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Twilight's Last Gleaming on Blu-ray

Monday, 31 October 2016 00:00 Written by 

Twilight's Last Gleaming - out now in the UK as a dual format Blu-ray and DVD releaseBurt Lancaster and Richard Widmark star in this post-Vietnam political thriller from 1977, out now on home media for the first time in the UK in a Dual Format Blu-ray and DVD edition from Eureka Entertainment. Considered a peak in director Robert Aldrich’s catalogue of work, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” is a race-against-time doomsday scenario which will have annoyed the establishment in seeing Vietnam as a huge mistake by the USA, and was conceived as such right from the start of hostilities. Powerful, challenging, and enlightening stuff indeed.

Lancaster is a former Air Force general, Lawrence Dell, who with a quartet of accomplices skips jail and seizes control of Silo Three, which contains a stockpile of nine ICBM nuclear missiles. While the others are in it for the money, Dell wants to force President David Stevens (Charles Durning) to tell the truth about the Vietnam War. As negotiations get ever-more complex and desperate, General MacKenzie (Widmark) tries to guide an elite fighting team into the bunker to disable Dell and his mercenary hoods.

Lancaster and director Aldrich had previously worked together on three movies – “Apache” (1954), “Vera Cruz” (1954) and “Ulzana’s Raid” (1972). Prior to Aldrich getting involved in “…Gleaming”, Lancaster had already turned the role down, but with the director adding layers to the original plot, lifted from the novel “Viper Three” by Walter Wager, it brought social and political commentary into what was a fairly routine thriller. Lancaster was hooked. In the end, both were disappointed with the film’s critical reception, as they believed in the message which the film was trying to get over to the audience – that you trust those who exercise power over you at your peril.

As noted by Neil Sinyard in the 36-page booklet which comes with this release: “Aldrich’s original casting idea for the role of President was Paul Newman, who turned it down, but in the event the part is played superbly by Charles Durning. Some critics queried the credibility of the President’s outrage at the revelations contained in the secret National Security document which Dell is insisting be made public. After all, Henry Kissinger’s 1957 book, “Nuclear War and Foreign Policy” had advocated a ‘limited war’ strategy very similar to the disclosure here, and the leaking of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers in 1971 had surely destroyed any illusions about the real political agenda behind the Vietnam War. Yet it is suggested that the President is relatively new to the job and perhaps not that familiar with all the layers of government.”

Paul Winfield plays Willis Powell, one of the convicts who makes the jailbreak with Dell. Many will recognise him from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), where he played the ill-fated Terrell. So, it’s a little prophetic that in this film from five years beforehand, he utters the line “It’s like Star Trek all over again” – listen out for it!

Powell is on-the-money in terms of understanding the true nature of power around the world – it isn’t with the leaders, the Presidents, the Prime Ministers – they are all expendable. It’s what he describes as “the brains of this country” to pay attention to – the unseen, those in the shadows, who play out their games unrecognised by the general public. Nearly 40 years on, that message from Robert Aldrich is as true as it has ever been.

The script was written by Ronald M Cohen (later the creator of American Dream and Call to Glory) and Edward Huebsch (who was blacklisted in the 1950s, accused of having communist ties or sympathies, but had earlier been the writer of “Black Eagle” and “Best Man Wins” – “…Gleaming” was his first credited film in nearly 30 years). However, as is noted in “Aldrich Over Munich”, the excellent film-length documentary which comes with this release, Tom Mankiewicz did some uncredited work on the dialogue – he wrote the screenplays for “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun”, and was creative consultant on Hart to Hart.

Filmed near Munich, this was a co-production for American company Lorimar – their first venture onto the big screen, having become known for TV series such as The Waltons, and would go on to mastermind Dallas, Knots Landing and Falcon Crest. The production had a $6 million budget, and the Bavarian Gerck company proved an excellent partner. In fact, when the American end of proceedings couldn’t get hold of actual plans for the types of military missile silo being featured in the movie, it didn’t prove to be a problem for their German counterparts to get such Stateside secrets!

Director Aldrich gives new value to the by-then seemingly ‘tired’ technique of using split screen images to advance the plot. Given that the events take place in a day of real time, starting on Sunday November 16, 1981 (then four years in the future), two or more scenes playing out at the same time build up the suspense superbly. It is, of course, a technique which TV series 24 revived with the same mesmerising effect.

The film weighs in at 144 minutes, but there was more story to tell, which was cut even before its premiere screening (because of poor box office, it was cut even further by the distributors, removing much of the political machinations). It appears this filmed footage no longer exists. The President was given a wife, Victoria, played by Vera Miles. The actress had suffered a similar deleted fate in 1968’s “The Green Berets”, when she played a character called Mrs Lee Kirby. Miles worked widely in film (Lila in both “Psycho” and “Psycho II”, “plus The Searchers” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) and television (episodes of The Man from UNCLE, Ironside, Alias Smith and Jones, and The Name of the Game, to name just a handful).

Also ending up on the cutting-room floor was Pippa Scott, who played Helen, the President’s secretary. She had also been in “The Searchers” alongside Vera Miles, played Molly Wood in The Virginian, and featured in episodes of the likes of THE Cat, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Ironside and Remington Steele. The thinking seemed to be that the scenes involving these two ladies were character-building for the President, but didn’t actually advance the action. So, out came the scissors.

Fans of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s productions will also drop their jaws at the number of British-based Americans who appear in this film – Ed Bishop (Straker in UFO), Shane Rimmer (Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds), David Healy (Shane Weston in Joe 90) and Bob Sherman (Alden Humes in Space Precinct) all make an appearance. ITC appreciators can also spot Garrick Hagon (Gavin Jones in The Adventurer).

Cult TV fans should also look out for the likes of Leif Ericksn (Big John Cannon in The High Chaparral), Gerald S O’Loughlin (Captain Boyd in Automan), and William Smith (Kimo in the original Hawaii 5-0).

Special features of this set are as follows:

  • High-definition digital restoration
  • Uncompressed PCM audio on the Blu-ray
  • English (SDH) optional subtitles for the deaf and hearing-impaired
  • “Aldrich Over Munich - The Making of Twilight's Last Gleaming” – Robert Fischer’s excellent 69 minute documentary
  • A 36-page booklet featuring a new essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard, an interview with Aldrich from the time of film’s release, and archival images

The film ends with Billy Preston singing a very double-edged song, which becomes a sideways view of patriotism and what it actually means to serve ‘your country’. Governments tell lies, and since 1945 have been terrified of the finality that the A-bomb brings to the global map. Their solution has been to fight what they describe as ‘limited wars’, an Orwellian bread-and-circuses concept which steers well clear of the nuclear option. Given what we now know about the beginnings of the Vietnam War (search the web for information about the “Gulf of Tonkin lie” which kicked it all off), it makes “…Gleaming” even more on-the-money than is comfortable for a switched-on audience.

In all, the film probably came too soon after the raw wound on the American consciousness which was the Vietnam conflict. In 1977, the USA just wanted to move on, even if “…Gleaming” did provide a viable and uncomfortable prognosis on what the reasons behind that action really was. Now, some four decades on, it becomes a relevant commentary on the global political pickle we find ourselves in today. Mainstream media has become propaganda rather than revealing the truth, which makes it much easier for those in the shadows to continue their psychopathic plots. Take a punt on watching this movie – it really does take you down the rabbit hole of questioning everything.

“TWILIGHT’S LAST GLEAMING” (1977) (Masters of Cinema) Dual Format (Blu-ray and DVD) is out now from Eureka Entertainment. It has a ‘15’ certificate, a running time of 144 minutes approx, with a RRP of £19.99, or get it for less at