The Cassandra Crossing
Release Year: 1976
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Writers: George P. Cosmatos (screenplay & story), Robert Katz (screenplay & story), Tom Mankiewicz (screenplay)
Starring: Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Martin Sheen, O.J. Simpson, Lionel Stander, Ann Turkel, Ingrid Thulin, Lee Straberg, Ava Gardner, John Philip Law
Sunday Classic #266, week 30 2019
A young man infected with pneumonic plague after a break-in at a defense facility boards a full train heading across Europe. The military orders a lock down of the train with the assistance of on board neurosurgeon Chamberlain (Richard Harris), but it isn’t long until the good doctor begins to suspect the military’s motives.
The 1970s spawned a number of disaster movies of different qualities, but they proved to be immensely popular. The Cassandra Crossing is not one of the best, but it has a highly entertaining cheesiness to it and a cast that makes up for what it lacks in effect. The film is basically a conspiracy theory yarn revolving around an outbreak of a highly infectious disease. After an action-packed opening, the story moves onto a train, and the film takes full advantage of the opportunities arising from such a contained setting. Most of the action takes place in the first class part of the train and for a while the film almost has a Murder on the Orient Express to it, including a colourful cast of characters. The two main character are Dr. Chamberlain and Sophia Loren’s Jennifer. The two are the sort of lovers who cannot keep away fro each other yet cannot figure out how to be together. They are twice married and divorced and move ever closer to wedding number three over the course of the story. They are really the best part of the film, but also a savy Ava Gardner and her young boy-toy played by Martin Sheen, as well as O.J. Simpson’s weird side character help makes this entertaining throughout. Burt Lancaster (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 1957) is the military man in charge of handling the crisis, and does quite well as a man who turns out to be quite good at justifying his blind obedience to orders. Some scenes are cheesy, the effects are poor, but a decent plot and some good character makes this a good watch if you don’t go in expecting quality.
According to a biography, Ava Gardner gave Sophia Loren the following advice during production: “Always shoot your close-ups first thing in the morning, honey, ’cause your looks ain’t gonna hold out all day.”
Charlton Heston turned down the lead. He did not wish to spend 12 weeks filming in Italy and Switzerland and also believed that disaster movies never did well at the box office.
The film was inspired by a personal experience of the ravages of infectious disease that the director had in while in Egypt. He said of the experience that “To me, an epidemic seems more destructive than an earthquake, a fire, or even a bomb, and a man-made epidemic, such as is shown in this movie, is the most despicable of all. We are our own worst enemies, because we’re killing ourselves with so-called progress.”
Picture Copyright: Twentieth Century Fox