Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

Article 4529 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-9-2014
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Featuring Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Roscoe Lee Browne
Country: USA / West Germany
What it is: Political thriller

A former Air Force general, jailed under trumped-up charges, escapes from prison with a couple of men and manages to infiltrate a missile base. He then threatens to launch nine nuclear missiles to start World War III if his demands aren’t met, one of which is that a secret document describing the ulterior motives for Vietnam war is released to the public.

This had the potential to be a truly nail-biting thriller; unfortunately, the movie never realizes that potential. There are various reasons for this, and at least one of them is that several usually dependable actors disappoint in their performances, including Burt Lancaster (who I usually really like) and Charles Durning; for some reason, Lancaster’s character never becomes compellingly real, and Durning fails to convince as a president. There are also a number of scenes that strike very false notes, not least of which is the scene where the secrets of the document are finally revealed. The movie has also one of the worst cases of what I believed Roger Ebert referred to as the phenomenon of “Mamet Dammit”; there is a lot of cussing in the script, but it all sounds forced and fake. These problems, combined with an overuse of unnecessary split screen and a length of two and a half hours, conspire to make this movie almost interminable. Ultimately, the movie failed to convince, and despite a handful of good performances (including those of Melvyn Douglas and Joseph Cotten), it never takes off. I was very disappointed.

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