Train, The (1964)

The Train (1964), directed by John Frankenheimer.

As the German army retreats from Paris in 1944, an obsessed Colonel wants to take a vast stolen art collection with him. Can the French stop him, and what will be the cost in lives?

The Resistance crew at the train yard could do it, but most are dead and the survivors tired. They care nothing about Art when fighting a war. But this is the Glory of France! Tell that to the men who have to die for paintings. But just because the Germans want that loot should they be allowed to have it? You make a good point... And when comrades begin dying to stop the train: ok, that's another reason. What if they put hostages on the train? Damn.

Probably the last of the great B&W action films. It couldn't be made today; if nothing else the insurance companies wouldn't allow it. Although we have a few scale model shots, the most impressive effects are not effects at all, but actual real world stunts: blowing up a vast train yard (it was scheduled to be demolished anyway), high speed derailments and collisions of locomotives.

Made with astonishing realism throughout. The recent Monuments Men had a similar subject, but you really can't compare them. The contrast between The Train and modern action movies leads to grumpy judgments unfavorable to contemporary efforts.

Neither of the commentary tracks spells out what seems a clear message in the film: War is a machine, as practiced by both the Germans and by the French Resistance. They come together in the train system, also a machine. What is not a machine is the Art. Does that put sand in the gears? The German colonel's desire for it takes him out of the other war and into his own private dementia. And yet: what the last man standing fights for is never revealed.

On Burt Lancaster:

Based on a true story, although with less action: the train was bureaucratically delayed until the Germans had to abandon it when the Allies arrived. The book was written by the woman who is the curator at the beginning of the film.

Fine Maurice Jarre score.

Twilight Time Blu-ray with an enthusiastic commentary track by the usual crew. They call painting the roofs of the rail-cars the "Mission Impossible scene".

The director also proves a quiet, thoughtful commentary, useful but with long silent stretches. Some good stories, for example: when told he was losing a French actor who had another film to do, Frankenheimer immediately stood him up against a wall and had him shot by German soldiers. It's in the film. Other actors got the same treatment, hence the high body count.

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