Impossibly overlong, looking and often sounding way too much like a TV film, and pretty darn improbable in terms of plot, Robert Aldrich’s Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977) is still an interesting film with a good deal more on its mind than just being a simple thriller. Aldrich and screenwriters Ronald M. Cohen and Edward Huebsch took a pulp novel, Viper 3 by Walter Wager, and turned its thriller premise—an unhinged general (Burt Lancaster) takes over a missile silo with threats of launching nine nuclear missiles—into an attack on the U.S. government’s involvement in Vietnam. That’s a pretty bold stance for a 1977 film, a time when movies were by and large edging toward an era of bland innocuousness. It will come as no surprise that the film was made in Germany without the assistance of the U.S. military.
It’s easier to admire Twilight for its intent and its astonishing cast than for what it actually achieves. The plotting of the film is at best simplistic, and a good deal of what we see can only be described as quaint. Perhaps there really were three color-coded phones—green, yellow and red (just like those packages of assorted bell peppers in the grocery store)—connecting the military to the president, but they’re still pretty funny. Aldrich’s primary stylistic technique—the rampant use of split screen—is more tiresome and pointless than effective. But like the film’s thematic gesture, it’s an honorable attempt.