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Film / Breakheart Pass

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Breakheart Pass is a 1975 Western adventure film adapted from the 1974 novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean, directed by Tom Gries and starring Charles Bronson, Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Jill Ireland, Charles Durning, Ed Lauter, and David Huddleston.

In 1870s Nevada, a train carrying medical supplies and a small U.S. Army unit is heading through the Rocky Mountains towards the remote, diptheria-plagued Fort Humboldt. Among its passengers are the territory governor, a priest, a doctor and a U.S. Marshal with his prisoner, John Deakin. However, nothing on that train is what it seems.


  • Action Politician: Played with. Gov. Fairchild is quick to take action when the plan is falling apart to get it "back on the rails." Also, when Calhoun threatens Marica's life, Fairchild guns him down before attempting to save himself from being captured/killed
  • And Starring: And Richard Crenna as Gov. Fairchild. Ironically, he's not given special billing on the poster, such as the one providing the page image, or in the theatrical trailer. Instead, he's billed third behind Bronson and Johnson.
  • Bad Habits: Rev. Peabody is really an undercover Secret Service agent.
  • Bald of Evil: Calhoun, the outlaw leader, is completely bald but has a long Beard of Barbarism without a moustache, for a very distinctive look.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Calhoun, the outlaw leader, combines a wild barbaric beard with Bald of Evil for a unique look.
  • Big Bad: As it turns out, Governor Fairchild, with Pearce and O'Brien as co-dragons, and Carlos, Henry, and Banion as henchmen.
  • Blatant Lies: The assertion of Gov. Fairchild that there's been a diphtheria outbreak at Ft. Humbolt.
  • Body in a Breadbox: Deakin finds the bodies of Capt. Oakland and Lt. Newell hidden in the woodpile of the locomotive.
  • Captured on Purpose: It turns out that Deakin has his own reasons for allowing himself to be captured by Marshal Pearce and placed on the train to Fort Humboldt.
  • The Cavalry: Major Claremont arrives with the troops from Fort Humboldt as White Hand and Calhoun are attacking the train.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Averted. Not only does Maj. Claremont arrive with the freed soldiers from Ft. Humbolt to fight Levi Calhoun and the rest of the villains, he shows up in time to prevent Gov. Fairchild from escaping, and kills Fairchild himself.
  • Coffin Contraband: Deakin discovers the coffins in the baggage car are filled with rifles.
  • Cool Train
  • Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing: Deakin is able to use the fireplace in the governor's carriage to cut/burn through the leather thong binding his wrists.
  • Covers Always Lie: Averted. Deakin DOES end up hanging on for dear life to the top of a train car as Carlos attempts to stomp his hands and send him off the train to his death.
  • Cutlass Between the Teeth: Carlos clenches his knife between his teeth when climbs up on top of the train after Deakin.
  • Cut Phone Lines: Someone destroys the telegraph lines so the train cannot send a message back down line to Myrtle.
  • Dead Man's Chest: Peabody's corpse is hidden by placing it in a coffin in the baggage car.
  • Dirty Coward: Surprisingly averted. While Gov. Fairchild does attempt to flee when he knows the plan has blown up in his face, he stays behind long enough to rescue Marica from Levi Calhoun and is the one who actually kills him.
    • Played with In regards to Marshall Pearce. Deakin gives Pearce the chance to surrender, but Pearce refuses. He attempts to draw on Deakin, and Deakin shoots him dead.
  • Dwindling Party: Played with. While not a straightforward use of the trope, Dr. Molyneux, all of Maj. Claremont's men, Rev. Peabody, and Rafferty end up killed by the conspirators as the film progresses, while Carlos and Banion are killed by Deakin. Of the remaining characters by then, only Deakin, Marica, and Maj. Claremont AREN'T involved in the conspiracy, and most of the rest of the fatalities of the conspirators takes place in the final fight.
  • The Dragon: Both O'Brien and Nathan Pearce are this to Gov. Fairchild, but Pearce is definitely the more formidable adversary to Deakin.
  • Evil Chef: Carlos, the chef on the train, is part of the conspiracy and makes good use of his skill with knives when he attempts to kill Deakin during a Traintop Battle.
  • Hand Gagging: When Deakin enters Marica's compartment, he clamps his hand over her mouth and tells her not to scream. When he removes his hand, she opens her mouth as if to scream and he gags her again. The second time she takes the warning and keeps her mouth shut.
  • Hand Stomp: Deakin ends up hanging on for dear life to the top of a train car as Carlos attempts to stomp his hands and send him off the train to his death.
  • Hanging by the Fingers: Deakin ends up hanging on for dear life to the top of a train car as Carlos attempts to stomp his hands and send him off the train to his death.
  • He Knows Too Much: Capt. Oakland, Lt. Newell and the fireman are all murdered because they discover too much about the conspiracy and what is really going on at the fort.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Maj. Claremont kills big bad Gov. Fairchild with his sabre, after slashing his face.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Breakheart Pass.
  • Injun Country: The train is headed into a region that is being plagued by the renegade White Hand and his braves.
  • The Lancer: Maj. Claremont becomes this to Deakin after Deakin reveals that he's an undercover agent and that the entire diptheria outbreak story is a lie to transport weapons.
    • Unknown to everyone but Deakin, Rev. Peabody was initially supposed to be this for Deakin, but he was killed after discovering too much, same as Dr. Molyneux.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Carlos attempts to stomp on Deakin's hands and send him plummeting to his death while he's hanging onto the side of the train cars. Deakin manages to pull him down to where he's hanging right next to him, and then kicks Carlos off to his death instead.
  • Majorly Awesome: Major Claremont. Although he initially appears to be The Neidermeyer - with his over officious attitude and insistence on doing things 'by the book' - ultimately every decision he makes is shown to have been for the good of the train and his men. And when the chips are down, he shows himself to be highly skilled with both pistol and the sword. He's also the only man Deakin knows he can trust, because he is the only one who adamantly was against Deakin and Pearce boarding the train, leading to Claremont becoming Deakin's The Lancer when Deakin takes action against Fairchild and the rest. Also, even though Fairchild is the mastermind behind the film's events, and is the Big Bad, it's Claremont that kills him, not Deakin. Deakin faces off with Pearce as the final adversary.
  • Man on Fire: After being shot, the engineer crashes into the firebox and catches on fire before falling out of the locomotive.
  • The Place
  • The Plague: The train is racing vitally needed medical supplies and personnel to Fort Humboldt, which is experiencing an outbreak of diphtheria. There is no outbreak. The villains faked it to allow a train to be sent in which they were smuggling weapons.
  • Preacher Man: Rev. Peabody is a preacher being sent to minister to the men of Fort Humboldt.
  • Rail-Car Separation: A train carrying U.S. Army troops is going up a mountain. Villains aboard the train detach the cars carrying the troops, which begin rolling back down the mountain. The cars are locked from the outside, the caboose's brakeman is murdered, and it's implied the caboose's brakes are cut. Eventually the cars crash, killing all of the troops.
  • Runaway Train: The carriages containing the troopers are uncoupled from the train and roll out of control down a steep section of track. The brakeman is killed, and the brakes are disabled. The carriages eventually derail and kill all the troops.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: The murder of Dr. Molyneux quickly establishes that there's far more going on on the train than a simple mission to transport medicine and support troops to Ft. Humboldt.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: The sergeant shoots out the lock of the troop carriage to get outside and attempt to apply the brake.
  • Snow Means Death: The first murder doesn't occur until they are above the snowline and there is nowhere for anyone to go even if they could leave the train. All the deaths that follow take place amid scenery of pristine snowbound wilderness.
  • Suicide by Cop: Invoked. When Deakin, who is a government agent, confronts Marshall Pearce, rather than surrender, Pearce attempts to draw on Deakin and forces Deakin to shoot him dead.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Someone starts killing off the passengers and crew of a train carrying desperately needed medical supplies to an isolated fort. There is more than one killer. A gang of conspirators is taking out anyone who gets close to finding out what the train is really carrying.
  • Thriller on the Express: Almost the entire film takes place on board the train.
  • Track Trouble: Deakin blows the track in front of the train in order to stop it. O'Brien is able to stop the train before it hits the damaged section. The outlaws and Indians are then set to work to pull up a section of track from behind the train and use it to replace the damaged track so O'Brien can get moving again.
  • Train Job: The Indians storm the the train to steal the weapons they were promised.
  • Traintop Battle: Deakin and Carlos have a fight atop the train that has both of them almost going over the edge.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Deakin reveals himself as a Secret Service agent. Rev. Peabody is his partner.
  • U.S. Marshal: Pearce is a deputy U.S. Marshal who more or less forces his way aboard the train with his prisoner.
  • "Wanted!" Poster: In Myrtle, Rev. Peabody shows Marshal Pearce Deakin's wanted poster, ensuring Deakin's arrest.
  • Wrench Whack: The engineer clobbers the trooper acting as his fireman with a wrench just before being shot by Deakin and Major Claremont.