(director/writer: George P. Cosmatos; screenwriter: Robert Katz/Tom Mankiewicz; cinematographer: Ennio Guarnieri; editor: Robert Silvi; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Sophia Loren (Jennifer Rispoli Chamberlain), Richard Harris (Dr. Jonathan Chamberlain), Martin Sheen (Robby Navarro), O.J. Simpson (Haley), Lionel Stander (Max, Train Conductor), Ann Turkel (Susan), Ingrid Thulin (Dr. Elena Stradner), Lee Strasberg (Herman Kaplan), Ava Gardner (Nicole Dressler), Burt Lancaster (Col. Stephen Mackenzie), John Phillip Law (Major Stark), Lou Castel (Swedish Terrorist), Alida Valli ( Mrs. Chadwick), Stefano Patrizi (Terrorist), Ray Lovelock (Tom); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sir Lew Grade/Carlo Ponti; Avco Embassy Pictures; 1976-UK/Italy/W. Germany-in English)

“Your usual over-the-top blockbuster disaster of a formulaic disaster movie.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Your usual over-the-top blockbuster disaster of a formulaic disaster movie. Second-rate director George P. Cosmatos (“Cobra”/”Massacre in Rome”/”Escape to Athena”) makes the star-filled disaster spectacular into a train wreck, as he has the international stars mouth the banal dialogue he cowrote with Robert Katz and Tom Mankiewicz, shows no ability in keeping things suspenseful or believable, and lets it amount to a mere roller coaster ride in twaddle. It makes for unintentional laughter, as the once popular stars with fast-fading careers (Sophia, Ava, and Harris) can’t do anything to stop the disaster.

In Geneva, two terrorists from a Swedish peace group raid the World Health Organization. One is killed by marine guards but the other (Lou Castel) escapes on the transcontinental luxury express train bound for Stockholm. The American Col. Stephen Mackenzie (Burt Lancaster) is called to the hospital and informs the hospital doctor, Dr. Elena Stradner (Ingrid Thulin), that the U.S. government was conducting secret and unauthorized tests to develop a bacterial agent and that the raiders became exposed to a highly contagious deadly pneumonic plague virus. The colonel is mainly interested in avoiding a panic and exposing America’s dirty little secret to the world.

With a trainload of a 1,000 people, the colonel from his command post in Geneva, with Dr. Stradner by his side (she becomes the film’s voice of reason, as she has the passengers’ best interests at heart while the military man only cares about a coverup), reroutes the train in Poland to Cassandra Crossing, a site of a WW II concentration camp. To get there the train must cross a dangerous rickety wooden bridge. The logical move would be in getting the Swiss to stop the train and quarantine everyone, but the colonel thinks otherwise and we’re forced to go along with his Bush-like decision. It seems the colonel finds it too embarrassing to fess up about his government’s nefarious experiments to the Swiss but not the Poles. Meanwhile the bloated, sweaty terrorist is running around the train, hugging the kiddies and breathing hard on everyone he sees. Aboard the train are a goofy best-selling author (Sophia Loren) and her genius ex-husband, a world renown neurosurgeon recognized for a unique medical research project over red blood cells, (Richard Harris); a miscast Ava Gardner, playing the wife of an international arms dealer, with her much younger obnoxious boy toy lover Martin Sheen; a former Holocaust survivor and petty thief troubled about returning to an area with bad memories where he was an inmate (Lee Strasberg, noted Method Actor drama teacher); and O.J. Simpson the controversial football star turned bad actor before he became a tabloid sensation by beating a double murder charge in a much watched trial, is cast as a priest with prison body art.

To prevent the passengers from leaving the train, it’s sealed off by American soldiers who are prepared to shoot anyone who disobeys. The conductor, played by one of my favorite character actors, Lionel Stander, also manages to look bad in his awful role as seemingly the only railroad person who knows the unused bridge is not safe to cross.

The public by 1976 were becoming tired of all the disaster flicks that flooded the theaters with their formulaic claustrophobic dangerous settings and rejected this one big time, as did the critics. Though it offers some fine location photography and a number of cheap thrills, the film is too absurd and too poorly executed to be counted as anything but hokum and trash.