Breakheart Pass (1975)
Murder on the Western Express
When is a western not a western, when it is "Murder on the Orient Express" in disguise or at least that is how "Breakheart Pass" comes across. It is an interesting idea to have a western mystery movie and to be frank a welcome change from the norm when it comes to westerns but sadly it doesn't quite work, doesn't manage to draw you in to the mystery which takes place upon the train to keep you on tenterhooks. Which is unfortunate because not only is "Breakheart Pass" an adaptation of an Alistair MacLean novel but then when it comes around to delivering a big action finale it delivers the excitement which is distinctly lacking in the lead up.
As a train carrying the Governor and a small troop of cavalry men pull in to the town of Myrtle US Marshal Pearce (Ben Johnson - The Train Robbers) arrests wanted man John Deakin (Charles Bronson - The Dirty Dozen) and insists they give him and his captive man a ride to their destination Fort Humboldt. But what no one is aware is that John Deakin isn't a wanted man but part of the US Secret Service on the trail of some stolen guns and the men who stole them. As the train makes its way through the rocky mountain pass people start to die and disappear in mysterious ways as Deakin snoops around.
I really had high hopes from "Breakheart Pass" because a western murder mystery is so different to the norm that I was sure it would be great. Unfortunately the final product doesn't live up to my expectations and the simple reason is that it is surprisingly dull. It just fails to create a truly intriguing atmosphere as we meet the various characters travelling on the train and are drip fed bits of information as to what maybe happening. And as such whilst it is obvious that Deakin isn't a criminal his snooping around and uncovering what is going on never truly gets you gripped.
Now part of the reason for this is that "Breakheart Pass" ends up coming across as surprisingly convoluted, too many twists and pointless red herrings end up not so much confusing matters but making it messy. And part of the reason it ends up messy is because we get introduced to a variety of characters, some of which are played by significant actors yet in truth have no real point. Maybe the intention was to side track you by a well known name playing a small role but all it does is add to that feeling of being convoluted.
Leading on from that "Breakheart Pass" has a cast which includes Charles Durning, Ed Lauter, David Huddleston, Richard Crenna, Ben Johnson and Jill Ireland yet the only entertaining performance comes from Charles Bronson as John Deakin. Yet the irony is that whilst Bronson looks at home delivering the action part of the character when it comes to him acting like a sleuth it just doesn't convince and he seems unsure how to play a western secret service agent.
What this all boils down to is that "Breakheart Pass" is worth watching but more because of it being an entertaining idea for a western rather than for being a great western.
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