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Breakheart Pass is a 1975 American western adventure film that stars Charles Bronson, Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, and Jill Ireland. The movie was based on the 1974 novel by Scottish author Alistair MacLean (1922-1987), of the same title,[4] and was filmed in north central Idaho.[5][6][7][8][9]

Breakheart Pass
Breakheart Pass 1975.png
Theatrical poster, artwork by Mort Künstler
Directed byTom Gries
Produced byJerry Gershwin
Elliott Kastner
Written byAlistair MacLean
Based onBreakheart Pass
by Alistair MacLean
StarringCharles Bronson
Ben Johnson
Richard Crenna
Jill Ireland
Charles Durning
Ed Lauter
David Huddleston
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyLucien Ballard
Edited byByron Brandt
Gershwin-Kastner Productions
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
December 25, 1975 (premiere in Finland)[1]
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[2]
Box office$2,130,000[3]



In the 1870s, residents of the garrison at the Fort Humboldt frontier outpost of the United States Army are reported to be suffering from a diphtheria epidemic. A special express train is heading up into the remote mountain ranges towards the fort filled with reinforcements and medical supplies. There are also civilian passengers on the train in the rear luxurious private car – Nevada Governor Fairchild (Richard Crenna) and his fiancée Marica (Jill Ireland), the daughter of the fort's commander.

The train stops briefly in the small settlement /"whistle stop" of Myrtle, where it takes on board local lawman United States Marshal Pearce (Ben Johnson) and his prisoner, John Deakin (Charles Bronson), a supposedly notorious outlaw who was identified via a picture in a newspaper advertisement offering a $2,000 (approximately $46,000 today) reward. But as the journey goes on through the beautiful snowy mountain scenery, several train passengers, including most of the train's soldier escort, are mysteriously killed or go missing. Deakin, who is actually an undercover U.S. Secret Service agent, discovers en route that the "epidemic" at the outpost is actually a conspiracy between a group of killers led by the notorious outlaw Levi Calhoun (Robert Tessier), and a tribe of Indians under Chief White Hand (Eddie Little Sky). Instead of medical supplies, the train's boxcars cargo transports a large secret shipment of weapons, rifles, ammunition and dynamite stolen from U.S. arms manufacturers for sale to the Indians, in return for allowing Calhoun and his men to mine and smuggle gold from their lands. Most of the people on the train, including Governor Fairchild and Marshal Pearce, are Calhoun's partners in crime, and those innocents who discover the evidence for his sinister plot are one by one quickly mysteriously silenced. Eventually, Deakin narrows his list of possible uninvolved allies down to Marica and Army Major Claremont (Ed Lauter), who agrees to assist the agent in his efforts to prevent the arms delivery.

At snow-covered Breakheart Pass, all hell breaks loose as Indians attack the train to take the weapons they were promised, and Calhoun and his men ride out to the train in order to find out what's going on. Deakin and Major Claremont use dynamite to blow up and break the track rails, grounding the train before it reaches the fort; and while Deakin runs interference, Claremont rushes ahead to Fort Humboldt to free the soldiers imprisoned by Calhoun's gang. A gunfight breaks out when the freed soldiers led by their commander clash with the Indians and bandits at the train; Calhoun is killed by Gov. Fairchild when he threatens Marica, but the governor is then in turn cut down by Major Claremont. At the end of the battle, Deakin intercepts Marshal Pearce and shoots him when the corrupt lawman decides to go down fighting.




Producers Elliott Kastner and Jerry Gershwin had filmed a number of Alistair MacLean novels previously, including Where Eagles Dare and When Eight Bells Toll.


Charles Bronson was paid $1 million plus 10% of the gross for his role.[10]

Lewiston realtor Irv Falling, a retired U.S. Army colonel, played a cameo role as the father of Marica, Gov. Fairchild's fiancee (Jill Ireland) in the final snowy scene, as frontier army colonel and commander at Fort Humboldt reunites with his daughter. He had helped the Bronsons find a home to rent.[5][7] Bronson and Ireland arrived in Lewiston for filming in early March 1975 and stayed at 322 Stewart Avenue.[11]


Some exteriors were filmed in Pierce and Reubens in northern Idaho.[7][12] The Native American extras were Nez Perce, mostly from Lapwai.[11]

Railroad scenes were filmed on the Camas Prairie Railroad (based in Lewiston).[7][9][13] The hire of the train (Great Western Railway steam locomotive #75)[14] carriages and track cost $500,000 (approximately $2,328,000 today).[10] Opening scenes in the Myrtle settlement / "whistle stop" were shot at a specially built set (to look like an old abandoned Gold Rush town) just outside Arrow Junction about 15 miles (24 km) from Lewiston.[15] It was the final film role participation for longtime veteran stuntman Yakima Canutt, who was aged 79 at the time.[5] He was in charge of the second unit direction; his son, Joe, was one of the stuntmen.[16] Canutt oversaw the scene where the caboose and troop carriages crashed off the rail line into a ravine.[15] Six cameras filmed the cars falling 200 ft (61 m) into the canyon, however, the dummies (representing the soldiers) failed to fall out during the crash. The crash was filmed at Halfmoon Trestle (46°19′30″N 116°34′27″W / 46.325°N 116.5743°W / 46.325; -116.5743 (Location of Halfmoon Trestle)),[15] east of U.S. Route 95 in Lapwai Canyon.

Alternating shots of clear and overcast skies are present in the final climactic scenes.

Bronson later said that in the original story it was not revealed until the very end that his character was a detective. When he read an early script, the reveal was made much earlier. Bronson demaded it be changed to the way it was in the original story and this was done. During filming, Bronson discovered the script had been changed again to reveal his character was a detective early. Bronson was unhappy with this but went along with it as by then filming was underway and he felt he could not leave the production.[17]


The Los Angeles Times called it "a fun if familiar picture but is played so broadly on such an elementary level that it can hope to satisfy only the most undemanding of viewer."[18]

The film was a box office disappointment in the US.[19]

Home mediaEdit


  • Release date: December 19, 2000
  • Full Screen & Widescreen Anamorphic
  • Region: 1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 & 16:9
  • Audio tracks: English, French
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Running time: 95 minutes

Kino Video released "Breakheart Pass" for the first time on Blu-ray on August 12, 2014.


A limited edition (3,000 run) CD soundtrack of Breakheart Pass, highlighting the original music of Jerry Goldsmith, was released by La-La Land Records. It is out of print.[20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Breakheart Pass premieres
  2. ^ CRITIC AT LARGE: The Scot's Got Lots of Plots Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Feb 1975: f1.
  3. ^ SECOND ANNUAL GROSSES GLOSS Byron, Stuart. Film Comment; New York Vol. 13, Iss. 2, (Mar/Apr 1977): 35-37,64.
  4. ^ Vorpahl, Beverly (February 7, 1976). ""Who-Done-It" filmed in area". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. p. 20.
  5. ^ a b c Dullenty, Jim (April 1, 1975). "Interview roles reversed". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. p. 1.
  6. ^ "'Breakheart Pass' ready for all the world to see". Spokane Daily Chronicle. Washington. photos. February 7, 1976. p. 3.
  7. ^ a b c d Campbell, Thomas W. (February 13, 1976). "'Breakheart' - bullets fly, men die". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Idaho. p. 14A.
  8. ^ Bunning, Paul (February 16, 1976). "Idaho scenery steals show". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. p. 5.
  9. ^ a b Blumenthal (July 10, 1975). "Motion picture production creates an anti-recession boom for Idaho city". The Ledger. Lakeland, Florida. (New York Times). p. 4C.
  10. ^ a b Roll 'em! Film enriches Idaho Blumenthal, Ralph. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 20 Apr 1975: 8.
  11. ^ a b O'Connell, Mary J. (March 3, 1975). "Bronson, Ireland arrive for 'Breakheart' filming". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). p. 12A.
  12. ^ Idaho film archive Archived May 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "It's not for real". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). (photo). April 14, 1975. p. 6.
  14. ^ Railroad Movies on DVD (
  15. ^ a b c "A taste of Tinsel Town: In 1975, the film 'Breakheart Pass' was filmed against the backdrop of north central Idaho; a look back as the film returns to Lewiston". July 12, 2012. Retrieved March 20, 2017.
  16. ^ Pitts, Michael (1999). Charles Bronson: The 95 films and the 156 Television Appearances. McFarland & Company. p. 32. ISBN 0786417021.
  17. ^ Movies: Bronson: After 62 films, still the reliable pro Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune 7 Sep 1980: d3.
  18. ^ MOVIE REVIEW: Bronson Stars in 'Breakheart Pass' Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 10 Mar 1976: f9.
  19. ^ Movies: Yesterday's heroism--Could it cure today's ailing western? Siskel, Gene. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 20 Feb 1977: e2.
  20. ^ Breakheart Pass soundtrack Archived July 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit