Although one would have to admit that The Cassandra Crossing is not a work of art and has been left unsung for a reason, at the same time, anyone in their right mind would feel obliged to recognise that it’s just so much fun. Writers George Pan Cosmatos, Robert Katz, Tom Mankiewicz and director George Pan Cosmatos deliver a film of extremes, in which they combine a stellar cast, quite advanced for the time –1976– effects, virus-related terror and absolute disaster, together with some hippies, some Sophia Loren sex-appeal and quite a few twists. In other words, you have to be crazy not to like it.
All kinds of people check in on a fancy train, only to find after the doors have closed behind them, that they’re never meant to get off. A man infected with a deadly virus is discovered among the diverse passengers and soon, what started as a nice relaxing trip, turns into a journey towards the unknown. The passengers find themselves quarantined, and out of options and eventually the unknown turns to be The Cassandra Crossing, meaning that the train with all the travellers in it, is directed to a bridge which they’re doomed to never cross alive.
The premise is at first promising and highly intriguing, a big part of the film’s audience at the time, however, seems to have supported that the result didn’t live up to the expectations created by the story’s concept. Personally, I believe that The Cassandra Crossing not only satisfies even the most vivid of imaginations and where their owners would have liked the story taken, but it also does so without ever becoming boring or slowing down. In fact, the more the train speeds up, the more the plot follows.
It’s interesting to mention that no matter how original the story may be, the script is very mainstream, predictable and typical of its genre. It doesn’t try to take the film’s premise to a higher level, on the contrary, it seems to entirely rely on this unique idea and to want to leave it to carry everything without effective back-up from characterization and dialogue. The characters are superficial and the dialogue well-worn, but at the same time the disaster genre seems not to require any of the two to be more advanced in order to entertain. Merely the fact that The Cassandra Crossing carries an original concept is half the work done, at least as far as writing goes.
What is, however, essential, is that the disaster movie features the most advanced visual effects for its season and an all-star cast. Check and check. Except for an unbelievable Sophia Loren and a silent-power/man-of-duty Burt Lancaster, The Cassandra Crossing also gives us the once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience Ava Gardner as the rich girlfriend of a very-young Martin Sheen. Alongside the four, there are more big names to be found, including O. J. Simpson, Richard Harris, Lionel Stander, Ann Turkel, Ingrid Thulin, Lee Strasberg and Thomas Hunter. Their performances are far from mind-blowing, but they all admittedly do the best they can with the depth-lacking characters they are given. They seem to be perfectly aware of the fact that they’re there purely to entertain and that no great skill is expected of them, so they do what they have to do.
No matter what is said and heard about The Cassandra Crossing, it’s guaranteed fun — and not for the wrong reasons. The 1970s seem to have had their good share of disaster movies and this one is definitely one worth-mentioning and watching. George Pan Cosmatos’ direction gives the overall catastrophe an unmistakable Italian feel that adds to the appeal of the film, sets it apart from its American counterparts and gives it a fresher, artier and more distinctive note. At the same time, the slightly artistic and very European side of it all is never as strong as to take anything away from the entertainment of The Cassandra Crossing, which is always the primary reason for its existence.