Friday, October 9, 2009

The more modern all-star cast

There were a few great movies in the 1930s with ensemble casts full of stars, such as Dinner at Eight. The genre, however, was probably at its most prevalent in the 1970s, when it combined with the disaster movie, to make such schlock as The Cassandra Crossing, which TCM is airing today at 4:00 PM ET.

With so many stars, the plot is bound to get a bit convoluted, so let's see if I can get this right in one go without screwing things up too badly: Burt Lancaster is a US military man, working on biological weapons at a Swiss facility with doctor Ingrid Thulin. Terrorists break into the facility, but their attack goes wrong, and at least one of them ends up infected with the new superbug. Worse, in getting away, the bad guy gets on an international train full of American and European movie stars! Fortunately for them, one of those stars is a doctor, Richard Harris, who is going through marriage problems with Sophia Loren. The bad news, though, is that nobody has a cure for the bug yet, so Lancaster decides that the best thing to do is "quarantine" the train and its passengers by diverting the train to Poland. What he doesn't tell everybody is that just inside the Polish border, there's a no longer used trestle known as the Cassandra crossing, which has fallen into disrepair and will likely buckle under the weight of this train. (Perfect for Lancaster, since he'd really rather have nobody know about the military's involvement in this plague.)
Who else is on the train? Martin Sheen is playing sugar baby to Ava Gardner; OJ Simpson as a priest (and then some); and folks like Alida Valli (the female lead in The Third Man), acting teacher Lee Strasberg, and Lionel Stander.

The disaster movies of the 1970s were filled with casts like this, going back at least to Airport (which coincidentally also starred Lancaster). By 1976, when The Cassandra Crossing was released, however, the genre was running out of steam. As such, the movie is mostly overblown and rather a failure. But, it's one of those really fun failures, the sort of movie that's just so nuts that you can't help but have a good time despite it's being so crummy and cliché-ridden.

If you miss today's TCM showing, The Cassandra Crossing is available on DVD.

No comments: