Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977)

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Directed by Robert Aldrich

Written by Ronald Cohen and Edward Huebsch (based on the novel by Walter Wager)

Starring Burt Lancaster, Charles Durning, Joseph Cotten, Melvyn Douglas

Trivia: Filmed in West Germany as a substitute for the American Midwest.

Companion Film: The Rock (1997)

Despite being overlong with some hammy performances, Twilight’s Last Gleaming feels oddly current in the ideas it explores. Made within the Post-Watergate milieu, the film also works for the Post-Snowden era. To paraphrase one character, “How can the people be informed when the government cannot stop lying to them?”

Burt Lancaster plays an imprisoned Air Force general who manages to escape, infiltrate a nuclear missile base, and threaten to start a war if the United States doesn’t reveal secret documents pertaining to the Vietnam War.  For cinephiles, the plot may sound similar to Michael Bay’s 1997 blockbuster The Rock.

As usual Lancaster is a compelling presence, but his performance seems a bit too restrained: he needs to be angrier. But don’t miss a surly Burt Young as one of his partners in crime  The true standout performance belongs to Charles Durning as the President. Unlike most fictional commanders and chief, he lacks charisma and is indecisive, yet displays wisdom and bravery at the same time.  He understands that the U.S. government’s been less than honest with the American people so he sympathizes with Lancaster character.

Most of the film consists of characters in a room talking, which probably makes it unwatchable for modern audiences.  Director Robert Aldrich shot his action sequences with methodical build ups, once again out of sync with 21st century movie making. But there’s a focus and narrative drive to his direction where modern cinema often comes up short.

The DVD contains an informative documentary on the making of Twilight’s Last Gleaming. Aldrich, an outspoken liberal, reshaped the script to reflect the Post-Watergate climate in America.  The director of some of the most popular films in Hollywood history including the classic film noir Kiss Me Deadly (one of the inspirations for Pulp Fiction) to the groundbreaking action film The Dirty Dozen, Aldrich’s filmography spanned many genres.

In an age of increasing government surveillance, the message of Twilight’s Last Gleaming continues to resonate.  A product of its time for sure, but still worth watching today.

 

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