Robert Aldrich’s 1977 Twilight’s Last Gleaming combines two distinct genres: the “men on a mission against long odds” adventure, a specialty of Aldrich is such films as Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen and even The Longest Yard (translated into underdog sports drama), and the conspiracy thriller that flourished in the wake of the Kennedy assassinations, the Pentagon Papers, and Watergate. Aldrich wasn’t an overtly political filmmaker — his sensibility was more anti-authoritarian, his films innately suspicious of the motivations of those in power — but the Vietnam allegory of Ulzana’s Raid was hard to miss. Twilight’s Last Gleaming simply takes his commentary even further.
Burt Lancaster (who had starred in three previous films for Aldrich) leads this mission as General Lawrence Dell, a patriotic career soldier and army officer who breaks out of military prison (where he was railroaded by the military brass trying to silence him) with a volatile group of military misfits, men who follow him out of greed rather than conscience or conviction. Their mission: take command of a military silo in Montana and hold the nation hostage for a small fortune and the release of a secret government document. For the men it’s all about the money but Dell, who served in Vietnam and survived a North Korean POW camp, demands that the truth of America’s involvement be released to the public. But it’s not about hurting the country, it’s about trusting its citizens with the truth and letting them decide on the next step forward.
First term American President David T. Stevens (Charles Durning) is appalled when he reads this document, and even more appalled that men in his own cabinet, career government and military men all, were not only involved in the conspiracy but are steadfastly against releasing the document. Which, of course, leads to a game of chicken between the terrorist patriot, who threatens to unleash nuclear missiles targeted on Russia if his demands are not met, and the government, whose attempts to break into the sealed silo only push them closer to war.