Release Date(s)1976 (November 16, 2021)
Studio(s)Gershwin-Kastner Productions/United Artists (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B-
Directed by Tom Gries (Breakout, Helter Skelter), Breakheart Pass is a great action Western whodunit from 1976 starring Charles Bronson. The film takes place on a train that’s carrying a group of men and soldiers, and transporting medical supplies to a diphtheria-infested military outpost during the early twentieth century. When the passengers suddenly start getting bumped off one by one, it's up to John Deacon (Bronson) to figure out what's going on. The film also features a number of familiar faces, including Richard Crenna, Jill Ireland, Charles Durning, Ben Johnson, David Huddleston, and Bill McKinney, among others.
Based on a novel and a screenplay by Alistair MacLean (The Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare), Breakheart Pass was unusual in that it was MacLean's attempt at a mystery plot with action thrown in for good measure. The main draw is, of course, Charles Bronson, and seeing his character thwart the bad guys by any means necessary. Bronson is also not his typical hard-nosed self either. Since the film is a genre mash-up of Western, mystery, thriller, and action, it’s a little more freewheeling and feels a bit lighter overall, even though the material would suggest otherwise. The sometimes shocking use of violence in an otherwise blood-less film gives it a bit more teeth had it been a straight TV movie (which Tom Gries was certainly no stranger to).
And while it’s not considered one of his most memorable, there's also a very nice score from Jerry Goldsmith, which is especially effective during the opening and closing titles to help to establish the era and give the film a lot of its character. There's also very impressive stunt work and set pieces, including Bronson fighting with one of the bad guys on the roof of an actual moving train. Ultimately, Breakheart Pass is a little uneven in terms of tone, but it's still enjoyable with interesting twists and turns, even if they are slightly predictable.
Breakheart Pass was shot by director of photography Lucien Ballard on 35 mm film (likely with Mitchell cameras based on the limited information available), finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray for a second time (having previously released the film in 2014, which we reviewed here), sourced from a new 2K master of what one assumes was an interpositive. Comparatively, there’s more information along the frame and much more depth in the image. Grain hovers around medium for the most part, appearing less splotchy than the previous transfer. Contrast is richer and deeper, allowing for more solid blacks, but also crush. Costumes and the shadowy areas of the frame have lost a bit of detail due to this... not by a large degree, but it’s certainly noticeable. Colors are not as hot as before, appearing cooler, which works with the snowy environment. Foliage appears an unnatural dark green, but other hues, such as reds, browns, and blues, all have a healthy appearance. Flesh tones are nice, too. The image is stable with only minor bits of speckling and scratches, most apparent at the beginning and towards the end. Overall, it’s mostly a step up in quality.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. It appears to be the same track that was included with the previous Blu-ray release. It delivers clean, precise dialogue and gives a healthy push to Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Sound effects and atmospherics play a nice role, as well. Unremarkable, but a solid track.
The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary by Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson
- Trailer (Upscaled HD – 3:07)
- Farewell, Friend Trailer (SD – 4:02)
- Rider on the Rain Trailer (SD – 3:53)
- Cold Sweat Trailer (SD – 2:36)
- Someone Behind the Door Trailer (SD – 2:33)
- Chato's Land Trailer (HD – 2:20)
- The Valdez Horses (aka Chino) Trailer (Upscaled SD – 3:06)
- Mr. Majestyk Trailer (SD – 1:33)
- From Noon Till Three Trailer (HD – 2:02)
- The White Buffalo Trailer (HD – 1:52)
- Cabo Blanco Trailer (HD – 2:49)
Film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell, and Nathaniel Thompson—frequent collaborators on various Blu-ray releases—provide a new audio commentary. They have very little to say of the making of the film, but instead discuss many facets surrounding it in detail. Topics include Jerry Goldmith’s score and their love of it, Tom Gries’ career and how he died far too young, the working relationship between Bronson and Gries for several films, comparisons to Agatha Christie stories, Bronson being unhappy with the script, Alistair MacLean’s career and other films based on his works, the PG-rated violence in the film, tropes of train movies and the big train crash scene, director of photography Lucien Ballard and the look of the film, the influence of McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Bronson’s career and persona, and the film’s final moments. There’s never a dry or slow spot as they keep the conversation lively for the length of the film, stopping mere moments before the credits end. The rest of the extras consist of the film’s trailer and trailers for other Charles Bronson films released by Kino Lorber.
The disc sits inside a blue amaray case with double-sided artwork: the US poster artwork on the front, and the Italian poster artwork on the reverse with English text. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring the same US poster artwork.
Kino Lorber classes up and improves upon their previous Blu-ray release of Breakheart Pass with a mostly pleasing new transfer and a nice new audio commentary to accompany it. It’s not one of Charles Bronson’s most popular films, but it’s certainly one worth revisiting.
- Tim Salmons