Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Premiered on ABC on October 28, 1979
Directed by Richard C. Sarafian
Written by David Ambrose
Cast: Lloyd Bridges, Raymond Burr, William Shatner, E.G. Marshall, Yvette Mimieux, Robert Fuller, Pat Hingle, Michael Pataki, Lane Smith
It was my turn to pick a theme for this fifth edition of the Video Store Action Heroes blogathon, and I went with action films that involve either a plane, a train, or any seagoing vessel as its subject. And with Greg over at Destroy All Fanboys choosing a boat, and Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies opting for a plane, and Mikey at Wolfmans Cult Film Club going with subway trains, I figured I’d round things out by also picking a train, but of the outdoor variety instead. And the film I chose was a 1979 made-for television thriller titled Disaster on the Coastliner.
An unhinged I.T. tech for a passenger rail line re-wires the company’s new computer system, setting up a head-on collision between two west coast trains; one of them is carrying the vice-president’s wife, while the other has been commandeered by…the I.T. tech, who has assumed control of the train’s diesel locomotive, apparently forgetting that he’ll now be part of that collision, too. His ransom demand: an on-air confession of guilt from the railroad employee responsible for his family’s death. The question now is, who’s going to stop the trains, and how?
Well, the film featured quite the ‘all-star’ cast, so any one of them was free to jump in and save the day. First and foremost was E.G. Marshall, the level-headed chief dispatcher of the railroad, who stayed calm and collected throughout, and didn’t take any guff from bothersome Secret Service agent Lloyd Bridges (seemingly prepping for his role on Airplane!), who arrived on the scene to assume control and gripe constantly about ‘that damn computer’. Northbound passenger William Shatner, a counterfeiter on the run from police, was also a good possibility, while southbound passenger and womanizing prick Robert Fuller was a longshot, as was his trusting wife Yvette Mimieux.
There was train footage, there was casual romance, and there was unintentional hilarity from Bridge’s tough-as-nails agent, so I can’t say I was completely bored by it all…but I did expect a bit more from an action thriller involving two trains stuck on a cab-to-cab date with death. The direction from Richard C. Sarafian was adequate, if not memorable (though two shots of the train speeding dangerously close to a group of railroad workers were impressive, I must admit), and the acting was fine considering the material, so fault would have to lie with the screenplay, which offered little towards character development or sharp dialogue, and supplied no real tension until the film’s finale.
And what a finale it was! It took most of the movie’s running time, but the audience was finally rewarded with some tense moments (will those workers get the bypass track finished in time?) and some exciting runaway train action, with a pair of helicopters buzzing around the engine to add some airborne flavor. Special effects guru Jack Sessums’ miniature work on the (spoiler) crash was good enough to fool me, and multiple kudos should go to Shatner for doing his own stuntwork, which included shots of him climbing on the side of, as well as on top of, the careening diesel as it barreled down the track. And he did so without the use of safety cables or harnesses!
Contrary to what the title states, this was more a hijack thriller than a disaster film (nor was it a ‘diasater’ film, as the ad above proclaims), so if you’re watching this for the first time, and are hoping to see a train spread bubonic plague as it travels from state to state, or one that plows into a major metropolitan area, toppling skyscrapers and unleashing fiery explosions, then you’re headed for disappointment. But if you keep in mind that this was a typical TV movie of the ’70s, and was more character-driven than action-driven, then you may find it a reasonable alternative if videos of The Train and The Narrow Margin have all been rented. (5/10)