The Train is one of those films that is really more European than American. John Frankenheimer (taking over from Arthur Penn) was always the American director who was most influenced by French cinema, with the result that this, the last major action film shot in black and white, has more of a low-key more continental feel to it than a Hollywood one - aside from Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield (who for once comes perilously close to ham without ever quite crossing the line) and La Silence de la Mer's Howard Vernon, the cast is made up almost entirely of the great and good of French cinema, from Jeanne Moreau to Michel Simon. What's more, the realistic style - more pre-war French cinema than nouvelle vague - sells the action scenes which, in other hands, could become pure comic book stuff a la Von Ryan's Express. The fact that the key action scenes are done `for real,' with a condemned railway yard blown up during the air raid sequence and real locomotives crashing into each other, only shows up the weightless artificiality of much modern CGI or of the miniature work of the day. The crash in particular, which destroyed one camera, has a sense of weight and violence to it that you just don't see in films anymore. Still impressive stuff.
Sadly, John Frankenheimer's audio commentary included on the R1 NTSC DVD is NOT included on the R2 release - a great pity, since it's particularly good and enlightening. Very highly recommended nonetheless.