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February 28, 2007

Twilight's Last Gleaming, 1977

twilight.gifLoosely adapted from novelist Walter Wager's 1971 thriller, Viper Three, Twilight's Last Gleaming is Robert Aldrich's impassioned and provocative excoriation - and, perhaps implicitly, exorcism - of the American government's administrative Cold War policy that sought to wage a representative, small-scale, protracted ideological war in Vietnam in order to reinforce a "doctrine of credibility" to the (then) Soviet Union and world at large of the country's resolve and willingness to win war at all cost, even if the rules of engagement are reduced to levels of barbarity, untold casualty, mass murder, and human atrocity. Aldrich frames the country's deeply troubled moral conscience through an unlikely pair of world-weary idealists: a former military general and conscientious objector turned escaped convict named Larry Dell (Burt Lancaster) who, in his increasingly criticism of the war and volatile temperament, became a convenient target for government discreditation, and the newly elected president, David Stevens (Charles Durning) who, even in holding office in the aftermath of Vietnam, cannot escape its haunted, unreconciled legacy in his appointment of seasoned cabinet advisors who had weathered the political fallout (and dodged accountability) for the interminable war (Aldrich astutely assembles a cast of veteran actors including Joseph Cotton, Richard Widmark, and Melvyn Douglas to reflect the advisors' status as fossilized relics out of touch with the consequences and social reality of their ideological war game). Recently escaped from a correctional facility where he is serving time on a trumped up murder conviction, Dell enlists the aid of fellow convicts, musclemen Willis (Paul Winfield) and Augie (Burt Young), and trigger-happy safecracker, Hoxey (William Smith) in an elaborate plot to break into the nuclear silo of a military base, commandeer its ICBM missiles, and hold the government - and the world - hostage in exchange for a large sum of money, a safe passage on Air Force One, and above all, the full disclosure of a top secret transcript detailing the former administration's attempts to continue the Vietnam engagement despite already known inevitable consequences and the impossibility of victory as a means of deterrent by proving the country's willingness to use nuclear weapons in the event of an all out war under a policy of mutual assured destruction. In its bracingly contemporary and profoundly relevant exposition on the moral consequences of entrenched ideology and disconnected (and delusive) righteousness, Twilight's Last Gleaming articulates a sincere and elegiac plea for transparency in government and empowerment of the people - a sobering vigil for the restoration of the dignity of political service and the dying ideals of a once great civilization that, in the myopic intoxication of power, has lost its way.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 28, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects


Solid review of an underrated film. Thank you.

Posted by: fallout11 on Nov 04, 2008 7:38 AM | Permalink

Thank you, fallout11. You're right, it's such an underrated film. Even without the political subtext, it's still a well made film. I think it really speaks to Aldrich's sensibilities too that it's still very much a relevant film today, and you can substitute "Cold War" with "War on Terrorism" without losing the intent of his sincere message.

Posted by: acquarello [TypeKey Profile Page] on Nov 04, 2008 12:35 PM | Permalink

I have this movie on laserdisc. I think that it was one of the most tense movies I've ever seen. I cannot seem to find it anywhere on dvd, however, so I think I'll be copying my disc someday. Anyway, the movie likes to use the split screen for simultaneous events, AKA "24", and it does a good job of it. I also like picking out the nobodies, who end up being somebody later. Burt Young was Great and John Ratzenberger shows up at one point.
A great underrated movie with a great cast. It has a way of being anti-government and patriotic at the same time.

Posted by: mickey on Dec 09, 2009 7:46 PM | Permalink

Good call about the use of split-screening. I was also thinking about how it was reinforcing the theme of seeing things from a different perspective, which was a lot of what Burt Lancaster was rebelling againt. I thought Aldrich also did a good job at rebutting the idea that if someone is critical of the government, that it's akin to being unpatriotic or un-American. People still like to cling onto that notion as a way of avoiding dialogue on political issues.

Posted by: acquarello on Dec 10, 2009 9:08 AM | Permalink

the credibility factor is the key to the movies success. Think about the firepower on a nuclear submarine-a renegade captain or crew could radically alter global politics.Was the sinking of the Kursk sub an accident or something more sinister?

Posted by: terence ryan on Dec 02, 2010 6:20 AM | Permalink

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