It’s 1944, after having occupied Paris for the last four years the Nazis are pulling out of the city before the Allies arrive to liberate it. Colonel von Waldheim’s (Paul Scofield) only priority is to get looted irreplaceable masterpieces of art back to Germany.
Railway inspector and French Resistance fighter Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) is given the risky assignment to delay the train until the Allies arrive to save the priceless art and a large chunk of French culture and history. Questioning whether such a task is even worth risking a human life (“I won’t waste lives on paintings”) he reluctantly agrees.
Directed by John Frankenheimer this taut, intelligent, suspenseful story keeps moving with large set pieces and terrific acting with Lancaster and Scofield engaging in a battle of wills. The intricate ways the Resistance plan to stop the train with their little tricks along the way are inventive and very intelligent.
Unfortunately, they have their work cut out for them with their suspicious and focused adversaries. The black and white photography is beautiful to look at and the action scenes (having all been done for real) are just as impressive as ever.
…Coming to this a year and a half late but, eh, whatever. It's rare for someone to review and bring attention to John Frankenheimer movies, especially this one. He is my favourite director of all time and I believe that between 1961 and 1966 no other director could touch him in terms of intelligence, visual flair, intensity and getting good performances out of his cast. After 1966 the output varied in quality but nevertheless when his creative juices were working (as they did on Black Sunday and Ronin) he could still deliver quality that equalled his best work. He also left a legacy of great commentaries and interviews about his work which is invaluable to those interested in how he worked and how Hollywood film and TV worked from the 50s to the 90s.
The Train is a breathtaking and stunning movie to watch: No model shots at all and with a American lead backed up by a great French and British supporting cast. This is watching everyone at the top of their game. Favourite moment: Schofield attempting to commandeer and retreating convoy. To show his increasing desperation and mania, in one take the camera tracks sideways, forwards, back and then tilts when it gets to Schofield barking orders.
Cheers for that review. Love the site, particularly the Bond reviews.