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
Burt Lancaster performs all of his own stunts in this movie. Albert Rémy also gets into the act by performing the stunt of uncoupling the engine from the art train on a real moving train. See more »
Labiche shouts that "You can't get through" because the switch is set wrong, but it is a trailing switch (convergence), and hence would move under the weight of the train to the right position. See more »
Listen, you idiots! The war'll be over in a few days! Now leave it alone.
You get caught up in something, you can't leave it alone.
See more »
Opening credits prologue: PARIS August 2-1944 1511th day of German occupation See more »
Whilst the official run time is 133 minutes, the BBFC website has two separate entries, one with a theatrical 'U' rated certificate in 1964 running at 141 minutes 31 seconds and the other entry with a theatrical 'A' rated certificate in 1959 running at 90 minutes 37 seconds. Though the second entry seems incorrect due to the erroneous date of certification being 21 October 1959 (the film was being made in 1963 and is copyrighted in 1964) and a much shorter run time, the BBFC reference numbering is in sequence with the later video rated entries so it is unknown if this 1959 entry is a much shorter cut of this film or this is an error in the BBFC records. It is also not known if the 142 minute entry is a longer cut of the film that has simply not been since it's UK theatrical release in 1964. See more »
A standout WWII drama, loosely based on a true story. In 1944, as the Allies spread across France from the Normandy landings, the Nazis looted Paris art museums and loaded the works onto a train, with the intention of carrying them back to the Fatherland and selling or bartering them for scarce war materials. A fairly hare-brained scheme, to be sure, and in reality the train never made it further than a siding just east of the city, but that shouldn't hinder one's enjoyment of what turns out to be a classic action film.
The centerpiece of the movie is a clash of wills between Von Waldheim, a cultured but iron-backed Nazi colonel (well-played by Paul Scofield) charged with getting the stolen artworks to Germany, and a taciturn railway troubleshooter named Labiche (Burt Lancaster). Von Waldheim first enlists Labiche as 'insurance' against any monkey business during the train's journey. Labiche, though, happens to have Resistance connections and, with serious reservations, is drawn into a desperate, improvised plot to stop the train, preferably without damaging the precious artifacts inside.
Although easily enjoyed as a straight action flick, what gives the film weight is the supporting story, in which Labiche at first argues against wasting precious lives on a few crates of paintings he's never seen, then gradually comes round as he begins to understand that the Nazis are effectively carrying off a large piece of the heart of France. Beautiful deep-focus black and white photography, and solid supporting performances by a mostly French cast (of which Jeanne Moreau may be the best-known), convincingly evoke the bleak misery of the Occupation. John Frankenheimer's economical direction manages to present highly-charged action scenes without glossing over the human cost, as Von Waldheim exacts savage reprisals against escalating efforts to hinder the train's passage.
Lancaster, who performed his own stunts, is excellent, furiously athletic as he slides down ladders, leaps onto moving locomotives, and charges over ridges and fields in pursuit of the train. At the same time, he manages to effectively bring a subtle authenticity to his portrayal of the weary, fatalistic railwayman.
Finally, the action set-pieces are nothing short of stunning, and include the train's mad dash through an Allied carpet-bombing attack, a strafing raid on a speeding locomotive, and several wrecks and derailments, all staged full-scale with period equipment donated by the French national railway. Well worth obtaining on DVD, the film may be hard to find on broadcast television these days.
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