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 repair depicted by on-the-spot casting of a "Babbitt bearing" for the sabotaged drive rod of Boule's locomotive, is an actual procedure. The bearing style was invented by Isaac Babbitt of Taunton, MA in 1839. The soft metal which comprises the bearing is itself known as babbitt, and for traditional railroad use is 89% tin, 7% antimony, and 4% copper. See more »
In the bar, when Papa Boule approaches the counter to pay the bill, he leans the left hand on the counter. In the subsequent shot his left hand is by his side, with his thumb in his pocket. 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 »
For me, the concept of an 'action' film is the most curious, as many examples of the genre seem very static to me - even today where it seems that anything can be shown on screen. A fight, car crash, explosion, etc is rehearsed, staged, simultaneously photographed and edited in a certain way that brings out and sometimes enhances the action. But, as the event is meticulously planned, rigorously controlled and sometimes, or always re-shot, spontaneity cannot be part of the action, or plays a small part. The action may be impressive, but it still seems unreal, too chaotic, or even more importantly, the sense that the action is not integrated into the story and maybe even more importantly, the attitude and motivation of the characters. Most action films are far from being this sophisticated.
Almost everything that Burt Lancaster does, or experiences in John Frankenheimer's, THE TRAIN seems real, necessary and interesting. He did all his own stunts in the film, learned to cast driving axle-bearings, which we see in the film in a continuous take. Frankenheimer was one of the true masters of the audacious, complicated, continuous scene and this film has many astounding set-pieces. The film is also one of the last great films shot in deep focus black and white (mostly with a 25mm lens) and it is the bold, striking compositions of the intense and vigorous action that elevates the film to an even higher level. Frankenheimer never took the bland, straightforward choices of blocking and positioning the camera in his films - certainly not in the first half of his career and THE TRAIN is a veritable textbook in imaginative visual directing.
There is great sense of danger in the film, much like the feeling that THE WAGES OF FEAR produces - and indeed in one scene, we see an actual train-crash that smashed nine cameras, and was only captured by one camera which yielded one of the most startling shots in all of Cinema! The whole film has sense of almost reckless daring, but was carefully controlled throughout. The scene where Albert Rémy uncouples the engine from the cars is insane! I can't think of another film where a key actor does something so dangerous on their own, with a stunt double.
But all of these scenes and shots serve the story, which is in itself fascinating. It asks the question: What is more important - irreplaceable works of art or the lives of common human beings? Col. von Waldheim is an unorthodox Nazi, who has a deep admiration for 'decadent' paintings and is willing to save them possess or save them at any cost , regardless of his orders. Paul Labiche knows trains inside out, but a painting means as much to him as "a string of pearls to an ape," but his morals are infinitely more compassionate than von Waldheim, which he makes clear without speech at the end - where, in fact, twenty minutes go by without Lancaster uttering a single word, which was unheard of them of a superstar male actor, but it totally appropriate. It is one of the great performances in all of war/action Cinema, I feel. And his antagonist is the legendary Paul Scofield in his first screen appearance in six years, who is, as always, magnificent. Everyone did a first-rate job on this film, yet only the screenwriters were nominated for the 1966 Oscars (the film was not released until May 1965 in the USA) which is yet another example of Academy madness.
Everything about THE TRAIN is unconventional. It was made at a time when other studios and directors would have gone for colour and CinemaScope, Frankenheimer went for deep-focus, black and white 1.66:1, went for authenticity, verisimilitude - no back-projection or models. Arthur Penn actually began the film, but I have never been able to ascertain how much material he shot, or why he was fired, but it would have been a very different movie; Frankenheimer's vigorous, but elegant style is so perfectly right for this film.
One thing that makes some films extra special is those that have many scenes where a process is at work and is shown in detail, seem more powerful. One cannot shown process in any other medium of art. Heist scenes, as in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, RIFIFI, LE CERCLE ROUGE, etc are prime examples, the escape preparations in Robert Bresson's, A MAN ESCAPED and Jacques Becker's, LE TROU are also enthralling and 'make' each movie what it is. The working out of a life-or-death puzzle, as in BLOW-UP, THE CONVERSATION and De Palma's, BLOW OUT also illustrate the power of the medium. What makes these scenes - 'process of action' - interesting and occasionally powerful, is that they make us look at human interaction with matter is a different, even deeper way. Slow motion cinematography remains one of man's greatest inventions. Before it, we had no idea how fast moving objects worked or behaved. There was over 50 years of gunfire in Cinema, until we saw what a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun looked like, in THE OMEN (1976). It spins, for one thing. That must have surprised many people.
On the whole and after seeing it for the first time in about six years, I firmly feel that THE TRAIN is one of the greatest action films ever made, not only for its audacious crashes, bold style and unobtrusive score by Maurice Jarre, but also for it simply being a fascinating and unusual story this is brilliantly acted.
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