This film is often referred to as Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. Writer Alistair MacLean has a solid track record when it comes to espionage movies with successful versions of Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, Ice Station Zebra and Puppet On A Chain based on his novels (to name a few). But be wary of Alistair MacLean’s Death Train. In fact it is Alistair MacNeill’s Death Train. Alistair MacNeill was the author who wrote a series on novels based on outlines left by MacLean at his death. So to begin with, we have a counterfeit MacLean story which the producers have chosen to base their film on.
As the film opens we witness a nuclear bomb being constructed. While this is happening, we hear the resonant tones of Patrick Stewart announce:
Plutonium…the key ingredient in nuclear bombs.
This plutonium was stolen, gram by deadly gram, from a German power plant.
My organization, the United Nations Anti-Crime Organization, responds to nuclear terrorism.
So when Karl Leitzig used this stolen plutonium to construct two nuclear bombs, his creations became U.N.A.C.O.’s nightmare.
Patrick Stewart plays Malcolm Philpott, head of U.N.A.C.O, and when a Russian General, Benin (Christopher Lee), oversees the creation of these weapons, Philpott has a crisis on his hands. The bombs are forcibly loaded onto a train in Bremen, Germany, by a group of mercenaries headed by Alex Tierney (Ted Levine). As well as the hijacked train, Tierney also has twelve hostages, and as the authorities try to interfere, he has no hesitation in killing them. Tierney orders the train to be re-routed across the Swiss border, and then to Belsano in Italy.
Once the train is on the move, U.N.A.C.O. prepares for action. Philpott prepares a crack team of operatives to resolve the crisis. Amongst the team members are Mike Graham (Pierce Brosnan), and Sabrina Carver (Alexandra Paul) who are the stars of the show. Other members of the team include a Russian Major, Gennadi Rodenko (Nic D’Avirro); a US/Kenyan, C.W. Whitlock (Clarke Peters), who happens to a nuclear physicist; and another Russian, Sergei Kolchinsky (Andreas Sportelli), a pilot. With such an eclectic group of team members, it will come as no surprise that one of them is not quite what they appear to be.
Philpott has his team assemble in Munich. On the flight over, he taps into the trains communications. Tierney justifies his actions this way:
We define ourselves by who we hate!
And the USSR was a worthy adversary.
This New World Order thing, we can’t use that!
No, once you know who you hate, everything works!
The first attempt to stop the train, features Carver firing a gas canister into the Locomotive’s cabin, while Graham, attempts some acrobatics hanging from the bottom of a helicopter. Tierney and his mercenaries were prepared for such an assault, and don gas masks and defend themselves with machine guns. Graham is forced to retreat with his tail between his legs. Naturally enough the team regroup and find another way to assault the train
Despite a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart and Christopher Lee this movie is pedestrian in every aspect. And the ending is so bad, it will have you throwing things at your television set. The film may not be quite as bad as I have made out, but it is far from great. It is however, light-years ahead of it’s sequel, which is one of the dreariest spy films ever made.