Avalanche Express (1979)
Snow Didn't Stop this Train
There is no hiding from the fact and that is "Avalanche Express" is a disappointing movie, the storyline is dull and at times implausible, the acting is a bit ropey and the action well it's less than exciting. And it is also obvious that at less than 90 minutes "Avalanche Express" is a movie which had to be chopped about to be completed for the sad reason that both director Mark Robson and actor Robert Shaw died during production. It is the unfortunate loss of both Robson and Shaw that can only act as an explanation as to why "Avalanche Express" ends up so lacklustre, failing to engage for one moment as it jerks along under some heavy handed editing.
When Russian General Marenkov (Robert Shaw - Jaws) decides to defect to the West, top CIA agent Wargrave (Lee Marvin - The Dirty Dozen) and his small team are sent to retrieve him. Opting to get him out via a train across Europe they soon discover that Russian spy-catcher Bunin (Maximilian Schell - The Freshman) is on to them and plans to kill them by any means necessary even if it means the loss of innocent lives in the process.
One of the major issues with "Avalanche Express" is in fact the storyline, the Russian General defecting to the West and a team of CIA operatives trying to bring him out safely isn't that original or to be frank that exciting. But it becomes a touch to absurd that they would bring him out via a long train journey across Europe. Of course this absurd element means that the train journey is going to be dangerous and in many ways "Avalanche Express" is really all about that, the troubled train ride and the set piece scenes of action along the way. The fact there is a very false romantic element between Wargrave and Elsa Lang adds little to what is a very ordinary storyline which struggles to either thrill or excite.
So this means that "Avalanche Express" is a movie which tries to work on various action scenes, I say tries to because it doesn't quite make it. It all seems so ordinary with the Russians trying to sabotage the train in anyway possible to kill the Russian General and many of these scenes of action just fail to really explode into life. The closest "Avalanche Express" comes to get exciting is when the Russians cause an avalanche in the hope of destroying the train. The danger on the actual train isn't exciting but the camera work of the snowy mountains and avalanche as it rips through chalets and wooden huts looks good.
And to be honest the acting doesn't help "Avalanche Express" be any more interesting. So okay Robert Shaw was seriously ill during production and so the weakness of his performance as General Marenkov is excusable and makes the dubbing of his voice understandable. But the rest of the cast seem to be struggling as much as Shaw. Lee Marvin, Linda Evans, Maximilian Schell all seem to be having major off days playing their characters to the point that it often feels that various long pauses are in the movie because these stars were trying to remember their lines. Joe Namath, Horst Buchholz and to be honest pretty much everyone else are just as bad and it makes "Avalanche Express" very stilted.
What this all boils down to is that "Avalanche Express" is a disappointing movie. The problems over illness and deaths behind the scenes have had a knock on effect to the movie causing it to feel very troubled. And it is a shame as whilst the finished movie is a bit unoriginal and dull the potential for something exciting with dramatic action sequences aboard a train going through snowy mountains is there it just doesn't deliver the excitement or thrill that it could have.
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