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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 stars Lee Marvin, Robert Shaw (in his final film role), 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.

Avalanche Express
Directed byMark Robson
Produced byMark Robson
Screenplay byAbraham Polonsky
Based onAvalanche Express (1977 novel)
by Colin Forbes
StarringLee Marvin
Robert Shaw
Linda Evans
Maximilian Schell
Music byAllyn Ferguson
CinematographyJack Cardiff
Edited byGarth Craven
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • August 30, 1979 (1979-08-30) (Netherlands)
  • October 19, 1979 (1979-10-19) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$12 million[1]


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).


Production problemsEdit

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.[2]

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."

Critical reactionEdit

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".[3]Time Out called it "awful", "formulary" and "hammily acted" but explained its curious editing as resulting from the production problems.[4] The Radio Times gave it 2/5 stars, noting its disjointed quality but praising the acting and snowy special effects.[5] In contrast the Daily Mail praised it as a "highly effective Cold War thriller", singling out the claustrophobic train scenes for excitement.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Pres58
  2. ^ Monte Hellman: his life and films, pages 130 to 133
  3. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 19, 1979). "Film: 'Avalanche Express':Snow Job". New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  4. ^ "Avalanche Express". Time Out. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  5. ^ Hutchinson, Tom. "Avalanche Express". Radio Times. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  6. ^ "Avalanche Express". Daily Mail. Retrieved 9 July 2015.

External linksEdit