In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, streaming platforms have seen a significant uptick in viewers searching for virus disaster films (I count myself among this group). It’s unclear if we love to torture ourselves or we’re just curious to see how all of this could end. Either way, films like Contagion (2011), Flu (2013), Train to Busan (2016), and even lesser-known entries like The Cassandra Crossing (1976) have reignited interest in the genre.
The Cassandra Crossing did not do well at the box office. In fact, despite its all-star cast and the popularity of disaster films in the late-70s, the film was a complete flop. However, this could have been easily prevented with a few casting changes and a better script; but more on that a little later.
The story begins with three Swedish terrorists who attempt to blow up the headquarters of the International Health Organization, which also happens to house a new strain of the plague. Even though the plan goes south quickly, one of the terrorists manages to escape. Infected with the plague, the terrorist stows away on a train headed from Geneva to Stockholm.
For fear that all of the passengers will be infected, a U.S. intelligence officer, Colonel Mackenzie (Burt Lancaster), insists on rerouting the train to a former Nazi concentration camp in Poland. He believes that this would be the perfect location to isolate and treat the passengers. Unfortunately, the route requires the train to pass over a defunct stretch of tracks on the Kasundruv Bridge, also known as “the Cassandra Crossing.”
The story gets increasingly convoluted from there, with multiple attempts to remove the infected terrorist, seal off the train, and misinform the rest of the passengers. To add to the confusion, the passengers have many of their own internal conflicts and personas, including philanderous spouses, drug traffickers, arms dealers, and Holocaust survivors.
Even on paper, The Cassandra Crossing is a complete mess. The primary issue with the film is that the story is too muddled and unbelievable for its own good. In theory, a train virus film should have been easy. It’s essentially a “locked-room” mystery set on a high-speed train with an invisible and contagious killer. Instead, director George Pan Cosmatos wanted to insert as many plot-threads as humanly possible, each more unbelievable and unnecessary than the last.
The casting is the second major issue with the film. It’s a complete mystery why so many talented actors and actresses would sign on to something so stupid. Many of the actors were a complete mismatch for their own characters, let alone their counterparts. None of the pairings had any chemistry, which made the already weak dialogue even less believable.
Just to give a quick rundown of the cast, The Cassandra Crossing includes Burt Lancaster (as previously mentioned), Sophia Loren, Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner, and of course, O.J. Simpson. While Burt Lancaster fits well into his role and Martin Sheen is neither good or bad as the possible drug smuggler, the rest of the cast makes absolutely no sense. Ava Gardner and Sophia Loren shouldn’t have touched this movie with a ten-foot pole, while O.J. Simpson adds just an extra bit of ridiculousness to the whole project.
Setting aside the disorganized plot, unbelievable characters, uninspired acting, and laughable dialogue, The Cassandra Crossing is simply not a good disaster movie. There is a sense of urgency as the train moves ever closer to the Kasundruv Bridge, but this gets sidetracked by the million other subplots taking up valuable screentime. In the end, the film doesn’t really scratch the itch for a good virus disaster film, but it’s a pretty good choice if you’re hosting a Bad Movie Night.
Rating: ★½ out of 5
If you’d like to watch The Cassandra Crossing, it is currently available to stream or purchase via Amazon here.
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