Twilight's Last Gleaming
Adapted from the novel Viper 3, by Walter Wager, and taking its title from a line in the American national anthem, Twilight's Last Gleaming is a political thriller that reunited director Robert Aldrich with star Burt Lancaster. Released in 1977 during Carter-era administration, but set several years in the future, the film presents us with a fictitious President Stevens (Charles Durning) who is faced with a terrible dilemma that could result in World War III. Lancaster plays disgraced USAF General Lawrence Dell who breaks out of military prison and, with the help of 3 other escapees, commandeers a nuclear missile silo in Montana. Rapidly disabling all the security measures in place, Dell threatens to launch 9 Titan missiles unless the President agrees to make public classified documents that reveal secrets behind the Vietnam War. Dell’s belief that the President is an honourable man who will meet his demands is soon undermined as the military, led by General Mackenzie (Richard Widmark), gather outside the bunker and attempt their first strike to try and seize back control. Dell is forced to prove that he means business as the missiles are suddenly primed and ready to fire. Utilising extensive use of split screen, director Aldrich shows tense negotiations inside the White House simultaneously with the action unfolding both inside and around the missile control bunker. It’s clear that the Security Advisors don’t want the truth to be known and are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to stop Dell, plotting to kill him by means of a small atom bomb or even using the President himself as bait.
This is one of those typical 1970's suspense flicks bringing together a profusion of veteran stars who share tense exchanges or stare anxiously at monitors as a potential disaster looms. There’s character actor Burt Young, Joseph Cotton, perennial bad guy William Smith and Aldwich regular Richard Jaeckel to name but a few. Those sweaty furrowed brows look particularly sharp too in this stunning HD presentation. It might not be his meatiest role, but Lancaster is watchable as ever and shares some dramatic scenes with co-star Paul Winfield. The lengthy running time (146 minutes) was a major criticism upon the film’s initial release, prompting later prints to be cut down to 2 hours. Purists can rest assured that Eureka has released the full length version. The frequent multi-pane activity does command attention, actually compressing the narrative and proving to be highly effective in raising tension levels during certain sequences.
This marked television company Lorimar’s first venture in theatrical features, although most of the budget and resources came from Germany’s Bavaria Film. The movie was actually shot entirely in Germany, with locations convincingly doubling for Montana. Jerry Goldsmith provides an excellent score, proving over the years to be a highly proficient composer particularly for war themed movies, later producing stirring themes for both First Blood and Under Fire.
Restoration work has been carried out and the end result is superb. There is plenty of detail in the transfer, with rich colours and natural looking skin tones. This version really benefits from the extra resolution provided by Blu-ray, given that scenes are frequently being compressed into small panels.
The dialogue retains clarity even during frequent overlapping activity on the screen.
An excellent 69 minute documentary entitled “Aldrich over Munich” provides an in depth look at the movie’s production, with contributions from various crew members and the director’s daughter Adell. As standard with Eureka releases, an informative booklet is also included.