“Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (1977) Starring Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Paul Winfield, Charles Durning, Burt Young, Gerald S. O’Laughlin, Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten, Richard Jaeckel, William Marshall. Screenplay by Ronald M. Cohen & Edward Huebsch, based on the novel ‘Viper Three’ by Walter Wager. Directed by Robert Aldrich. Faithfulness is not always an admirable trait. When a film’s fidelity to its source material is inclusive of the more problematic characteristics of the original novel, one may question as to whether such an adaptive misjudgment is a creative inability in the filmmakers to either recognize those deficiencies or simply a failure to reconcile the material into a more workable alteration; which would beg the question as to the attraction of the material in the first place. In Robert Aldrich’s “Twilight’s Last Gleaming”, the problems manifest in Walter Wager’s novel Viper Three are readily apparent despite a drastically altered motivational direction invested in the narrative which changes the reasons for the film’s actions if not the credibility of the characters. Disgraced General Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) and a handful of confederates (played by Paul Winfield in full street hipster mode and Burt Young inappropriately inserted to contribute his usual ethnic half-wit act that results in obliterating any trace of suspense in favor of low humor) manages to take over an ICBM complex with the ease of sneaking into a second feature at a mulitiplex. This lack of complication in muscling in on the launch control of nine intercontinental missiles is consistent with Aldrich’s uncharacteristically lackadaisical approach to the material, missing his signature muscular sense of masculine brutality while failing at committed exploration of the story’s newly found thematic concerns; which is ironically fortunate as close scrutiny would quickly reveal the thinness of the thematic reconception.
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