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As the Allied forces approach Paris in August 1944, German Colonel Von Waldheim is desperate to take all of France's greatest paintings to Germany. He manages to secure a train to transport the valuable art works even as the chaos of retreat descends upon them. The French resistance however wants to stop them from stealing their national treasures but have received orders from London that they are not to be destroyed. The station master, Labiche, is tasked with scheduling the train and making it all happen smoothly but he is also part of a dwindling group of resistance fighters tasked with preventing the theft. He and others stage an elaborate ruse to keep the train from ever leaving French territory. Written by
According to the book the 'Variety Movie Guide', this movie was "Made in French and English in France, it was entirely lensed in real exteriors with unlimited access to old French rolling stock of the last war." See more »
When the train is to resume its journey from Rive-Reine after the engine failure, Waldheim knows he must wait for nightfall before it can safely leave. Sunset on August 5, 1944, would be at 9:20 pm, but he sets its departure time at 7 pm. Yet when the train leaves it is dark. See more »
A gripping high-contrast black and white film from 1965 The Train, directed by John Frankenheimer pays off in every way. Shot on location in France, there is not a mundane moment in the 133-minute movie.
The Train has as its central conflict the combating wills of a German Officer and middle class worker and these two characters represent the battle between France and Germany during World War Two.
Frankenheimer's direction and coverage of the action is stunning with deep focus night shots, and airplane shots, and multi-camera action, particularly the bombing of a train station with many locomotives going up in smoke. This particular scene is one of the highlights that the director talks about on the commentary track on the DVD.
Nominated for Best Original Screenplay the story in the Train is intelligently simple, focusing on characterization as the basis of the conflict. All of the action follows from the desire of the main players in the story, and although there is a good guy and a bad guy, there are no pure motives. Every character justifies what he does convincingly.
Col. Waldheim wants to take the paintings back to Germany so that the American bombs do not destroy them, whereas Labiche is interested in stopping the train of paintings mainly as a kick in the groin to German political intentions.
It is the rationale of each character that determines where our sympathies lie. We are shown the Germans through Waldheim as lovers of culture but cruel and insensitive to human emotions. We see the French through Labiche as simple, honest hard-working people and their art as an extension of their humanity.
Walter Bernstein, screenwriter for The Train as well as Yanks, understood how this character-driven action psychologically affects and involves the viewer. By having Waldheim voice his emotions in taking the art, and having Labiche voice his determination, the script affects us viscerally by our identification with each character at different levels.
The great high contrast black and white print really allows the drama to come through in the actioner. In more than one instance the stolen art is spoken of as the great treasures of France. Ironically the art in the movie shown in black and white in the first scene is never shown again only spoken of and this makes it a living thing in the characters minds and our own as well.
It is the black and white print used in many night scenes showing simple action that creates such a compelling tale of Labiche and his ability to out-wit the General Waldheim, and divert the paintings of Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and other artists from being commandeered by the Germans.
Burt Lancaster shows his stuff doing many of his own stunts. The guy was 50 years old when he made this movie! We see the actor fall from trains, slide down ladders, lift large train mechanisms from an Iron-working smelting shop, and climb up and down mountains, actions even the heartiest Baby Boomer will marvel at.
Lancaster's acting is perfectly pitched for the movie. At one point I wondered why there wasn't a French actor in the role, considering that Labiche is a French man but the American accent doesn't really distract.
Scofield as the German General in charge of the train is English and his accent doesn't distract either. In both cases the attitude of the actor is what makes the role successful and each is perfectly cast.
The support cast is excellent and work from a well-written script. Jeanne Moreau as Christine the hotel owner exhibits a combination of brittle emotions ranging from anger to suspicion to forgiveness to affection.
Michel Simon as Papa Boule who cripples the art train out of spite for the Germans has one moment when he speaks about a former girlfriend that opens a light on the sensitivity of this otherwise irascible old man.
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