Disaster on the Coastliner is a 1979 TV movie that features an all-star ensemble cast, which includes Lloyd Bridges, E.G. Marshall and William Shatner.
The plot centers on a disgruntled former railroad company employee who, demonstrating great technological skills, commandeers a train and sets it on a collision course with another train on the same track, which is carrying the US Vice-President's wife.
Unless his demands are met, the clock is ticking on a catastrophic collision.
Back at train control HQ, dispatcher E.G. Marshall along with Secret Service agent Lloyd Bridges are stunned by the clever plot - the driver of the other train refuses to stop because the hijacker, pretending to be HQ, has told him that terrorists have taken over his train and he must not believe what he is being told to do by the authorities.
Bill Shatner plays a passenger on the commandeered train, a lovable conman on the run from the law.
This delightfully convoluted plot is also highly improbable. One suspects that there are far more ways to stop a train than are depicted here. Perusing the Internet, it is evident that nitpickers have been having a field day with this movie - one such example: "The script conveniently overlooks emergency brakes found in every car and has you believe there are no crossovers or switches of any kind for the 90 minutes the two trains are on the same track." (sourced here).
Nonetheless, as even most of these nitpickers concede, Disaster on the Coastliner is highly entertaining, fun and eminently watchable - one of the better disaster movies from this era. The pace is tight, the characters interesting and some of the stunts (a helicopter flying in front of a speeding train) seem frighteningly dangerous.
Bill Shatner, as he notes in his autobiography Up Till Now, performed many of his own stunts, which we'll deal with as part of our toupological analysis...
The actor is wearing his stage one curly "TJ Curly" weave here - the kind that he wore in the first two Star Trek movies.
Early on in the movie, we see his character donning fake fair and a mustache.
A little later, we see Bill Shatner removing this fake hair. These kinds of moments are always inherently fascinating to watch for obvious reasons.
Flash forward to Bill Shatner's character charming a woman on the train in order to throw on-board cops off his scent. The woman grows suspicious and opens his briefcase only to find a secret stash of fake hair (does actor Bill Shatner also carry spare toups when he travels?).
The rest of the movie appears to flow along without further toupological incident. Perhaps fans of the toupee should be satisfied with the above, right?
But, towards the end, Bill Shatner surprises and rewards toupee fans with an extraordinary feat of toupological endurance that precedes his underwater antics in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and casts aside his hat-wearing apprehension from only a year before in The Crash of Flight 401.
Stepping out into some potentially toupee-lifting gusts, Bill Shatner climbs on top of a speeding train carriage.
In all but a few wide overhead shots in which a stuntman doubles for the actor, that really is Bill Shatner on the train!
There is a great sense of double-jeopardy here - the audience fears not just for the safety of Bill Shatner and the character he portrays, but also for the safety and security of the toupee. It's a real nail-biter!
Many of you might be wondering how such seemingly dangerous stunts could have been performed. Have no fear! We have no doubt that all precautions were taken beforehand, including various tests and rehearsals, to make sure that the toupee was safely attached to Bill Shatner's head at all times. Such stunts could easily end in disaster, but thanks to generous sprinkles of Hollywood skill, professionalism and very strong toupee glue, we are confident that the toupee was never in any real danger.
Sadly, this movie is unavailable commercially, but can be viewed, at present, on YouTube. A fun film and well worth watching.