16 user 10 critic

Avalanche Express (1979)

Soviet KGB General Marenkov defects to the Americans and together with his CIA handler Harry Wargrave they plan an operation meant to reveal the KGB agents in Europe.


, (uncredited)


(screenplay), (novel)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
... Col. Harry Wargrave
... Gen. Marenkov
... Elsa Lang
... Col. Nikolai Bunin
... Leroy
... Julian Scholten (as Horst Bucholz)
... Haller
... Col. Molinari
Kristina Nel ... Helga Mann
... Geiger
... Rudi Muehler (as Günter Meissner)
Sylva Langova ... Olga (as Sylvia Langova)
... Sedov
... Zannbin (as Vladets Shebal)
Arthur Brauss ... Neckerman


When a senior Russian official, Gen. Marenkov, decides to defect to the west, CIA agent Harry Wargrave is sent to lead the team to get him out. Malenkov reveals that the Russians are trying to develop biological weapons. Wargrave decides that Malenkov should travel across Europe by train, on the "Atlantic Express", in an attempt to try and lure the Russians into attacking the train so that they can discover who the Russian secret agents in Europe are. During the journey they must survive terrorist attack and an avalanche, all planned by Russian spy-catcher Nikolai Bunin. Written by Matt <matt@measham.force9.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The Fast Track For All-Star Adventure.


Action | Thriller


PG | See all certifications »






Release Date:

19 October 1979 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El expreso de los espías  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office


$12,000,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Mark Robson told press reporters at the time that 40% of filming would take place on the moving train. See more »


During the avalanche scene, the train driver is seen attempting to accelerate the train out danger. However the speedometer is reading zero. See more »


Referenced in Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

AVALANCHE EXPRESS (Mark Robson and, uncredited, Monte Hellman, 1979) **1/2
23 July 2011 | by See all my reviews

A film more famous for its behind-the-scenes double-jinx (the deaths, within months of each other, of both director Robson – who may have become involved to begin with in view of his work on the spy romp THE PRIZE {1963} and another train movie i.e. VON RYAN'S EXPRESS {1965} – and co-star Robert Shaw: in fact, it was completed by Monte Hellman, while much of Shaw's dialogue had to be re-dubbed due to his being in poor health throughout!) than its actual theme or quality. That said, it is unworthy of Leonard Maltin's BOMB rating, especially when considering that, apart from the talents already mentioned, we also got scriptwriter Abraham Polonsky and, making up the rest of the main cast, Lee Marvin, Maximilian Scell, Horst Buchholz, Claudio Cassinelli and David Hess (the appearance of the last two, who mostly dabbled in exploitation fare in Europe, was quite a surprise)!

It is a typically glum Cold War thriller (unfortunately, the joy seems to have been taken out of the espionage subgenre, Hitchcock imitations – like the afore-mentioned Robson effort – and the James Bond extravaganzas notwithstanding!) with whose plot, involving Shaw's harassed defecting Russian protagonist, the formerly black-listed Polonsky – which had prevented him from working for 20 years! – must have felt a particular kinship (not that his script, adapted from the Colin Forbes novel, is particularly dense). Even more ironic is the fact that Shaw's character's wife is said to have committed suicide (which the actor's real-life spouse, actress Mary Ure, had actually done in 1975!) and, when queried why the Kremlin has not yet announced the KGB official's betrayal, he says they are probably waiting to proclaim his death (which Shaw may well have foreseen as being just around the corner for himself!).

For no very good reason, the visibly-ravaged Marvin is made to rekindle his affair with much-younger agent Linda Evans but, predictably, their relationship runs far from smoothly – especially when he fakes his own death (again, this twist has no direct bearing on the plot!) and Shaw 'flees' from her custody when the titular vehicle is attacked by a terrorist group (yet another irrelevant, if undeniably topical, plot point). The avalanche, too, is just one of several incidents to be incorporated into the narrative – such as having Schell as Shaw's ruthless former colleague don a disguise in order to board the train himself (recalling his previous turn as a Nazi in THE ODESSA FILE {1974}, he is the only one here to be seen having fun with the vaguely preposterous proceedings!).

Incidentally, I watched this on late-night Italian TV despite being available in English elsewhere since the latter is an edited version (shorn of 10 from its already slim 85-minute duration)! In the end, while essentially uninspired, the film is well worth-watching for its mix of forceful personalities, numerous action scenes and, well, the curiosity value that naturally arises out of its singular making.

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