Along with Walter Hill’s HARD TIMES/’75, this pic finds its improbable star, Charles Bronson, at his even more improbable middle-aged peak. It’s an unremarkable, but decent, railroad suspense yarn with Bronson picking off carloads of enemies as the train rapidly approaches its doomsday destination. But it plays out better than its description since Alistair MacLean (adapting his own novel) plays fair by us, honestly doling out information to keep us reined in as he slowly unwinds his mystery. It actually rewards our attention. Compared to a major stylist like Walter Hill, Tom Gries was no more than a competent helmer, and he lets some pretty embarrassing acting slip by. (Don’t be fooled by the talented cast listed on the poster. - click to enlarge it!) But the script is so well structured, all he need do is hold back his pacing in the first half, so we’re set up for a series of increasingly exciting set pieces from second-unit action director Yakima Canutt. The main plot involves boxes of medical supplies that aren’t what they seem, and diverted mining shipments, but what really counts in this sort of thing are fist fights on the snowy roofs of fast-moving trains and long lines of men on horseback moving across the snow covered terrain, all lovingly handled by lenser Lucien Ballard. It’s something to see, and the lack of CGI faking adds verisimilitude to the mix. You can feel the difference, just as you can feel (and see) Bronson & former boxing champ Archie Moore doing a bit too much of their own dangerous stunt work. And keep a look out for that handsome stuntman playing a soldier named Rafferty; it’s Scott Newman (son of Paul), who got himself a decent little role here.
DOUBLE-BILL: Bronson set himself up for his second-wind career when DEATH WISH/’74 scored big. But HARD TIMES (see above) is by some distance his best from this period, with a great turn from co-star James Coburn and a decent one from Bronson’s wife Jill Ireland, who’s a good deal less assured here.