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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
An intense suspense War drama from the beginning to the end
The big star of Frankenheimer's film is the train itself... And the plot is based on the characteristic of railroadsengines and cars all over the tracks, cabs and steamall shown on enough detail to keep the viewer in great suspense The aerial strike shots are also wonderfully taken
The film begins in Paris, August 2, 1944
It's 1511th day of German occupation The liberation of Paris seems very close
Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) decides suddenly to remove by train to Germany the best of Impressionist masterpieces His objective is clear: "Money is a weapon. The contents are as negotiable as gold and more valuable."
Mademoiselle Villard (Suzanne Flon) informs the Resistance of the shipment The Resistance reaction is to stop the train without damaging the national heritage "They are part of France." But stopping the train is not a simple task You can get killed especially if you are French and the train is German
Labiche (Burt Lancaster), the Chief Inspector of the French Railway System, is not impressed However, he never communicates his political, ideological, or nationalistic convictions, "For certain things, we take the risk," he said; "but I won't waste lives on paintings."
When an aged engineer, Papa Boule (Michel Simon), is accused of sabotage in spite of saving the train through the Allied's bombs at the risk of his own life, Labiche is forced into combat
It begins with a long sequence where an armament train and the art train are both trying to leave the yard in the morning As they are being moved back and forth across the tracks, the viewer knows that British planes will hit the yard in that moment at exactly 10:00 o'clock
New complications are introduced, but the central conflict always returns to an obsessive art lover against a man with no appreciation for art Labiche's only concerns is to slow down the Nazis keeping himself and his compatriots alive
Now, two forces control the film The first is Frankenheimer's cleverness to choreograph the real trains Frankenheimer and his cinematographers capture the heat of the engines, the noise and sound of the cars in motion, the fault in the oil line, the crushing strength implicated when the machines come into collision and the derailment The second force is Lancaster, the "headache" of the fanatical obsessed Colonel whose desire is to see the priceless paintings in Nazi Germany...
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