Not the most well-known or most successful of the disaster movie genre, The Cassandra Crossing contains a plot that takes in bioterrorism, anarchist bomb plots, shady US government conspiracies, international heroin smuggling, Holocaust survivors and a threatened pandemic.
And that’s before we even get to the titular disaster-in-waiting, the Kaslindrliv Bridge, a steel railway bridge abandoned in 1948 which is probably too rickety to withstand the weight of a train full of panicking passengers.
Ostensibly a story about contagion and containment, it details an escaped Swede infected with a contagious and fatal strain of flu, who hides out on a train from Geneva to Stockholm, exposing all the other passengers and forcing untrustworthy grim-faced US Colonel Mackenzie (Burt Lancaster) to recommend draconian containment and quarantine measures, up to and including shooting dead any passengers who attempt to get off.
Meanwhile, Richard Harris is Dr Jonathan Chamberlain, a celebrated neurosurgeon who has been pursued aboard by his comely ex-wife Jennifer (Sophia Loren, who was producer Carlo Ponti’s wife at the time).
Ava Gardner is Nicole Dressler, an industrialist’s wife travelling with her surly toy boy/secret heroin dealer Robby Navarro (Martin Sheen), OJ Simpson plays a priest who suspiciously does not say grace, Bergman Muse Ingrid Thulin plays Dr Elena Stradner, a Swedish doctor who locks horns with Lancaster’s military man, and Lee Strasberg plays Herman Kaplan, a kindly old Jew who lost all his family in the concentration camps.
Lionel Stander (best known as Max from Hart to Hart) plays a train conductor called (wait for it) Max.
The film has so many untidy and contrived subplots it’s hard to know where to focus, but it’s glossily mounted enough that the effects and tension set pieces work well even today, and Sophia Loren is jaw-dropping to look at.
The actual bridge used in the film is the Viaduct of Garabit, which is located in the South of France.
It was built between 1881 and 1884 and was manufactured by Gustave Alexandre Eiffel. It stands 122 metres tall, by 565 metres long. The Garabit Viaduct is still used today as a railway bridge.
Jennifer Rispoli Chamberlain
Dr Jonathan Chamberlain
Max, the Train Conductor
Dr Elena Stradner
Colonel Stephen Mackenzie
John Phillip Law
George P. Cosmatos