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TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING(director: Robert Aldrich; screenwriters: Ronald M. Cohen/Edward Huebsch/based on the novel Viper 3 by Walter Wager; cinematographer: Robert Hauser; editor: Michael Luciano; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Burt Lancaster (General Lawrence Dell), Charles Durning (President David Stevens), Paul Winfield (Willis Powell), Richard Widmark (General Martin MacKenzie), Burt Young (Augie Travers), Melvyn Douglas (Jack Guthrie), Richard Jaeckel (Sandy Towne), William Smith (Hoxey), Roscoe Lee Browne (James Forrest), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Brigadier General O’Rourke); Runtime: 143; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Merv Adelson; Allied Artists; 1977)
“Intelligent sociopolitical thriller that is effective despite being overlong, stiffly acted and executing a rather nutty plot.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Intelligent sociopolitical thriller that is effective despite being overlong, stiffly acted and executing a rather nutty plot. It angrily mirrors America’s anxiety over nuclear war and its distrust over its leaders baseless and divisive war in Vietnam back in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a post-Vietnam/Watergate period pic that reflects on a government that operates in secret and lies to its people. Veteran director Robert Aldrich (“Kiss Me Deadly”/”The Dirty Dozen”/”What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”) loosely bases it on the 1971 novel Viper 3 by Walter Wager and it’s written by Ronald M. Cohen and Edward Huebsch. Aldrich’s brilliant uses of the split-screen, sometimes split four ways, works out well to follow all the action. It was filmed near Munich, West Germany.

On Sunday, November 16, 1981, fictionalized pragmatic President David Stevens (Charles Durning) will learn that there’s an attempt to launch missiles on the world by crazed blackmailing local terrorists. It comes about when 4 escaped convicts, the unstable cashiered Air Force General Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster), street smart pragmatic black convict Willis Powell (Paul Winfield), Augie Travers (Burt Young) and Hoxey (William Smith), who ambush an Air Force truck on a rural road. They dispatch the occupants, steal their uniforms and head towards a nearby top security Titan nuclear missile installation in Montana. At the SAC missile base the convicts are able to pass the security guards and television monitors and overpower the guards, and thereby enter the isolated underground Silo 3. When Hoxey wantonly kills a guard, Dell shoots him for disobeying his orders. Dell has knowledge of Silo 3 because he helped design it. The idealistic patriotic general is a troubled man who returned embittered from his experiences as a POW in Vietnam and suffered more angst that his wife left him. He returned to duty hoping that his government will someday tell the truth about the Vietnam failure, thereby allowing for a healing process and closure. Regarded as a dangerous kook by his bosses, Dell is framed on a manslaughter charge and sent to prison.

Now Dell threatens to launch 9 Titan missiles, probably targeted for the Soviet Union and 8 other countries, unless he gets the following demands: a flight to a neutral country, $10 million and the President is to address the public to reveal what was in the National Security Council document 9759 (a substitute for the Pentagon Papers) that offers the political truths why America entered the Vietnam War and lost over 50,000 military service people. Dell believes it was just to prove to the world, in a PR stunt, that they could stand up to Communist aggression. The President will also be held as a hostage.

General MacKenzie (Richard Widmark), the SAC command center head and Dell’s old boss who believes that military might determines who controls the world and is one of the people responsible for his disgrace, enters in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the renegade general. Meanwhile, at the White House, the President is advised by his double talking cabinet and leans on the support of his wily aging Ivy League Defense Secretary Guthrie (Melvyn Douglas), a somewhat disguised Robert McNamara figure who acts more from political self-interest than from protecting the Constitution first, to help negotiate with the blackmailing terrorists. When negotiations break down, MacKenzie is allowed to attack the terrorists at Silo 3, even when the Prez is held hostage.

Aldrich keeps it suspenseful to the very end, though credibility and what he’s trying to say about political morality has long been thrown on the tarmac.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”