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Carol Reed, a film craftsman of the highest order, directed this
underrated wartime spy-thriller rather early in his career. And though
"Night Train" may feel routine as one is experiencing it initially,
there are individual scenes and performers which, afterwards, remain
vivid in one's memory: the controlled egoism of Rex Harrison's
quick-thinking British agent; the vulnerability of Margaret Lockwood's
Czech refugee; the naked sensitivity of Paul Henreid's villain, a
Czechoslovakian traitor collaborating with the Nazis. This is the
romantic triangle around whom are chronicled events leading up to and
including September 3, 1939 - the day France and England declared war
on Germany after Panzers and Stukas crossed over the Polish border.
The film opens approximately a year earlier, with the camera tracking into Hitler's mountain retreat over Berchtesgaden, as we witness Der Fuhrer himself ordering the occupation of Czech territory. However, the Nazis desire not only territory, but the talented physicists and scientists housed within - geniuses such as Axel Bomasch, an industrial wizard who manages to just escape the clutches of the S.S. and fly safely to Britain, where he is safeguarded by MI-5, in the personage of agent "Gus Bennett" (Harrison). However, Bomasch's daughter, Anna (Ms. Lockwood), is caught and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration-camp where she befriends a fellow inmate, Karl Marsen (Henreid). Both manage to flee their Nazi jailers and sail a tramp steamer for England: Anna, to re-unite with her father; and Marsen, to make contact with those who share his real allegiance - to the Third Reich. With the help of an oculist (Felix Aylmer), planted in England years before by the Abwehr, Marsen arranges for the successful abduction of both Bomasch and his daughter, both of whom are transported to Berlin. Bennett, angry at his own failure to keep Bomasch and Anna within the Allied camp, volunteers to travel into Germany, disguised as an officer of Hitler's High Command, in order to retrieve the pair and atone for his own seeming incompetence.
The film then accelerates into a series of tense confrontations between Bennett and those he hopes to dupe, in both Berlin and on a train-ride to Munich. The action culminates in a skillfully directed chase scene, climaxing on the Swiss border, where the term "cliff-hanger" takes on literal meaning. Along the way, there appear various secondary characters - the 'team' of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, for example, are thrown in for their droll, underplaying of some cleverly written dialogue ("No copies of Punch?! Hmmm. Must have sold out."). But the real comic relief is provided by Irene Handl, as a German stationmaster who, in one scene, brushes off the "gentlemen," Radford and Wayne, like so much confetti. Her deliberate scene-stealing here marks the highest moment of levity in the whole film.
The one element in Carol Reed's storytelling that always distinguished him as a director worth noting was a quality he shared with Jean Renoir - the generous feeling he had toward his characters, even the so-called villains. Human flaws and defects such as professional incompetence and blind allegiances on the part of the characters are noted but tolerated understood in a sense. The rigid bureaucracy of a dictatorial government is deftly satirized in the character of a prissy but practical German civil servant (Raymond Huntley) who, when confronted with a forged document that escaped his notice, is asked by his Nazi superiors if he knows what this will mean for him. The bureaucrat politely replies, "Yes. It means I shall have to sack my secretary."
And in "Night Train's" final shot, we see Henreid's Nazi, jilted in more ways than one; yet Reed frames him sorrowfully, as if he were a sort of Universal Everyloser. Reed's sympathy, therefore, is not with one side in a war. His compassion extends to all humanity. And this, more than anything else, is what partly separates "Night Train" from most of the other countless anti-Nazi films of the early Forties.
I disagree with the user who commented that these two fine characters are a couple of "English Dolts". English they most certainly are and that is the point. Dolts they are most certainly not. The writer uses them as comic relief and to parody the British Middle and Upper Class mentality that ignored Facisim in Europe for so long. Their preoccupation with cricket, tennis and golf is but a tool. Mistaking "Mein Kampf" for a marital aid is both a joke and a jab at English ignorance of matters concerning the Continent. One can almost here them make that classic comment attributed to another Englishman; "the Wogs begin at Calais." Their bumbling actions are an example of English self deprecating humor. I have enjoyed these two characters in a number of films and only wish they had appeared in more.
An intrepid British spy boards the NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH
a desperate attempt to rescue a scientist & his beautiful
daughter from the Nazis.
Here is an excellent wartime thriller, with just the right amount of puckish humor to keep the film from becoming too heavy. Very fine acting & excellent production values add tremendously to the success of the film, with director Sir Carol Reed showing hints of the style which would distinguish his postwar crime classic, THE THIRD MAN, a decade hence.
Margaret Lockwood is lovely, but she is given remarkably little to do outside of looking anxious or scared. Not to worry, the action is carried admirably by the male side of the cast, most notably Sir Rex Harrison as the British agent. Whether glibly singing silly songs or engaged in deadly gun battles in the Bavarian Alps, he carries off his role with his characteristic aplomb.
Paul Henreid completes the quasi-romantic triangle. Menacing & sophisticated, he is an excellent example of Nazi determination & evil. Sir Felix Aylmer, very effectively playing against type, wraps his unique voice around the small part of a German spy master. Roland Culver, Torin Thatcher & Ian Fleming - the character actor, not the author - might be glimpsed in cameo roles.
Fans of Sir Alfred Hitchcock's splendid THE LADY VANISHES (1938) will be heartened at seeing the return of the characters Charters & Caldicott, those criquet-mad twits, played by the original actors, Basil Radford & Naughton Wayne. Their initial performances had proved so successful that they were given the opportunity to reprise the roles several times, this being the most successful of their reappearances. Their inclusion here, about two-thirds into the story, gives the film a decided lift, making the whole procedure jolly good entertainment.
"Night Train to Munich" is a rather conscious attempt by director Carol Reed
to imitate the style of Alfred Hitchcock, and it succeeds much better than
do most such movies. It is an entertaining blend of suspense and humor,
with a good cast and some enjoyable scenes.
Margaret Lockwood stars as the daughter of a Czech scientist pursued by the Nazis. She escapes their clutches once, but is again captured, and a British spy (Rex Harrison) has to go undercover to try to save her and her father. Lockwood and Harrison are joined by Paul Henreid, and also by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who had appeared with Lockwood in Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" and appear here playing the same humorous pair of English travelers.
There are a lot of action sequences and a couple of good twists, with the crucial action taking place on a train. It's all done nicely, with an exciting finale as well. Some parts of it may be rather implausible, but the same could have been said of a few of Hitchcock's films, and this is only slightly less polished than his are. "Night Train to Munich" is quite entertaining in its own right, and is definitely worth seeing.
This film was made at a point of frustration and fear for the British.
They had bumbled into a frightening war against a truly evil foreign
government, and had watched helplessly as their ally fell. It is a mark
of the strength of British character that this movie was made, complete
with a healthy dollop of comedy in it (including self-parody).
Basically the film acknowledges the treachery and evil of the Nazis and
their collaborators (Paul Henried here), and the failure of the British
to successfully account for it in the period of Chamberlain's
government (Baldwin's previous government had tried to counter it but
faced overwhelming pacifist spirit in the Labor and Tory Parties). Rex
Harrison (aided by Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne) represent the
Britain that pulls itself together to use the same deceit to snatch
back what was lost.
As noted in several comments above, Radford and Wayne are Charters and Caldicott again, still traveling on continental trains, discussing cricket matches, and proving up to fighting the enemy if that enemy shows it's hands. Harrison looks almost dashing (complete with monocle) in his Nazi disguise outfit. He makes the comment about the Siegfried Line at one point...and nobody ever has explained it. The best single line belongs to Raymond Huntley, as a Nazi officer trying to understand whether the comment "This is a fine country we live in" was meant as a put down or not. After being left alone for a moment or two, he repeats it with different emphasis on "fine country". Then looking at the camera with complete honesty he says "This is a bloody awful country we live in." I am sure British audiences in 1940 fully agreed with Huntley.
Carol Reed directs this thriller in the Hitchcock tradition. A Czech scientist(James Harcourt)and his daughter(Margaret Lockwood)are pursued by Nazis. The pair escape to England, but Lockwood is captured and placed in a concentration camp in hopes of influencing her father to cooperate with the Germans. The lovely Lockwood escapes to rejoin her father only to have the pair kidnapped and taken back to Germany. A British agent(Rex Harrison)in disguise as a German officer infiltrates the German high command and tries to get the couple out of Germany by way of a night train to Munich. Nazi faithful Paul Henreid does his best to spoil the escape. My favorite scene involves the cable-car in the Swiss Alps. Harrison is outstanding. Supporting cast includes: Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Roland Culver and Austin Trevor. The intelligent script is witty with room for a little deadpan humor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The French are ardently patriotic; the Germans swell with tender pride;
the Americans get earnest and emotional; but surely only the English
can ever have acquired the idiosyncratic habit of making propaganda by
raising a laugh at our own expense? It's a trait that, I suspect, may
well leave other nations mystified; but it is this sting of
self-deprecating irony that leavens the best of British war films and
is characteristic of its era. Coincidentally, it also helps to make
them notable long after the event, where more conventional propaganda
tends to become ponderous and slightly embarrassing. Englishmen of a
certain class have always made a virtue of never taking anything quite
seriously -- and so, in lieu of John-Wayne-style heroics, we have
Leslie Howard or Rex Harrison serving King and Country under the mask
of the charming, seemingly-incompetent amateur.
In Night Train to Munich, Charters and Caldicott illustrate perhaps the epitome of English humour at its own expense -- as caricatures they could almost have stepped out of propaganda for the other side. We are intended to laugh at them, and we do. But they represent also all the dogged and prized eccentricity of the nation, a red rag in the face of Nazi efficiency and uniformity. They are insular and sport-obsessed, far more interested in their own affairs than in interfering with the rest of the world: but by jingo, if they do--!
As a comedy-thriller "Night Train to Munich" went down very well at the National Film Theatre, and I was very glad to have caught the final screening of the season after missing them all when it played here last year. I did feel that the comedy elements were ultimately more successful than the pure action sequences, though. Given the constraints of wartime filming it suffers understandably from an absence of location shooting and some rather obvious model-work, and the big battle at the finale is riddled with unintentionally comic clichés, such as the revolver that fires dozens of shots without reloading only to come up suddenly empty for dramatic convenience, the enemies who couldn't hit the proverbial barn-door with a rifle while the hero is unfailingly accurate with a hand-gun, and a crippling wound that is conveniently forgotten when it comes to mid-air acrobatics. The beginning of the film also features one of the most bizarre episodes of would-be brutality that I've ever encountered -- presumably censored for audience sensibilities -- where a concentration camp inmate is apparently being savagely beaten by a guard, but the sound effects attached suggest something more along the lines of a petulant tapping with a fly-whisk!
Watching Rex Harrison infiltrate Nazi Germany armed with nothing more than supreme impudence and a monocle, on the other hand, is pure unalloyed delight, as are his undercover scenes in England as he endeavours to hawk popular songs by means of persistent performance. His double-act with Margaret Lockwood as they portray the warring couple who inevitably end up united is both amusing and genuinely credible: the film admirably refrains from underlining the moment when she -- and the audience -- realise that she really does care for him. And, as always with actors originally recognised from performances in middle age, he comes across as amazingly young and debonair, and yet still unmistakably Rex Harrison -- a slightly disorienting experience!
The real disorientation, however, comes from the casting of Paul Henreid in the rival role of Karl Marsen, the Nazi intelligence agent, a coup that becomes quite unintendedly effective from his subsequent Hollywood career featuring parts as romantic leads. Given that I'd last seen him as sensitive confidant of Bette Davis in "Now, Voyager", I instinctively assumed that his clean-cut Czech resister was to be the hero of the piece, and the role reversal took me as completely by surprise as could have been hoped for. But the character remains an oddly sympathetic one -- indeed, the Germans in general are depicted as harassed human beings rather than monsters -- and it is hard not to empathize with him as he watches his 'womanising' rival supposedly sweep the girl they both love off her feet. In the final scenes, as he lies wounded in the path of the returning cable car, I found myself frankly terrified on his behalf that the action clichés would culminate in Karl's death crushed beneath the cabin that has carried his rival to safety, and surprised and relieved when he was allowed -- albeit bereft -- to survive the battle.
"Night Train to Munich" is probably most effective when it is at its most flippant, whether at the English or German expense, and at its most formulaic where it tries to be 'serious'. But it has moments of genuine tension and feeling and is a fast-moving, entertaining picture. It's a long time since I saw "The Lady Vanishes" -- of which this is often cited as a pale shadow -- and the Hitchcock production doesn't seem to have left much impression on me over the intervening years; but I thoroughly enjoyed "Night Train to Munich", for all its flaws, and remain impressed by its sheer sangfroid as a wartime morale-raiser.
A wonderful spy thriller, has Margaret Lockwood as Anna
Bomasch, the daughter of a Czech scientist, who is whisked off to England for safety, when the
Germans invade. Lockwood is imprisoned in a concentration
camp. Later she meets up with Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid ) and
they engineer an escape together and meet up with her father in
England. When the Germans recapture them, Gus Bennett (Rex
Harrison a M.I.5. agent) is assigned to bring them back. Lockwood and Harrison spark off each other wonderfully well, and
in a small role is Irene Handl, but the film is almost stolen by Basil
Radford, and Naunton Wayne, as the two cricket loving Englishmen, who were such a big hit in Hitchcock's Lady
Vanishes'. After seeing this film for the umpteenth time, it is every bit as good
as Lady Vanishes' and well worth recommending.
Carol Reed's wonderful and interesting style of suspenseful film (seen in
all its glory in 'The Third Man') is evident in this early spy flick. Rex
Reed is an OSS operative who must journey deep into the heart of the Third
Reich to rescue an important scientist before the Nazis can make full use
him. The characters are not just two-dimensional although they may seem
that way; they use every trick and opportunity to get through their sticky
situation. The sudden appearance of two of the characters from
'The Lady Vanishes' is a real treat, too!
The story itself is very intricate, with crosses and double-crosses and random occurances causing problems in our hero's way. The film is successfully able to weave genius storytelling, great acting, and effective cinematography to make it an intriguing spy film that is surely ahead of its time! And the finale is certainly an indicator of what the James Bond films would bring us years later.
Even though it was filmed in the beginning of WWII, it is not a stereotypical, or dull, film. A must-see!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Starring Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison and Paul Henreid (billed as
Paul von Hernreid), NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (also known simply as NIGHT
TRAIN) is an thrilling, topical WW2 thriller directed by Carol Reed.
Quick Plot Surmise: Lockwood is Anna Bomasch, a young Czech woman who escapes to England to join her father, a top Czech scientist, after Prague is seized by Nazi control. She is helped on her journey by a man she met in a concentration camp, Karl Marsen (Henreid). Anna, along with further help from British intelligence agent Harrison (masquerading as a song and dance man), rejoins her father yet is betrayed by Marsen, who is really a top Nazi official/spy. Anna and her father are then snatched back to Europe (Berlin) by the Nazis. It is up to Harrison, in the guise of a Nazi officer, to rescue the pair.
This early Carol Reed film displays the European setting, concern with greater political issues and shadowy black-and-white cinematography that would populate his later 40's masterpieces, ODD MAN OUT and THE THIRD MAN. Lockwood is the first in a line of dark-haired heroines, with Alida Valli and Kathleen Ryan following in her footsteps.
Henried gives a very memorable performance (in my opinion the film's best) as Marsen- this film would launch his Hollywood career. It is interesting to note that Henreid found stardom as a Gestapo agent- a role that would be dramatically reversed in his most famous character, the heroic Victor Laszlo, in CASABLANCA. Lockwood, the talented beauty of British cinema, does not have to stretch too many of her acting capabilities (and this girl had plenty) as Anna, yet she is a delightful, engaging presence and looks gorgeous. You'll fall in love with Lockwood in this one. Harrison, very early in his career, is charming, affable and occasionally roguish as the British intelligence officer, He is remarkably young and thin in this one, yet all the trademark Harrison qualities are there.
Reed's NIGHT TO TRAIN TO MUNICH is an obvious attempt at a Hitchcockian thriller, yet it is a very good attempt that succeeds on most fronts. Clearly indebted to Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES, much of Reed's work in NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH has been borrowed from the earlier film. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne return as the legendary cricket-buffs and occasional accidental-heroes Charters and Caldicott, who just manage to run into international intrigue on every train ride they embark on!
Launder and Gilliat's script (they also did the script for THE LADY VANISHES-hence Charters and Caldicott having another outing here)is an excellent one, with the writing for the most part fresh, clever and witty. The train premise is, of course, borrowed from THE LADY VANISHES (note for the very Hitchcock-like cutting between the reactions of Lockwood, Harrison and Henreid), as is a tense eating scene aboard the train and a sexy, lingerie clad Lockwood being visited by a suitor in her hotel room, yet NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH manages to be unique all on it's own. The reason? Europe was very much in War by 1940, unlike THE LADY VANISHES, which is set in 1938. It is tense and thrilling because the real-life situation at the time of the film's release WAS tense and thrilling.
I wonder how audiences would have received the film in it's day. Some scenes are actually still quite amazing in how far they go. The opening five minutes or so clearly uses stock footage, yet the rest is conceived just for the film. The sight of Charters attempting to read Hitler's tome Mein Kampf and remarking "It's not exactly Honeymoon material, is it?" and sagely quipping "I'm still in Hitler's boyhood" was probably quite daring back in the day. I also found a small moment with a Nazi officer quite memorable. When alone in a room (with his Fuhrer's picture facing toward him) he is heard to remark in a resigned, strangely sad voice "What a bloody awful country we live in".
Definitely see this film. It's a top little gem.
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