This Alistair MacLean scripted tale of murder aboard a moving locomotive in the 1870s is basically dinner theater with fine actors. The material may be route but the fully capable cast make this is an entertaining experience, even when director Tom Gries stumbles with spatial form and lackadaisical direction. Lead actor Charles Bronson is again a man of few words, he’s almost silent until the third act when his real identity is revealed, but that works in creating a mysterious aura around his villain character.
Wanted outlaw John Deakin (Charles Bronson) finds himself the prisoner of a local lawman Sheriff Pearce (Ben Johnson), the two are hitching a ride on a train that is supposedly delivering medical supplies to a Fort that is suffering a diphtheria outbreak. In reality the train is transporting a large secret shipment of weapons, ammunition and dynamite stolen from U.S. manufacturers for sale to renegade Indians.
Other passengers aboard the steaming locomotive include Nevada Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna) and his fiancée Marica (Jill Ireland), the daughter of the fort’s commander, and an Army Major Claremont (Ed Lauter). As they travel closer to their destination several passengers, including most a boxcar of soldiers, are mysteriously killed or go missing.
Deakin, who is actually a Secret Service agent, reveals his identity to Major Claremont and alerts him to the conspiracy, the “epidemic” is a ploy between a group of killers led by the notorious outlaw Levi Calhoun (Robert Tessier), and a tribe of Indians under Chief White Hand (Eddie Little Sky). Claremont agrees to assist Deakin in preventing the arms delivery, and preparing for the awaiting ambush.
Breakheart Pass is mostly set in a wood burning steam train chugging through the picturesque mountain country. There are references to Murder on the Orient Express, except the location has been shifted to the Old West. The intricate plot and confusing opening act are frustrating, but the film is a solidly entertaining whodunit packed with top-line acting.
Stars: Charles Bronson,Ben Johnson,Richard Crenna