Monday, December 12, 2011

Avalanche Express (1978)

A turgid Cold War thriller featuring a sloppy script and underwhelming special effects, Avalanche Express also suffers because of two unexpected tragedies. The film’s director, action-movie veteran Mark Robson, died partway through production and was replaced with an uncredited Monte Hellman. More glaringly, leading man Robert Shaw died before post-production began, so when the filmmakers decided to re-record the dialogue in his first scene, they ended up hiring actor Robert Rietty to dub Shaw’s entire performance; as a result, not a syllable of Shaw’s distinctive English lilt is heard during the movie. Ultimately, however, these are the least of the movie’s problems, because Avalanche Express grinds through a simultaneously overstuffed and underdeveloped narrative marked by tedious lulls between action sequences. The basic premise is simple enough. When a high-powered Russian general named Marenkov (Shaw) defects to the West, U.S. agents led by Major Wargrave (Lee Marvin) transport Marenkov by train as a means of luring the assassins they know Soviet spymaster Bunin (Maximilian Schell) will send to kill Marenkov. The idea is to flush out long-buried operatives with the bait of a defector whose secrets can unravel important Soviet projects. Unfortunately, the filmmakers smother this workable premise with pointless subplots about double agents, a Middle Eastern terrorist group, a mysterious Russian counterintelligence project, and Wargrave’s on-again/off-again relationship with a fellow spy (Linda Evans). That all of this gets crammed into 88 minutes gives a sense of how superficially each story point gets addressed; the word for every scene in this movie is “perfunctory.” Even the presence of former football great Joe Namath (as Wargrave’s sidekick) and a cheesy avalanche sequence created by Star Wars special-effects guy John Dykstra aren’t enough to overcome the movie’s glaring flaws. Avalanche Express isn’t unwatchable, because there’s just enough action and star power to generate fleeting interest, but it’s a poor epitaph for Robson and Shaw. (Available at

Avalanche Express: LAME

1 comment:

Guy Callaway said...

I like how the cast quality (quickly) plummets from Marvin and Shaw to 'Touch' Conners and Joe Namath.