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Film / The Cassandra Crossing

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The Cassandra Crossing is a 1976 Disaster Movie directed by George Pan Cosmatos that has a group of passengers on a train being infected with a deadly disease and waiting for answers.

The cast includes Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, O. J. Simpson, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Lionel Stander, and Lee Strasberg.

It was released on December 18, 1976.

Tropes for the film:

  • Affably Evil: Even though Col. Mackenzie elects to let everyone die in the Cassandra Crossing bridge collapse, he's not doing so because he personally wants to, he's merely been ordered to do so. While he butts heads with Dr. Stradner, he's almost always polite and lets her leave unharmed when the train has apparently been destroyed.
  • All There in the Manual: The novelization by Robert Katz expands on the Cassandra Crossing's origins: it was built as a wooden bridge between 1760 and 1762 by the Grubenmann brothers and later reinforced with steel. A shepherd took notice that the bridge's foundations were sinking due to floods and rain and tried to warn his fellow people, but they thought he was silly. It also explains what happened to the main characters afterward.
  • Big Bad: Col. Steven Mackenzie. Even though Dr. Stradner has conclusive proof when Nicole's pet Beagle recovers that the virus can't spread due to the increased oxygen in the cars, Mackenzie still elects to let the train travel over the rickety Cassandra Crossing bridge, knowing that it will likely collapse and everyone in the train will plummet to their deaths, mainly to Leave No Witnesses and protect the secret that the U.S. government was violating the Geneva Convention by storing a potentially deadly virus in neutral Switzerland.
  • Bookends: The movie opens and ends with an aerial view of Geneva.
  • Bowdlerize: A watered-down version with a less violent, more ambiguous ending was released with a PG rating.
  • Darkest Hour: The radio link for the Transcontinental Express has been cut, there is no other way of stopping the train, the passengers are under the thumb of a cruel mistake, Jonathan and Jennifer are almost utterly powerless, and the train's weight will guarantee the destruction of the Cassandra Crossing.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Herman Kaplan was almost a victim of the Holocaust, and going to Poland brings back some bad memories.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Herman Kaplan, Haley, Robby Navarro, and the nanny are all dead before the credits roll.
  • Dwindling Party: Once the passengers realize that they're going to have to take control of the train to prevent it from completing the Cassandra Crossing (and likely plunging to their deaths from crossing a rickety bridge), Herman Kaplan, Haley, Robby Navarro, the nanny, and a number of unnamed passengers are killed either in the firefight or because their section of the train goes over the bridge, which subsequently collapses.
  • Fisher King: A realistic case. The longer the Cassandra Crossing is left inactive, the worse the collapse of the bridge becomes. Guess what happens in the climax.
  • Healing Winds: As it turns out, all it takes to defeat the weaponized plague virus within minutes is an increased amount of oxygen in the air.
  • Hope Spot: Dr. Stradner discovers that the infected passengers on the train can recover due to the oxygen within the train. She tries contacting Dr. Chamberlain, but the radio link to the Transcontinental Express has been cut. Now the passengers have to deal with the crisis on their own and the train is heading towards a dangerous old viaduct.
  • Just Train Wrong: A whole lot of things:
    • While an overnight train from Geneva to Stockholm isn't unthinkable, routing it via Paris is plain idiotic. Not only that, it travels from Geneva to Basel and then to Paris which is an even longer way than taking the direct route to Paris by entering France a few miles after Geneva. The train is zig-zagging its way through Europe. It's absolutely useless both to start in Geneva (because whoever wants to travel from Geneva to Paris would take a direct train) and to continue beyond Paris with a sleeping-car on the train (because it's not like there aren't trains that can take you from Geneva to Brussels in much less time on a much shorter route). One would think that the American script writers picked some random European cities without informing themselves where exactly in Europe they're located, whether it makes sense to send a train that way, and whether Europe has a much denser network of long-distance railroad lines than the USA.
    • Not to mention it's impossible to let a train have Paris as a mere stopover because the six major stations in Paris are all dead-end, there is no long-distance railroad line through Paris, and trains from Basel arrive in a different station than where trains to Brussels depart. Trains can only start or terminate in Paris, but not stop. Traveling through Paris via train pretty much always involves changing stations via Metro. Unlike American transcontinental trains, a stopover in a dead-end station does not require turning the entire consist from the locomotive(s) to the last car around, European railroads would simply put another locomotive on the other end of the train and continue with that one, but in Paris' case, it'd require another massive detour to get to the right station or on the right line.
    • Of five regular compartment cars, two are first class. Standard for express/intercity trains between Munich and Zurich in The '80s, but a European overnight train would never have that much first class in comparison to the second class.
    • Also, putting the sleeping-car between the two first-class coaches makes absolutely no sense. The passengers from the first-class coach would have walk through the sleeping-car to get to the train restaurant.
    • Over such a long distance, one would expect couchette cars on the train along with at least one sleeping-car. There are none, and instead, there are way too many cars fit mostly for daytime travel.
    • In the middle of a train runs a dining-car. This would make it highly difficult to shunt it out of the train, seeing as dining-cars weren't allowed anywhere near the ferry between Germany and Denmark in those days for fear of too much competition for the on-board restaurants. Also, this particular dining-car model isn't too likely to be allowed to operate in Denmark or Sweden, so it would have been removed from the middle of the train in Hamburg's busy main station where otherwise only a new locomotive would have been coupled to the other end of the train to reverse it.
    • Besides, at the film's time, passenger trains in Denmark were heated with steam since the DSB didn't have diesels with head-end power yet. However, the Swiss RIC cars (the two first-class coaches, the three second-class coaches, and the dining-car) didn't have steam heating, so they didn't even have pipes to run heating steam through. The Danish locomotive wouldn't have heated anything beyond the first baggage car running right through it.
    • When the train leaves "Geneva" which is actually Basel SBB, the train's next stop), two of the three second-class car coaches are missing. The second baggage car at the end of the train is there, though.
    • In Switzerland already, the train changes direction countless times. There are many scenes in which the two first-class coaches and the sleeping-car are in the rear half of the train.
    • In some scenes, a train runs through the scene which doesn't have a single vehicle in common with the Europa-Express, neither the locomotive nor any of the cars. One of them even contains German cars whereas the Europa-Express is an entirely Swiss consist. Since most passenger cars were Green in West and Central Europe in those days, it was believed that the audience wouldn't notice.
    • An infected dog is to be taken out of the train in a basket hung from a helicopter. This is impossible on tracks electrified with overhead catenary like almost every bit of Swiss railroad (and any mainline between Switzerland and Paris). However, when the basket comes near the train (and only then), the catenary is suddenly missing. In these scenes, the train is pushed by an off-screen Bm 4/4 diesel locomotive while the electric locomotive with its pantographs down remains in plain sight.
    • When the train approaches "Nuremberg", it is clearly running under Swiss catenary.
    • "Nuremberg"'s station itself is actually a freight station in Italy. Apparently, the American script writers didn't care because it used to be quite common for Amtrak stations, especially in Flyover Country, to have platforms not higher than the rails (i.e., you have to climb steps placed by the crew to board the train) or to require the passengers to board from the ground next to the tracks. In Europe, however, passenger stations always have platforms at least high enough to reach the steps below the car door.
    • The locomotive that's on the train upon arrival in "Nuremberg" is an Italian E645 poorly disguised as a generic Swiss locomotive on one end to remotely resemble Re 4/4 II 11217, which was on the train all the time up to the point and numbered Re 4/4 III 11363 like the similar locomotive that pulls the train in some but not even most Swiss scenes. It's still clearly visible that the Italian locomotive has an articulated car body, as are the real front windows behind the larger faux pseudo-Swiss ones. The other end remained unchanged except for the green paint. Both locomotives, by the way, would be unable to operate in Germany, the former because of the wrong current, the latter because the German catenary zig-zag is too wide.
    • The sleeping-car has miraculously transformed from a modern MU to a roughly 40 years older Z, probably because the CIWL (Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits = International Sleeping0Car Company) wouldn't let the film crew put those blinds on the almost new car.
    • In "Nuremberg", the locomotive is replaced by a diesel. While in "Nuremberg", it's an Italian D143. A refurbished American wartime switcher which doesn't even have head-end power for the train (in fact, as a switcher, it doesn't have any train heating whatsoever) is supposed to haul it on the rest of its way. Immediately, after leaving "Nuremberg" behind, the train rolls through daylight and what is said to be Poland behind a French first-series BB 66000 looks nothing like a D143, and maybe so that it looks more like an Eastern Bloc locomotive. (Originally and at that time still, the BB 66000 were blue.)
    • The second class is depicted as saloon cars to make it look clearly inferior to the protagonists' first class. The three Swiss RIC coaches which make up the second class are all compartment cars, though. Also, the interior shot shows a first-class saloon car with only one side of the aisle and two on the other and white headrest covers.
    • When they were sealed, the two first-class coaches morphed into second-class coaches. This is very visible. The first class RIC coaches have nine compartments and a yellow line below the roof, the second-class RIC coaches have eleven or twelve compartments depending on the type.
    • After "Nuremberg", there are armed guards on the roofs of the car. It's pretty hard to stand on top of the curved roof of a European car, fluted or not, and even more so when the car is moving, and you're holding an assault rifle.
    • According to the movie, there is a central electronic coupling control unit under the dining-car (and only there) from which all couplers on the train can be remote-controlled. In Real Life, however, European railroads still use the same manual chain-like couplings as the 19th century. Blasting one's way to that control box by detonating gas in the kitchen is just as much nonsense, for it'd rather rip the Swiss dining-car's aluminum car body to shreds or at least blow the windows out than damage the floor.
    • A more realistic way of uncoupling half the train would have been to undo the coupler underneath the footplates between the cars when there is no force on them. A smarter solution would have been to simply pull the emergency brakes which can't be bridged on these coaches (or at all in that time). And even if the emergency brakes had been disabled in any way, lifting one of the footplates and then opening the cock on one of the uncoupled main air line hoses or alternatively uncoupling the respective air hoses without closing those cocks would have stopped the train. But no, too easy and not flashy enough.
  • Large Ham: Ava Gardner is clearly enjoying herself as Nicole Dressler. Surprisingly, Martin Sheen also has a bit of fun dipping into ham territory with the Robby Navarro role.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Even though the plague virus has been successfully cured with oxygen, Colonel Mackenzie still insists on sending the train to Janov — or rather to their deaths on the collapsing Cassandra Bridge. After all, there are (allegedly) 1,000 people on the train who may or may not have heard of that certain illegally harbored American bioweapon.
  • May–December Romance: Played with. Nicole is embroiled in an affair with live-in boyfriend Bobby, though he's only 18 years her junior.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Colonel Mackenzie is red and Dr. Stradner is blue.
  • Runaway Train: A biological agent is accidentally released on the train. The military take over the train and are under strict orders to take it to a quarantine site, but the track goes across the dilapidated Cassandra Crossing bridge, which might not sustain the load.
  • Synthetic Plague: One of the key elements of the film is a plague virus which the US military has engineered to be a biological weapon and then secretly and illegally parked in neutral Switzerland.
  • Track Trouble: A critical plot point, since the contaminated passenger train must cross it. The US military knows that the bridge is substandard, and subsequent shots of the bridge show increasing amounts of dereliction, rust, and decay.
  • Traintop Battle: This has been expected and rendered impossible by placing guards with submachine guns on the car roofs, not far below a 15,000V overhead catenary.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The novelization has one.