“ Genre: War & Western - War / Theatrical Release: 1965 / Parental Guidance / Director: Arthur Penn, John Frankenheimer / Actors: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, Suzanne Flon, Michel Simon ... / DVD released 2003-05-05 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Black & White, PAL „
The Train was made in 1964 and is a fast paced action packed war film based not around troops, but around a few railway workers working in the resistance as they try to protect the heritage of France.
Directed by one of the best action directors of all time, John Frankenheimer, and starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield, this is a non stop action film all the way. Burt Lancaster stars as railway worker Paul Labiche, a man who works with the resistance. Paul Scofield stars as Colonel Franz von Waldheim, an art lover who wants to take France's art to Berlin on a train.
The resistance don't want the art to be taken, and contact Labiche who is reluctant to help at first, because his concern is human life and not art. Colonel Waldheim takes a train and loads the art. At the last moment, following the death of another railway worker who tried to help, Labiche changes his mind about helping the resistance and personally tries to help.
Once on the train, he and the other engineers and many others on the railway all change the track the the train is on, sending it in a circle and changing station names to make sure the Germans think they're going to Germany. However, they are eventually found out, leading to a fantastic and poignant ending where Labiche and Colonel Waldheim have a stand off.
Both the stars are on top form in this, and it's very hard to choose who steals it because there is also fabulous support. John Frankenheimer's direction allows this film to flow at a fast pace throughout, whilst never losing a moment of tension and always allowing humane moment to be incorporated. A fantastic war film all the way, that doesn't focus on the war so much, but more about the lengths that people will go to in order to protect what belongs to them.
This is a review of the MGM DVD.
'The Train' was a film made in 1965 starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau. It tells the story of a railway inspector/French Resistance fighter [Lancaster] who is drawn into a battle to prevent a Nazi German officer [Scofield] from stealing a huge stash of priceless paintings by transporting them from Paris to Berlin in the closing stages of World War 2.
Lancaster's Paul Labiche is initially reluctant to try and stop the train as he feels the Resistance has more pressing matters to attend to rather than wasting their time on a load of art. But the pleas of the museum's curator, where the paintings have been taken from, and the deaths of several of Labiche's friends at the hands of the Nazi's changes his mind.
From then on the film is an exciting and involving race against time as Lancaster does everything he can [including changing the names of railway stations and various derailments] to delay the train from reaching it's destination whilst waiting for the Allies to come and secure Paris and reclaim the paintings. The problem is that the train cannot be simply blown up as hundreds of priceless Van Gogh's and Renoir's will be destroyed.
Scofield is excellent as the art obsessed Nazi officer who wants the paintings for himself and uses his power and influence to execute his very personal mission. Scofield, normally associated with award winning theatre performances, chews up the scenery with a great performance, just before he got his Oscar for 'A Man For All Seasons'.
Lancaster, an actor who's performances I always enjoy, is equally superb. He delivers a very physical performance here, sliding down ladders, chasing after trains, jumping off moving trains, jumping onto moving trains, and most impressively: rolling down a huge hillside with very little regard for his own safety!. It reminded me of that annual event where lunatics throw themselves down a hill after a huge circle of cheese, Lancaster would be one of those!
Director John Frankenheimer confirmed that Lancaster did his own stunts, there's just no way that actors would do this sort of stuff now. Makes Daniel Craig's 'floating about on wires stuff' in 'Quantum Of Solace' look pretty tame!.
As a brief romantic interlude, Jeanne Moreau provides a good supporting performance as the owner of the local Hotel which Labiche uses to hide out from the Nazi's. She delivers the rather cliched female speech in these sort of movies; 'You Men!, you all have to be heroes don't you!, you die and what for!?' blah, blah. Apart from that bit though her performance was good.
The film really belongs to Scofield and Lancaster though and their battle of wits. Director John Frankenheimer pulls out all the stops using several 'real filmed' sequences. No CGI existed so it was either model shots or you could actually film what you wanted to show. This results in some terrific stunts with trains crashing into each other and several very realistic Air-Raid sequences.
The film conjures up the desperation of the losing side during the final days of war. The people in the French towns still have to be polite to the Nazi soldiers, but they know the Allies are coming so some push their luck. Several of the Resistance fighters are brutally machine gunned to death and Frankenheimer is not afraid to show the brutality of the Nazi's even as they face defeat. I found this quite refreshing as many films made in years following the Second World War were reticent to show this sort of thing, this is perhaps understandable as the War still felt close and 'raw'.
I found parts of the film moving because we know that the Second World War involved hundreds of stories of 'the little man' doing his bit for the war effort, and many brave people died doing whatever they could to oppose the Nazi's. I think the film makes a good job of honouring some of them.
I always like to mention the music in films, here it is done by Maurice Jarre. Perfectly effective but nothing hugely memorable.
I really enjoyed this film, the fact that it was filmed in Black and White really added a kind of documentary feel to it which worked well. The Region 2 DVD does not contain Frankenheimer's commentary which is on the Region 1 version [why does that always happen?!] so you get the usual bare bones release here with just the subtitles/language and scene selection options. If you've got a Region 1 compatible player I'd advise getting hold of that version. The DVD does contain the original trailer, which is a nice extra but there could have been some more.
I rented 'The Train', but Amazon UK currently have the DVD at around £2.50 from the marketplace, a bargain!. The film deserves to be much better known than it is, well worth a look.