The Cassandra Crossing (1976)
the-cassandra-crossing-1976A train travelling from, Switzerland to Sweden, is re-routed to Poland; which will have to pass through a disused bridge; once American authorities learn that a deadly (pneumonic plague) virus is spreading on board! An excellent piece of guilty pleasure starring the who’s who of the cinematic world, taking you on thrill ride, across the scenic landscapes of Europe. Love this movie!!!!!

Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren

The Movie & I

When I first watched The Cassandra Crossing (1976), as a 12½/13 year old, in the late 1980’s (1988/89 – more probable that it was in 1988), on the telly, the only star of the film I was aware of, was the lead actress Sophia Loren (for I had a vague memory of having seen her in epics like El Cid (1961) and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), when I was even younger; plus had heard her name, many a times, in the children’s film, Dream Girl (1977); where a playboy is teased whether he is on a call with ‘Sophia Loren’, as he speaks to his grandfather; a movie we watched as kids, a kazillion times, back in the 80’s & early 90’s). Of course, by now, I have seen so many movies of her, but The Cassandra Crossing, was my proper introduction to her, for that’s when I really got to know, who Loren was. Late last night, I re-watched, The Cassandra Crossing, on youtube, almost three decades later. The quality, not so good, the movie, totally worth it. And today, I practically know majority of the glamorous star cast, of The Cassandra Crossing. Besides Loren, the movie stars, Richard Harris, Burt Lancaster, Ingrid Thulin, Lee Strasberg, Ava Gardner, Martin Sheen, Lionel Stander, O.J. Simpson, Lou Castel, Alida Valli, Ann Turkel, John Phillip Law, Ray Lovelock, Thomas Hunter and Stefano Patrizi; to name some. There was also, an averagely OK, Bollywood disaster movie, with an ensemble cast, roping in the who’s who of the Hindi film fraternity, similar to this, called, The Burning Train (1980), which I watched in the 1990’s. Unless you are fan of Hindi movies, in general, stick to The Cassandra Crossing. The Cassandra Crossing, also reminded me of Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974), based on an Agatha Christie novel; which too roped in a great star cast, of the 70’s, but set in the roaring 20’s, in another train journey bound to travel across Europe. Murder on the Orient Express, was yet another Excellent movie, I got to watch, around 15 years ago, in my late 20’s!!! Of course, Murder on the Orient Express, is neither a thriller, nor a disaster film. It’s a murder mystery, set within the confines of a snowbound train.

Behind the Scenes: Ava Gardner, Martin Sheen & Sophia Loren; on the sets of The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

Behind the Scenes: Ava Gardner, Martin Sheen & Sophia Loren; on the sets of The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

My Analysis & The Characters
(Spoiler Alert)

Despite critics panning it down, with an average rating of almost 7/10 (which is a pretty good rating), on IMDB; The Cassandra Crossing, is actually a very enjoyable fare!! The 70’s did have quite a few famed disaster films, but none like this. This has double the pleasure, being a hybrid of a thriller as well as a disaster movie. A thriller about people trying to steal a biological weapon, harboured by the Americans, and the American authorities, to cover up their asses, trying to kill off thousands of people travelling in a train, carrying the said deadly virus, plus a train heading for derelict bridge, that hasn’t been used, since post World War – II. The thrills are never ending, the mesmerising Swiss landscapes please the eyes, the background score, hauntingly brilliant, and a very stylish international star cast, adds to the enjoyment. In addition to which, minus modern day special effects, overpowering and ruining the movie, as is the case of most thrillers of today, this is a great guilty pleasure to sit through.

Sophia Loren and Richard Harris, play a twice divorced couple, who re-meet on a train bound for Sweden; in The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

Sophia Loren and Richard Harris, play a twice divorced couple, who re-meet on a train bound for Sweden; in The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

The movie is no doubt a Sophia Loren vehicle. She looks amazing as ever, and is brilliant as a witty best-selling author, a two-time divorcee (to the same man, who also happens to be on board, as well), whose hunches are never wrong, and heroine of the movie. Richard Harris is superb as a neurosurgeon, and playing (the twice divorced) ex-husband to Loren’s character (the two together have perfect chemistry, and the characters feel, madly in love and hate, with each other, as real-life celebs, Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor, were at the time). Harris’ character is shown trying to save lives of infected patients medically, as well as, trying to save the train from impending doom, along with his, two-time, ex-wife. Interestingly, Harris’ real life wife, Ann Turkel, plays a young hip woman, in a small role, along with many other more famous stars playing really small, and hardly noticeable roles. It’s pity, an actress like Alida Valli, seems to be wasted in a movie, where anyone could have played such an insufficient character. I didn’t even recognise her, until she took her spectacles off.

Clockwise from Top-Right: Ray Lovelock, John Phillip Law, Stefano Patrizi, Ann Turkel and Alida Valli, in small supporting roles.

Clockwise from Top-Right: Ray Lovelock, John Phillip Law, Stefano Patrizi, Ann Turkel and Alida Valli, in small supporting roles.

Yet, the massive star cast is superb, in their respective roles. BUT the best role goes to Ava Gardner, playing a creepy old lady (a wife of a prominent arms dealer), with a young lover, her boy toy (played by Martin Sheen). She is ecstatically humorous, she brings in the comic relief in this otherwise tense drama. Sheen’s character, we initially assume, is suffering from an Oedipus complex; but in reality, as we find out later, he’s a drug trafficker, who just uses the older woman, to pass through customs, without being checked. O.J. Simpson, is a cop, in the guise of a priest, on the trail, of this drug trafficker. Nobody is who they seem. Something which is hinted at the very beginning of the movie, when a trio terrorists, rush into a medical facility, dressed as two attendants, trolleying in a patient.

Burt Lancaster, John Phillip Law and Ingrid Thulin, in a scene from the film.

Burt Lancaster, John Phillip Law and Ingrid Thulin, in a scene from the film.

Burt Lancaster, plays the villain of the piece, as a U.S. Colonel (Military Intelligence assigned to the International Health Organization (most probably a fictional organization, represented, in lieu of the WHO; World Health Organization), in Geneva, Switzerland). He has the least amount of action credited to his character. He is so good in his role, that he is quite convincingly hateable. As he is mostly confined to a room, it’s his facial expressions, body language, and dialogues that have to do all the work. Ingrid Thulin, who is stuck inside the room, with Lancaster, is even better in her role, as a firm humanitarian medical head.

The bridge known as the ‘Cassandra Crossing’, plays a significant supporting role as well. The way the bridge is shot, in a threatening manner, and showcased, on and off, as the train is being re-routed, it appears like a menacing beast, waiting to devour this oncoming train and it’s passengers. The last scene with the parts of the train crashing through the bridge (again without modern CGI) is real showstopper.

The movie blends in all the suspense that make a great thrilling achievement; blending in all the necessary action, chills, thrills, heroism, shootouts, government intrigue, you name it, along with a good plot; making this unrealistic flick of catastrophe, with an almost realistic scenario, very plausible.

Richard Harris & O.J. Simpson in a scene from The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

Richard Harris & O.J. Simpson in a scene from The Cassandra Crossing (1976)

The Background

Most of the interior scenes were shot in Cinecittà, a large film studio in Rome, that is famed for being the hub of Italian cinema. With beautiful cinematography, the location shots were taken in both France and Switzerland. The steel arch bridge depicted in the film, as the notorious “Cassandra Crossing”, is actually the Garabit Viaduct, a railway arch bridge spanning the River Truyère, in southern France. The Garabit Viaduct was built between 1880 and 1884, by Gustave Eiffel, the man behind Paris’ iconic, Eiffel Tower.

The movie flopped badly in the United States, but still made money, thanks to Japanese audiences flocking to the cinema’s to catch the movie. It apparently did well enough, in Europe, as well. Though it flopped in the USA, the movie was critically praised, for it’s beautification through Ennio Guarnieri’s cinematography, as well as, Jerry Goldsmith’s superb musical score.

The Cassandra Crossing, was directed by Italian born film personality, George Pan Cosmatos. A director, whose other works I haven’t watched yet, nor do they really interest me much, thus this movie is an exceptional case. This, no doubt, is his best work. The film was produced by Carlo Ponti, Sophia Loren’s husband. This British-Italian co-production, is an underrated gem. A must see, for film fanatics!!!!!

The Cassandra Crossing (1976) – Pure Entertainment!!!
My Rating: 10/10!!

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