Friday 7 October 2022

Movie Review: Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)

A military drama, Twilight's Last Gleaming wields the threat of launching nukes, but sinks into the silos.

In Montana, disgraced former Air Force General Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) breaks out of prison along with convicts Powell, Garvas, and Hoxey (Paul Winfield, Burt Young, and William Smith). They infiltrate and take control of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch site. With his finger on the button that could launch nine nuclear warheads towards the Soviet Union, Dell connects with his former commander General Martin MacKenzie (Richard Widmark) and demands to talk to US President David Stevens (Charles Durning).

Dell wants Stevens to publicly release top secret documents revealing the futility of the Vietnam War. MacKenzie crafts a plan for a military assault on the silo base to end the takeover, while Stevens weighs his options with a group of advisors.

Twilight's Last Gleaming enjoys an impressive-looking set at the silo base, and the opening facility penetration is decent when swallowed with a liberal dose of just-go-with-it. But while a rogue General could have plenty of reasons to initiate global destruction, releasing the minutes of a White House meeting about a past conflict must be close to the bottom of the list. Walter Wager's novel may have worked on paper, but the script by Ronald M. Cohen and Edward Huebsch rarely extracts tension out of the doofus premise, and director Robert Aldrich makes matters worse by extending the exercise to a wholly unnecessary 146 minutes.

Minutiae replaces substance and the pace slows to a crawl. Several sequences consist of Dell and his crew in the launch room waiting for President Stevens and his advisors to make a decision, with MacKenzie playing the role of joker in the pack. Aldrich attempts an artificial injection of energy with overuse of split screens, and twice resorts to prolonged handle-this-gizmo-with-care-or-it-will-explode scenes. 

Burt Lancaster and Richard Widmark are always watchable and come close to rescuing a few moments. An unlikely choice for President, Charles Durning appears suspicious of his own abilities to convince. He is surrounded by veterans like Melvyn Douglas and Joseph Cotten spouting their lines with earnest plasticity. 

The final act throws logic to the wind, the previously cold and calculating Dell succumbing to a bout of idiocy but only after Stevens opts for a ludicrous plan to end the showdown. The plot suddenly veers towards unearned notions of grand self-sacrifice, further hastening Twilight's Last Gleaming's descent into darkness.

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