GenreAction, Thriller ProducerGene Corman CountryUnited States
Release dateAugust 30, 1979 (1979-08-30) (Netherlands)
October 19, 1979 (1979-10-19) (United States) Based onnovel by
Colin Forbes WriterAbraham Polonsky (screenplay), Colin Forbes (novel) DirectorsMark Robson, Monte Hellman CastLee Marvin (Wargrave), Robert Shaw (Markenkov), Linda Evans (Else Lang), Joe Namath (Leroy), Horst Buchholz (Schotten), Maximilian Schell (Bunin) Similar moviesMission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible II, From Russia With Love, For Your Eyes Only, Mission: Impossible III, The Living Daylights
TaglineThe Fast Track For All-Star Adventure.
Avalanche express original theatrical trailer
Avalanche Express is a 1979 cold war adventure thriller film produced and directed by Mark Robson (his final film), about the struggle over a defecting Russian general. It starred Lee Marvin, Robert Shaw (in his last performance), Maximilian Schell, and Linda Evans. The screenplay by Abraham Polonsky was based on the 1977 novel of the same name by Colin Forbes. Both Shaw and Robson died near the end of shooting.
Russian general Marenkov (Robert Shaw) decides to defect to the West and CIA agent Harry Wargrave (Lee Marvin) leads the team that is to get him out. Wargrave decides that Marenkov should travel across Europe by train, on the fictional "Avalanche Express". The idea is to lure the Russians into attacking the train and thus discover who their secret agents in Europe are. Consequently, during the train journey they must survive both a terrorist attack and an avalanche, all planned by Russian spy-catcher Nikolai Bunin (Maximilian Schell).
Lee Marvin as Col. Harry Wargrave
Robert Shaw as Gen. Marenkov
Linda Evans as Elsa Lang
Maximilian Schell as Col. Nikolai Bunin
Joe Namath as Leroy
Horst Buchholz as Julian Scholten
Mike Connors as Haller
Claudio Cassinelli as Col. Molinari
Kristina Nel as Helga Mann
David Hess as Geiger
Günter Meisner as Rudi Muehler
Sylva Langova as Olga
Cyril Shaps as Sedov
Vladek Sheybal as Zannbin
Arthur Brauss as Neckermann
Sky du Mont as Philip John
Richard Marner as General Prachko
Arnold Drummond as Commissar (Maxim Gorky)
Paul Glawion as Alfredo
Dan van Husen as Bernardo
During production in Ireland, both director Mark Robson and starring actor Robert Shaw died of heart attacks within weeks of each other. Monte Hellman was brought in to finish the direction and Gene Corman (Roger Corman's brother) was called in to complete Robson's duties as producer.
Robert Rietty was hired to re-voice Robert Shaw's dialogue in the opening scene, as it was decided to redo that scene in Russian with English subtitles instead of having the Russians speak broken English. As a consequence, for continuity, all of Shaw's dialogue throughout the film was re-voiced by Rietty.
Hellman, Corman and Rietty were not credited for their work, but the film's end credit contains a note stating: "The producers wish to express their appreciation to Monte Hellman and Gene Corman for their post production services."
Vincent Canby in The New York Times criticized its tackiness suggesting it was copied from The Cassandra Crossing and likening it to the work of exploitation filmmaker Lew Grade, criticising the actors as appearing "at a loss". Time Out called it "awful", "formulary" and "hammily acted" but explained its curious editing as resulting from the production problems. The Radio Times gave it 2/5 stars, noting its disjointed quality but praising the acting and snowy special effects. In contrast the Daily Mail praised it as a "highly effective Cold War thriller", singling out the claustrophobic train scenes for excitement.