Skip to content

Breakheart Pass (1975)

I would suggest that from 1974 to 1977, Charles Bronson, was at the height of his powers on movie screens. This excellent mystery western set on a train from director Tom Gries might include the most talented ensemble cast the mustached icon fronted as a leading man and there’s even some well known names behind the camera that only add to the reasons why this is a fine piece of entertainment.

“To begin with trust no one …. and believe half of what you see …. because nothing is as it appears …. and nobody is who they seem to be.”

I love movie trailers from the 70’s and 80’s when a deep voiced narrator (usually Don LaFontaine as it is here) warns us of what to expect should we pay for a ticket at the box office.

Scripted by Alistair MacLean from his own novel, our story begins when a troop train carrying medical supplies pulls into a small settlement on it’s way to Fort Humboldt that is besieged with an outbreak of diphtheria. This presents a great time to introduce the majority of our cast and eventual murder suspects. Ed Lauter is the officer in charge of the troops, Richard Crenna is a Governor who is romantically linked to beautiful Jill Ireland. She’s on board as it’s her father who is commanding Fort Humboldt. Charles Durning, Bill McKiiney, David Huddleston as the doctor who is needed to aid the sick and Roy Jenson as the engineer.

It’s in this small settlement in a makeshift saloon that Bronson makes a striking entrance to our story. Barely uttering a word he gets involved in a poker game and is caught cheating by John Mitchum. Western favorite Ben Johnson steps in as a Marshal and learns there’s a wanted poster on Bronson for multiple murders. He’ll now need the train to take his man to justice. What’s Bronson have to say to the charges against him ….. “I’m not a man of violence.”

What the ….. seriously what kind of horseshit line is that? A paying customer at the box office circa 1975 is sure to want his/her money back if that line proves to be true … calm down. Let’s all just sit back down and see where this goes.

It’s a rather small train with just a few cars including the fancy parlor like one where a good majority of our verbal exchanges will take place with Bronson at first cuffed, tied and relegated to the floor which results in a sympathetic comment from Ireland on his behalf to the mean spirited Johnson. Result? A big smile from Charlie. Who says he never smiled on camera?

After a pair of Lauter’s officers go missing and Dr. Huddleston ( aka The Big Lebowski) is found dead, Bronson, is called upon to look at the body. His wanted poster points out he had medical training before going bad and his findings are that the good doctor was murdered. There’s a killer on board and a mystery further up the track. One that is exposed not long into the film. Screen heavy Robert Tessier is lying in wait at the Fort. He and his outlaw gang have taken control and are awaiting the train’s arrival. There is no plague befallen the Fort and Tessier’s in league with someone aboard the train. Bronson fans will instantly recognize Tessier for his knuckle busting fist fight against Bronson in Hard Times.

Like an Agatha Christie mystery, the bodies are going to begin piling up or rather falling off the train in this case. Outlaw Bronson seems to be more than casually interested in just what’s going on as the train travels through a snowy backdrop. Without giving too much away there’s a damn good bit of action on the top of a railway car when Bronson goes toe to toe with the former Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, Archie Moore.

Backed by a rousing Jerry Goldsmith score and Lucien Ballard’s photography, director Gries once again delivers a fine piece of western entertainment. He’d previously done 100 Rifles and the excellent Will Penny (1968). This was the second film released in 1975 that teamed the director and star. The other being Breakout released earlier in the season. Sadly Gries passed away in 1977 leaving me to wonder if they’d have teamed up for more cinematic adventures. Another name action fans will spot in the credits is that of famed stunt man / coordinator Yakima Canutt who handled 2nd unit directorial duties and stunt choreography with his son Joe as a credited stuntman on this one.

Bronson and costar Colonel Trautman …. I mean Richard Crenna, can trace their careers back to the early 1950’s. As a matter of fact both appeared unbilled in a Richard Widmark movie titled Red Skies of Montana in 1952. Ed Lauter would go on to appear with Charlie in The White Buffalo while lending a hand against New York muggers in Death Wish 3. Jill was by this point a regular addition to the Bronson world of film making and would continue to be up until her untimely death in 1990.

Long time character actor and often cast as the heavy, Roy Jenson, was a regular contributor to Tom Gries projects going back to an episode of Bob Hope presents The Chrysler Theater in 1965. They’d continue on TV fare like The Monroes and Batman. Moving to films Gries would cast Jenson in movies Will Penny, Number One, Fools, The Glass House, Journey Through Rosebud, Call to Danger, both Bronson efforts of ’75, Breakout and Breakheart Pass and finally the telefilm Helter Skelter in 1977. I guess we could call Roy the leading member of the Tom Gries stock company. Roy was also a member of the Clint Eastwood stock company appearing in 5 Eastwood titles as was Deliverance’s Bill McKinney playing the minister on board the train bound for Breakheart Pass.

Be sure to watch this one if you haven’t seen it already. It comes near the tail end of a great run of Bronson titles where he was attempting roles slightly outside the usual gun toting avenger. Films like Hard Times, Mr. Majestyk, Death Wish, St. Ives, Breakout, Telefon, White Buffalo, Raid On Entebbe and From Noon Till Three, his one and only comedy. An original film poster here in the collection? No need to ask.

And here’s the trailer to see what lies ahead at Breakheart Pass with a taste of Goldsmith’s score accompanied by that flavorful voice over narration. Enjoy.

17 Comments »

  1. After C’era una Volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West) and Death Wish, this is one of Bronson’s best films! My Dad told me when it came out, he read a review in a local newspaper that Bronson gave an exceptional performance. What an amazing mix of Agatha Christie Mystery and Western Dime Novel. I still have to upgrade to the UK Blu Ray.

    • It’s a winner in the entertainment department. I’ve almost ordered that UK release a few times. I have the Kino Lorber blu ray but have been known to collect multiple editions. Such is the life of a fan/collector.

  2. Man, that preview trailer is chock-full of action! I’ve never seen this one, but I’ve always wanted to…even back in ’75 when it was first released. And you’re right, a lot of names in that cast, including Joe Kapp, former quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings…and I could swear that was Sam Elliott getting his head blown off in that trailer (it especially looked like him from the side). I had to go check if this was in my Bronson set…nope, it was BreakOUT, not BreakHEART! Damn!

    • No Sam Elliott and I’ll take your word on Mr. Kapp’s participation. Surprised you never caught this one over the years. Used to play TV regularly when I was a youngster. Plenty to recommend it and Breakout a good role for Bronson as well. He’s a carefree beer drinking adventurer with Randy Quaid for a sidekick!

  3. Ed Lauter also appeared with Chuck in Death Hunt (1981) and Bill McKinney played a “Father” for a second time in Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989). This movie also produced my favorite Bronson movie review quote, although not a complimentary one, from Carol White of the Chicago Sun-Times: “If dead men could talk, I suspect they’d sound like Charles Bronson”.

    • Hi Randy. Ed was great in Death Hunt and sure did love his dogs. Should have mentioned that one and almost did mention Bill turning up as a minister of all things. I read that review just yesterday when thumbing thru The Films of Charles Bronson I keep here on the shelf. I think my favorite of the negative quotes on Bronson’s acting comes in Leonard Maltin’s Guide on Death Wish II. Charles gives his wooden Indian performance. Thanks for stopping in. Plenty of Bronson features here to look thru if you like. Cheers’

Leave a Reply to moviefanman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE

A Galaxy of Rewind

Lazarus' Lair

NOT Just another WordPress.com weblog

"DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

Smashing System Bias Since 1972...

Movies ala Mark

With a Cast of Thousands

Classic Horrors

From silent screen to Halloween, and everything scary in between.

Just Hit Play

The Good, the Bad and sometimes Ugly in film

Strother Martin Film Project

What we've got here is failure to communicate

Sophia Riley Kobacker

it's all about the story, possums...

Wolfmans Cult Film

Cult, B-Movies, cheesy fun films to Film Noir to classics new to me.

Talking Pulp

All things pulp and then some

cinema cities

a personal odyssey through film

Mark David Welsh

Feeding Soda Pop to the Thirsty Pigs since 2013

Film Speech

All things film and television

Diary of A Movie Maniac

A Personal Journey Through Cinema & Television

portraitsbyjenni

My perspective on life & Classic Movie Recommendations

Statis Pro 1978 Replay

Methodically replaying every game of the 1978 baseball season!

4 Star Films

Looking Deeper at The Best Classic Movies Together

everythingnoir

Movies, Television, Books....Everything Noir

Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

by John Bengtson "the great detective of silent film locations" New York Times

Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Silent-ology

Uncovering the silent era

Noirish

The annex to John Grant's *A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir*

Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Sunset Boulevard

Writings of a Cinephile

The Bogie Film Blog

A Film by Film Affair with Humphrey Bogart

Vienna's Classic Hollywood

Vintage Hollywood films and stars

film-authority.com

Talking movies...

Once upon a screen...

...a classic film and TV blog

shadowsandsatin

. . where the worlds of film noir and pre-code collide . .

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Where Suspense Lives!

Tipping My Fedora

Enjoying mystery, crime and suspense in all media

Silver Screenings

Ruth's Old Movie Reviews

monsterminions

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Comet Over Hollywood

Home for classic movie lovers

filmgeek101

classic movie views for the classic and not-so-classic movie fan

Riding the High Country

Reviews and ramblings

LOST IN SPACE FIRESIDE

A Galaxy of Rewind

Lazarus' Lair

NOT Just another WordPress.com weblog

"DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

Smashing System Bias Since 1972...

Movies ala Mark

With a Cast of Thousands

Classic Horrors

From silent screen to Halloween, and everything scary in between.

Just Hit Play

The Good, the Bad and sometimes Ugly in film

Strother Martin Film Project

What we've got here is failure to communicate

Sophia Riley Kobacker

it's all about the story, possums...

Wolfmans Cult Film

Cult, B-Movies, cheesy fun films to Film Noir to classics new to me.

Talking Pulp

All things pulp and then some

cinema cities

a personal odyssey through film

Mark David Welsh

Feeding Soda Pop to the Thirsty Pigs since 2013

Film Speech

All things film and television

Diary of A Movie Maniac

A Personal Journey Through Cinema & Television

portraitsbyjenni

My perspective on life & Classic Movie Recommendations

Statis Pro 1978 Replay

Methodically replaying every game of the 1978 baseball season!

4 Star Films

Looking Deeper at The Best Classic Movies Together

everythingnoir

Movies, Television, Books....Everything Noir

Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

by John Bengtson "the great detective of silent film locations" New York Times

Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

Silent-ology

Uncovering the silent era

Noirish

The annex to John Grant's *A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Film Noir*

Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Sunset Boulevard

Writings of a Cinephile

The Bogie Film Blog

A Film by Film Affair with Humphrey Bogart

Vienna's Classic Hollywood

Vintage Hollywood films and stars

film-authority.com

Talking movies...

Once upon a screen...

...a classic film and TV blog

shadowsandsatin

. . where the worlds of film noir and pre-code collide . .

Alfred Hitchcock Master

Where Suspense Lives!

Tipping My Fedora

Enjoying mystery, crime and suspense in all media

Silver Screenings

Ruth's Old Movie Reviews

monsterminions

They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

Comet Over Hollywood

Home for classic movie lovers

filmgeek101

classic movie views for the classic and not-so-classic movie fan

Riding the High Country

Reviews and ramblings

Speakeasy

movies galore

%d bloggers like this: