Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Movie Information

The Hendersonville Film Society will show Twilight's Last Gleaming at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 8, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West, turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to the Lake Point Landing entrance and park in the lot on the left.)
Score:

Genre: Political Suspense Drama
Director: Robert Aldrich (Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte)
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joseph Cotten, Charles Durning, Paul Winfield, Richard Widmark, Melvyn Douglas
Rated: R

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.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

5 thoughts on “Twilight’s Last Gleaming

  1. Bill Thomas

    Just read your comments about Twilight’s Last Gleaming, and wanted to ask you if your conspicuous lack of reviews about Vietnam War films was coincidence, your ambivilance toward or distaste for the genre, or what, if it’s not too personal? Just curious, since the films I was interested in reading your reviews on include a long list of “standards.” Otherwise, I’ve been enjoying your reviews – thoughtful, informed, fair and articulate.

  2. misterbill

    Indeed it was an interesting column as were the exchanges afterward. It enlarges the subject quite a bit. I actually didn’t even have Iraq War films in mind, since we are still there. Hmmm? You’ve replied, similarly, to me before about Dr. Strangelove. I’m six years older than you, did the duck and cover thing too, also visited private underground bomb shelters, had H-Bomb nightmares and felt powerless, frightened and alienated by it all. In 1959 my elementary school was bombed by a madman (Poe School, Houston, TX 9-15-59)and I walked through a playground of bodies, stunned and horrified at the carnage, but consciously relieved to find out that it wasn’t an atomic bomb that caused the explosion. Yet, Strangelove is one of my all time favorite films, precisely because it deals with this horrific possibility in a satirical way, allowing me to laugh and therefore transform my fear. I’d invite you to view some photographs I made on the subject of “Suicide,” which were “inspired” by the bombing and the spector of a nuclear war which we grew up (and still live, by the way) under. If you have time/inclination check out the photos at

    http://www.zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/thomas/p1en.html

    There is an accompanying short artist statement (“article”). For the record, I’ve never attempted suicide. FYI, these photos were exhibited at the Light Factory in Charlotte a couple of years ago. If you do go to the trouble to scope these out, I’d welcome your comments.

  3. I thought they were overreaching when they got Bill Condon involved in this franchise, but Robert farnarkling Altman?!

    On the other hand, Lancaster is a more convincing as a 100 year old than Robert Pattinson.

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