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Twilight's Last Gleaming(1977)
A renegade USAF general, Lawrence Dell, escapes from a military prison and takes over an ICBM silo near Montana and threatens to provoke World War 3 unless the President reveals details of a secret meeting held just after the start of the Vietnam War between Dell and the then President's most trusted advisors.
For more about Twilight's Last Gleaming and the Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray release, see Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on November 1, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joseph Cotten, Melvyn Douglas, Charles Durning
Director: Robert Aldrich
» See full cast & crew
Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray Review
Oh say, you can finally see this film on home video.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, November 1, 2012
Olive Films is trumpeting its release of Twilight's Last Gleaming as the most sought after title ever on home video, something that may be a bit of hyperbole (how about that original Orson Welles cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, for example, and, no, I don't care if it doesn't exist). But Twilight's Last Gleaming has indeed had a long and tortured history with promised releases on home video which never quite materialized. The kind of funny thing about the interest in this release (which is undeniable) is that Twilight's Last Gleaming wasn't exactly a barn burner in its theatrical exhibition, and some even alleged it was a case of Robert Aldrich, an iconoclastic director if ever there were one, reaching for a mass market brass ring and perhaps selling out in the process. Aldrich couches his typical liberal tendencies in some interesting ways in this film. If Seven Days in May offered Burt Lancaster as a right wing military man out to put the kibosh on a peacenik President who had the temerity to work toward nuclear disarmament, Twilight's Last Gleaming casts Lancaster as another rogue military man out to counter yet another President, although in this scenario, Lancaster's character wants the truth to be told about Vietnam. The whole "MacGuffin" (to use Hitchcock's term for a plot device that sets everything in motion but which may have no intrinsic meaning) in Twilight's Last Gleaming will probably strike modern day audiences as straining credulity, especially since the Vietnam conflict has tended to fade into the dim vestiges of memory over the intervening decades. But even in 1977 the thought of a U.S. Army General taking over a nuclear silo and threatening all out war if the President doesn't release a document that "reveals" our government knew it couldn't win the Vietnam conflict probably sounds at the very least frightfully na´ve and perhaps even laughably ridiculous.
Lancaster portrays Air Force General Lawrence Dell, who has been imprisoned on a trumped up charge of murder after he has created repeated problems for the service due to his activist political leanings after he returns from having been a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Dell has found out (prepare to be shocked) that Vietnam was declared unwinnable and that we basically sacrificed thousands of our own young, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, for no other reason than to prove to the Soviet Union how tough we were. Dell breaks out of prison and manages to take over a nuclear silo (which he had helped to design prior to his imprisonment), proceeding to basically hold the President (Charles S. Durning) hostage, insisting that the President publicize the National Security Council transcript that proves the Vietnam malfeasance. Since Dell has his finger literally on the trigger or nine nuclear armed missiles, the President is, to put it mildly, in a bit of a pickle. The illogic of an obviously decently intentioned man perhaps starting World War III (which would have resulted in casualties in the hundreds of millions) in order to make a point about a relatively small number of casualties in Vietnam is never properly addressed or explained and remains perhaps the film's greatest plot shortcoming.
While the Vietnam aspect of Twilight's Last Gleaming may seem blatantly overcooked in this outing, the film needs to be placed in its proper context of a post-Watergate society that had ceased in a very real way to trust its government on a very fundamental level. Vietnam may be the symptom in this particular instance, but that actual illness is one of disillusionment and distrust, something that makes Dell, while obviously misguided, a noble character in a certain way. That in turn saves the film from being overly screed like, though those with right leaning tendencies will no doubt find a lot to object to in the politics that are hinted at throughout Twilight's Last Gleaming.
Aldrich actually couches his left leaning tendencies in a more straightforward thriller ambience that may distract viewers from the political subtext. The film is rather long, perhaps too long (it clocks in at close to two and a half hours), but Aldrich stages it with a crisp efficiency that keeps things incredibly tense for most of the running time. There's a barely contained viciousness in Lancaster's portrayal that makes Dell more than a bit frightening at times. A large and distinguished supporting cast also does very well in several key roles. Durning makes a believable President who finds himself unable to make a critical decision in one exceptionally suspenseful segment, and noted elders Melvyn Douglas and Richard Widmark are aces as the Secretary of Defense and the General attempting to deploy a strike force to take out Dell in the silo.
The film is rather artfully structured even in its somewhat unwieldy length, with lots of split screen segments that are unusual in that Aldrich has all the elements (sometimes up to four) providing simultaneous action and, in some cases, overlapping dialogue. This gives an added flavor of intensity to the situation, a fitting visual (and aural) example of the chaos that the President and his acolytes are attempting to deal with as they come to terms with the fact that a rogue General has commandeered enough firepower to take out significant portions of the Soviet Union. You may not in fact agree with Aldrich's politics, but it's hard to argue with his craft which is firmly on display throughout Twilight's Last Gleaming.
Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray, Video Quality
The press sheet accompanying Twilight's Last Gleaming touts the fact that this new Blu-ray from Olive Films was sourced from the original camera negative and presents the director's cut in a completely restored version. This AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1 certainly is beautifully sharp and well defined, and is virtually damage free. Even the split screen elements do not suffer from dirt and unwieldy grain, which is frequently the case with this technique (as in Bullitt). (The fact that there's no appreciable uptick in grain in the split screen sequences may indicate some judicious DNR has been applied to this release.) About the only thing that some curmudgeons may find fault with in this transfer is its color timing and saturation. Things seem rather pallid some of the time here, and flesh tones tilt precariously toward the pink side of things on occasion. Otherwise, though, this is a sterling presentation that retains a nicely naturally filmic appearance (as is Olive's tradition) that offers excellent clarity and sharpness and very appealing fine detail.
Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Twilight's Last Gleaming features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that occasionally sounds a little crowded in the split screen sequences that feature lots of simultaneous dialogue, but which offers it all with top notch fidelity and some excellent dynamic range. Jerry Goldsmith's score works a kind of quasi-Copland territory, sounding both elegiac and triumphant at the same time. There's also a great sounding gospel version of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" by Billy Preston that begins and ends the film.
Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Robert Aldrich may have worn his feelings on his sleeve more than some other directors, and evidently in private life he wasn't very shy about espousing his views, but you don't need to agree with Aldrich's point of view to enjoy Twilight's Last Gleaming. The film in fact presents a relatively balanced approach where Dell's overweening idealism which may lead to calamity is contrasted with an indecisive or timid response that boils down to a paraphrasing of Jack Nicholson's famous line in A Few Good Men, "You can't handle the truth!", which may in fact in its own way lead just as much to calamity. The film is rather slyly cynical, but never archly so. Despite its length, it's often viscerally exciting and it contains one of Lancaster's best later performances. This Blu-ray looks great and sounds fine and comes with a very impressive documentary. Highly recommended.
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Twilight's Last Gleaming Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming Heading Back to French ... - April 12, 2013
French label Carlotta Films is bringing back to French theaters a newly restored version of legendary director Robert Aldrich's Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), starring Burt Lancaster, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joseph Cotten, and Richard Widmark. The restored version ...
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