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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
The movie is about the Nazis taking 'degenerate' modern paintings out of Paris as the allies are approaching. The officer in charge of the spoils, Colonel Von Waldheim, is secretly in love with the art he is supposed to hate; his official motivation is based on "cash value." The French train workers, led by Labiche, have no appreciation for the art and are unaware of its cultural importance, but nevertheless fight the Germans out of patriotism, against their better instincts.
Frantic, weary tension comes from the closeness of end of the war, a desperate time that drives the characters well past sane restraint. The Germans can no longer deny their impending doom. Grit comes from massive steam locomotives shot in black and white. The mortal struggle plays out on a personal level. The action is relentless.
The director, John Frankenheimer, relies on the intelligence and empathy of the audience to convey his story. Much of the movie is concerned with the mechanicals of how a railroad works. It shows the dignity and solidarity of the workers, and their huge effort.
The theme is the waste, the cost of war -- what is worth fighting for, what you actually do fight for even though it does not seem to be worth it, and the capricious outcome. The tally comes at the final scene.
"The Train" is a perfect action-adventure war drama.
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