Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Disaster on the Coastliner

Cinema Monolith: 5/10
IMDb: 5.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%

Premiered on ABC on October 28, 1979
Not rated
97 minutes

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)


This review was part of the Video Store Action Heroes blogathon!

22 comments on “Disaster on the Coastliner

  1. Initially I thought this might be the second coming of The Cassandra Crossing. Love that cast and hey! it’s one I haven’t seen it. So great pick. Also I can’t help but wonder if Lloyd Bridges was trying to quit smoking during all this pressure or if “it” hit the fan. I see Pat Hingle’s name on that ad so it has to be worth a look. Guy had a great character actor face and the talent to go with it.

    • Todd Benefiel

      I was actually going to review The Cassandra Crossing for this blogathon, but since I’d never seen it before, I didn’t know if the train was in it enough to qualify! And you don’t see Hingle all that much in this one (he plays a railroad engineer), but he does well in the part. And trust me, someone on the Airplane! filmmaking team had to have seen Coastliner and told Bridges, “I want you to play McCroskey EXACTLY like that!” It’s really funny to see.

      • Plenty of train footage in Cassandra with a cast to match. Think you’d like it. That’s funny about the Lloyd character being close. On the topic of Airplane, ever seen Zero Hour?

      • Todd Benefiel

        Yes, I have…a blast to watch, spotting all those hilarious Airplane! parallels. I always thought it was cool that, in Zero Hour, they had a sports figure as a co-pilot (Crazy Legs Hirsch), and Airplane! did the same with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Also, I can’t remember if I passed this on to you before, but if not, give this YouTube video a look…it’s quite well done and fun.

  2. First things first Todd, I need to know how they got that ocean liner to drive on the train tracks! Haha there I was thinking that the Coastliner was in fact some sort of cruise ship. Doh!

    Like you and Mike both joke above it’s just so hard to watch in serious mode Lloyd Bridges. Like for the same reason we have for good old Leslie Nielsen. Like they are waiting, poised for that perfect silly moment. The film sounds pretty descent from your great write up. A good little thriller matinee for a rainy Sunday kinda film.

    Haha though I just can’t bring myself to imagine William Shatner as a counterfeiter! Unless of course he was bootlegging Romulan ale?

    • Todd Benefiel

      And I was thinking Subway was some sort of sandwich place! Yeah, it’s easy to think Coastliner might be referencing an ocean liner traveling along the coast. And yes, this would be an okay watch if you had nothing else to do, or better to watch…as long as you can find a decent copy somewhere. I watched a print off YouTube, and it wasn’t the sharpest picture I’d ever seen, but at least it got the point across.

      I’ve always had a soft spot for Yvette Mimieux since seeing her in The Time Machine, so her presence here was a definite plus (too bad Stella Stevens wasn’t in this, too). And obviously, Bridges’ presence was a plus as well…besides the Airplane! parallels, it was fun watching he and E.G. Marshall throw angry banter back and forth, and downright laughable when Bridges pulled his gun and was ready to shoot the computer!

      Sorry, Shatner wasn’t much of a bootlegger in this one, but he did take Yvette to the lounge car for some Antarean brandy.

      • Of yes how could I possibly forget Yvette Mimieux was from The Time Machine. Yeah she was lovely in that. I see straight after Coastliner that she shot straight into space. In my childhood and still big fav The Black Hole.

        “but he did take Yvette to the lounge car for some Antarean brandy” LOL 🙂

      • Todd B

        I forgot all about her appearance in The Black Hole, which by the way I’ve never seen. The reason: back in ’79 I was all excited about it when I saw the TV trailer, but then I saw the robots during the real trailer, and immediately changed my mind about the whole thing. But now that I know Yvette’s in it, I may have to give it a chance, and just Ludovico Technique myself during scenes with the robots.

      • Haha those humanoid looking robots are in dire need of some elbow and knee joints. But those two floating goodies robots? I’m sure there’s no way anyone could dislike those heroic duo. Especially as they somehow sound like Roddy McDowell and Slim Pickens. It’ll take a tough man to not feel any emotion at the end finale. Sure to have a tear well up though it just could be because of the matchsticks of the Ludovico Technique. hehe
        Of course I’m bias. The Black Hole is a childhood and adult favourite and me loves me robots too. 🙂

      • Todd B

        Childhood favorite? Emotion? Tears? Okay, okay, you’re convinced me! I just read your review, too; you really have a soft spot for it, and since you make it sound worthy of a watch, I’ll give it a look and THEN pass judgement! And I had no idea the robots had voices, which adds another, um, dimension to things. And an interesting choice of actors to do those voices, too. I’ll see if my library carries it and I’ll give it a look!

  3. geelw

    I had to think a bit, but I did watch this when it came out. Well… it’s better than The Big Bus or Cave-In!, so that’s something going for it, right? That said, it’s too bad The Train was a 60’s movie, as it would have been too obvious a choice and we would have probably all picked it, lol. FIGHT!

    • Todd B

      Never saw Cave-In!, but I did see The Big Bus, and I wholeheartedly agree…I preferred Disaster on the Coastliner. But instead of having ourselves a big brawl over The Train, how about we do things Rashomon-style, and all watch the same film, but give four entirely different reviews of it?

      • geelw

        Oh, Cave-In! was (wait for it…) quite a disaster, but it was also pretty funny (unintentionally). Rashonmon-style reviews, eh? Sure, but I’m not wearing a kimono for the you guys!

      • Todd B

        Well, you better be wearing something…and no, it can’t be fishnet!

      • geelw

        I bet if I caught a shark in those fishnets, you’d change your tune, lol!

      • Todd B

        Listen, just because I love Jaws, it doesn’t mean I like everything that’s shark-related!

      • geelw

        (Emergency Broadcast Alert Noise): Well, I hope you didn’t think I was serious lol. (silently sneaks off to refund plane ticket, get a refund from Fredrick’s of Hollywood, calls Vegas showgirl to cancel “fishnet surprise” job).

      • Todd B

        Damn! Once again, I foul up a chance to spend the evening with a showgirl!

      • geelw

        Well, I can lend you my copy of this as a consolation prize (yeah, I got it sent to me a while back from the distributor):

      • Todd B

        Now, if you had offered me a copy of Showgirls, I would have been, well, all over that. But Showgirls 2…good lord, the trailer makes the movie look about a dozen times more horrifying than Showgirls. And NOT in a good, fun way.

      • geelw

        Yeah, it’s not good. You should see the whole thing, though. It’s somewhat impressive in its own way.

      • Todd B

        Someday, my friend. Some…day.

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Movies Reviewed: 224

From the Monolith: 124

Movies by Decade

1920s – 0
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