Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Runaway Train

One of the best films to come out of the Cannon factory (which, in this rare case, is NOT damning with faint praise), RUNAWAY TRAIN has just been reissued on blu-ray with many extras, though this edition appears to be only available (so far) from the U.K.

Based on a script originally written by Akira Kurosawa, TRAIN is about two escaped convicts, played by Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, who have the bad luck to a), escape from a maximum security prison in a blinding snow storm and b), hitch a ride on a train just as the engineer keels from a heart attack.  Various plot devices ensue that leave the train roaring down the tracks at high speed with no way to stop it.

In other hands this could have been another forgettable Cannon quickie, but director Andrei Konchalovsky makes everything he can out of the situation, and the result, as Jon Voight says in his commentary, is visual poetry.  There are many striking sequences, some made even more astounding when some of the tricks are revealed.   (Hint -- a big chunk of the movie was shot in a warehouse on Beverly Blvd. in Hollywood).

But the beating heart of this movie is Jon Voight, who delivers a riveting, over-the-top, compelling performance as Oscar "Manny" Mannheim, one of the escaped cons.  When we first meet Manny, he's being ordered released from the solitary cell that evil Warden Rankin (John P. Ryan at his nastiest) had him welded into (!) years earlier.  There's some nasty history between these two, and when Manny bids prison adieu, Rankin is determined to bring him back.  Meanwhile, Manny has to deal with his "partner" Buck (Mr. Roberts) whose self-aggrandizing blabber would have had Mother Theresa reaching for a gun.  One of the best scenes in the film, where Manny finally explodes on Buck for boasting about all the amazing stuff he's going to do once they're free, turns out to have been scribbled out by Voight the night before shooting.  Which means I have to hate him, I guess, but it really is amazing stuff.

I've always loved this movie -- the look, the gritty dialogue (some by ex-con Eddie Bunker), the performances, the incredible stunt work and FX -- it's got it all.  There are interviews with Konchalovsky, Roberts and supporting actor Kyle Heffner, but a lengthy piece from Jon Voight is especially interesting.  Well worth hunting down!

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