Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Train (1964)

Apparently, I have never done a full-length blog post on The Train before. The movie is coming up overnight tonight at 2:00 AM, and seems to be available only on a pricey out-of-print DVD, so DVRing it tonight might be your best option.

Burt Lancaster stars as Labiche, a station master at a train station in the Paris area in 1944. This being 1944, of course means that World War II is going on. Speicifcally, it's late summer 1944, which is not long after the Allies' D-Day invasion and not long before the Allies ultimately liberated Paris. There's still a need for the Underground, and Labiche is the leader of a local Underground cell. Labiche's identity as an Underground member is obviously not known to Von Waldheim (Paul Schofield), a Nazi Army officer who sees the writing on the wall and wants to get out of soon-to-be free France and back to the motherland of Germany. However, he also wants to ensure his future by looting France of as much of its finest art as he can; this would also serve the dual purpose of depriving the enemy of their cultural heritage. But at any rate, Von Waldheim calls upon Labiche, whose station is on the line leading back to Germany, to make certain the line ahead is free for Von Waldheim's train and that Labiche can get the train back to Germany.

Labiche doesn't really care about the art. But, there's duty, and besides, the Nazis summarily execute one of Labiche's workers who, the Nazis claim, was trying to sabotage the train's engine so it couldn't get back to Germany. What's a station master to do? He needs to stop the train, but he also needs to make certain that the Allied bombers don't bomb the train and destroy the art inside. Eventually, a plot is devised to trick Von Waldheim into thinking the train has made it back to Germany, while in fact it is still on French soil. But of course, you know things aren't going to go smoothly....

The Train is an engrossing, well-made thriller. If you've watched enough TCM, you probably know a fair bit about the movie even if you haven't seen it, because it's featured prominently in a piece narrated by its director, John Frankenheimer, about its star, Burt Lancaster. Frankenheimer comments about how Lancaster did all of his own stunts on this film, and that Frankenheimer learned more from Lancaster in this one film than he could have learned in an entire career otherwise. Frankenheimer in that piece also mentioned the camera angles he used in directing Lancaster's earlier The Young Savages, and there are quite a few long shots and zooms here as well. So, in the end, the movie is down to the good work of all three of the main crew members: Frankenheim as director, and Lancaster and Scofield as the stars. There are one or two slow scenes, such as when Lancaster is hiding out in a Resistance-owned hotel, but all of the train scenes are tense and pulled off well. If you haven't seen The Train before, it's highly worth watching.

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