite impressed. Apart from a few small details (and some necessary scene-condensing), the movie hews closely to the book's plot. Sure, Marica in the movie is the governor's mistress rather than his niece ... but you can excuse Hollywood for wanting to jazz things up a tad.

Near the end, though, my admiration dropped. Significant changes in the movie's denouement are a jarring change after so much true-to-the-source filming.

Despite this sudden dropoff, Breakheart Pass still bears watching for several reasons. Charles Bronson, while different from my mental image of the book's protagonist, employs his devil-may-care snideness well as he sniffs out and disposes of the bad guys. A couple of those baddies offer an interesting twist: former Super Bowl quarterback Joe Kapp and champion light-heavyweight boxer Archie Moore say few words but add a distinct physical presence.

This isn't exactly an all-around Academy Award vehicle, though. Richard Crenna and Charles Durning are adequate in their large roles, but hardly inspiring. (The same goes for Ben Johnson, with whom I was unfamiliar.) Bronson's wife Jill Ireland comes off as a stiff leading lady, but to be fair, it's not written as a terribly sympathetic role.

Meanwhile, from the opening scene (which had cool Western-thriller music), the train chugs on and on and on, its load getting ever lighter (thanks to bodies getting flung off) as it gradually nears its destiny. Retro, sometimes hypnotic, and only occasionally cheesy, Breakheart Pass is worth a look.



(7 out of 10)