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.
on 30 January 2010
This is an excellent and highly distinctive war film with plenty of action but also an intelligent subtext about our attitudes to war and art. The latter is noteworthy but it is not done in a way that intrudes on the film's primary function - to entertain. What really stand out are the real-life action sequences involving genuine trains (many of which get destroyed!) and which give the film an authenticity that simply cannot be re-created by modern CGI techniques, no matter how sophisticated. Filmed at a time when the French steam locomotives (and much of traditional French railway infrastructure) was being run down, the film makers were pretty much given carte blanche to play with and destroy at will; that may seem like heresy to railway lovers today but as all of these trains were destined for the scrap yard anyway this wasn't then the case. Although the film does have a gritty, realistic feel, some elements of the plot don't bear too much close scrutiny. Burt Lancaster's character seems to have an encylopedic knowledge of all aspects of railway operation, being an expert signaller, mechanic, platelayer and engine driver all rolled into one, as well as being versed in wartime resistance techniques! Key to the plot is a plan to kid the Germans that a train conveying looted art works is passing numerous locations en route to Germany when in fact it is taking a totally different route back to Paris, a deception arranged at very short notice, but"fake" station signs etc. are somehow all immediately available! However, a reasonable degree of poetic licence is forgiveable in what is primarily an action movie.
As was customary, the athletic Burt Lancaster did all of his own stunts which also adds to the realistic feel of the film, but there is an ironic twist. According to legend, having jumped out of windows, climbed high walls, slid down ladders etc. Lancaster had a day off playing golf, stepped into a hole and badly twisted his knee! The scene in the film where he is actually shot escaping from the train was included to account for the fact that he has a (real) limp for the second half of the film.
One gripe, not about the film but about the DVD case. Unwary purchasers could well be fooled by the colour pictures on the DVD case into thinking that the film itself is in colour (it is actually black & white - one of the last big action movies to be shot this way). You will find a reference to the film being shot in b & w in the small print on the back of the case but this still strikes me as a bit deceitful. Not that the absence of colour detracts from the film itself - personally I think it benefits from the monochrome imagery - but this should be made clearer on the packaging.
The film is based very loosely on a true story. The French resistance did indeed manage to prevent the Germans taking looted art out of the country towards the end of the war but although this was achieved by ingenious means a true-to-life re-enactment of this story would not have made for such an exciting film.
on 6 September 2005
One of the best films of resistance in Europe that it should go hand in hand with The Pianist, and Kanal. Some brilliant action sequences for it's time and some very tragic moments as war is full of it. The ending is where the film leaves it's message and the filming and scripting is beautifully suited for it. Overall an excellent film.
This is an absolutely first rate action film, set in the waning days of Nazi Germany's occupation of France. The situation is an SS General, who happens to be fanatically interested in the "degenerate art" that the Nazis were burning at home. He decides to steal all of the Impressionist and Modernist art from the Jeu de Paume museum. On the French side, you have a group of tough railway engineers, led by Lancaster. While reluctant to risk lives for art, they decide to save the paintings when the SS General brutally executes one of the colleagues before their eyes. The rest of the film is a fabulously realistic duel between Lancaster and the General, between a clever lone wolf and a collapsing killing machine. It is utterly riveting.
I saw this film with my dad when it came out and have remembered it ever since, so I was a bit worried when I tried it again. Happily, it was one of those experiences where you see entirely new levels, yet still enjoy what you did at first. In the French version, the Germans speak German and the wonderful French actors apparently speak their parts themselves (there is a stunning Jeanne Moreau, and many others). There is a lot about the resistance as well.
Though based on a true story, I did some research. Apparently, the paintings were put into crates, but were blocked from transport by bureaucratic delays. So, the action is pure fabrication, which doesn't detract in the slightest from the film experience. In addition, under the original director, Penn, the film was going to be a much more arty thing with all sorts of musings about it. But Lancaster got him fired in favor of Frankenheimer and a new script.
Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm. This is hollywood at its 1960s best.
I won't debate the merits of this superb WWII film but I will sing the praises of the 2015 BLU RAY reissue.
It doesn't say who has restored the Black and White print - but it is fully restored and looks really great throughout. Right from the opening credits - the steadiness of the wording - the musical accompaniment to the stockyard scenes - the dialogue - all in tact and clean. Even in the fast moving train and carriage scenes as they try to exit Paris before the Allies arrive with the stencilled art-treasure crates as their cargo - there are clear traces of natural shimmer and grain for sure - but it doesn't spoil the watch. Much of the movie has that grimy, grittily realistic feel in keeping with oily engines and soot-caked faces. The print also fills the entire screen (full aspect ratio - no lines top or bottom). Care was taken with this transfer...
The conversation in front of the paintings between Paul Schofield (playing the German Franz) and Jeanne Moreau (playing Christine - the woman delegated to protect all the priceless art the Nazis had stolen) as they discuss what art means to both of them is beautifully rendered - shadows - light on their faces - on the paintings. And although conspicuously devoid of actual Burt Lancaster footage - there's at least interesting and illuminating extras...
(a) Burt Lancaster In The Sixties - a lengthy spoken interview given by his Biographer Kate Buford about his career, parts from 1946 onwards, friendships with John Frankenheimer and Sydney Pollack, his Production Company, Oscar nominations and wins, debts owed to United Artists etc
(b) News Report
(c) Interview with Michael Simon - the actor who plays Papa Boule
(d) Preview Footage
(e) Theatrical Trailer
(f) Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer
A gorgeous job done and recommended especially if you're a collector of World War II movies...
PS: see also my reviews for 2015 restored BLU RAY versions of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" (1959) and "Paper Moon" (1973)
It's July 1944, the allies have landed on the beaches of Normandy, Paris has been occupied by the Germans for
over 1500 days, liberation will soon come for the City.
Nazi Colonel 'Von Waldheim' (Paul Scofield) an art lover has all the most valuable paintings at the Museum boxed
up for transportation to Germany.
His intent for these priceless works of art is to load them onto a Berlin bound train.....ahead of the fast approaching
The Museum curator seeks out the French Resistance to ask for help, she speaks to 'Labich' (Burt Lancaster) along
with the other two remaining Resistance fighters, 'Labich' explains that the unit he commands once had 18, now
it's just the three, he is reluctant to risk lives for the sake of a few paintings........however, these are National Treasures.
'Labiche' has a senior post at the local Rail - Terminal, he dreams up several delay tactics for the now loaded trains
However the Nazi Colonel realizes that the delay of his precious cargo is a deliberate ploy, he has the engine dr iver
executed and puts the responsibility to get the train and the paintings to Germany on 'Labich's' shoulders.
Keeping the paintings in France will come at a heavy cost ahead of the Allied Forces arrival in Paris.........
Filmed in Black and White the 1964 film has been given an acceptable upgrade.
The film portrays the heroism of the few to keep priceless National Treasures including works from the likes of 'Van
Gogh' and 'Picasso' where they belong.
A superb WW2 drama worthy of a viewing.
Features - ( SPECIAL EDITION CONTENT)
* High definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film * Uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM audio * Optional English
Sub-titles for the deaf and hard of hearing * Audio Commentary by Director John Frankenheimer * Optional isolated
score by Maurice Jarre * Burt Lancaster in the sixties - a newley-filmed interview with with Lancaster's biographer
Kate Buford, tracing the actors career throughout the decade * French television news report on the making of - The
Train, containing interviews with the locals of Acquigny - Archive interiew with Michael Simon * Footage of The Train's
gala screening in Marseilles * Theatrical Trailer * Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork
by Vladimir Zimakov * Collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Sheldon Hall. illustrated with original
on 18 May 2015
John Frankenheimer ‘s The Train is a realistic and engrossing account of the sabotaging of a Nazi endeavour to smuggle a trainload of art treasures out of France toward the end of World War II. Burt Lancaster plays Labiche, leader of the French railway-workers' resistance – and the man chosen to lead the sabotage and protect “the national heritage and pride of France!”
Paul Scofield's Von Waldheim is also excellent as the Nazi colonel who rants and rages, almost to the point of obsession, in order to see that nothing stops the train from completing its criminal mission.
Lancaster dominates this movie, his strength; agility and sheer gutsy determination provide a genuine sense of realism. Observing Lancaster (in his sheer physical capacity) is enough to take the breath away. Watch those long (often single) takes of him sliding down railway gantry ladders, and running along the trackside before jumping on to the moving train – and you would be hard pushed to feel anything but respect and admiration for his work. The Train is full of astonishing action, collisions, and stunning set pieces – take for example the air strike on the rail yard, an amazing and meticulously executed scene containing some of the most realistic explosions and carnage.
Throughout the thrills and spills, Lancaster also finds time for a little romance with Christine, a tight-lipped, angry widow who runs a rail-side hotel and played rather nicely by Jeanne Moreau. But don’t let this put you off for a minute, the romance is always secondary and never given time to dominate or overshadow the film’s narrative.
The Train truly remains one of the great films of the sixties, Frankenheimer’s camera often gives the film a documentary style and the stark black and white photography does nothing but enhance the bleak atmosphere of the times. Maurice Jarre’s music score also adds extra depth to the movie without ever getting in the way or overshadowing those realistically essential rail road sounds.
Arrow’s High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film is quite superb. There are good, deep blacks where required, often giving the film an almost noir quality. It is also virtually free of any dust, dirt or speckles, and leaves the previous MGM DVD looking quite poor in comparison.
The Audio comprises of a nice clear uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM track. Additional audio delights come in the way of a commentary by director John Frankenheimer which is both engaging and informative. In addition to that, Arrow has also gifted us with an optional isolated score by composer Maurice Jarre. So there is plenty to be had in terms of audio supplements.
Further extras include: Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the decade. For me, the real winning bonus material is in the Blu-Ray’s archival footage. This includes a French television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with the locals of Acquigny. There is also an original interview with Michel Simon who was so memorable in the role of the stubborn railroad resistance fighter Papa Boule. Plus, there is some wonderful footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles. The original theatrical trailer is also included and rounds off a tidy and generous collection of extra material.
Packaging consists of a sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov. I have to say, I’m not a fan of the new artwork which is a little too abstract for my taste, especially in comparison to the beautiful original poster art, which is thankfully contained on the reverse. I do admire Arrow’s policy of a reversible sleeve, and can’t knock anyone who at least provides a choice...
There is also a very good Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Sheldon Hall, and is illustrated throughout with original stills and artwork.
For genuine fans of great sixties movies, it’s an essential piece of art for your collection.
Darren Allison, Cinema retro magazine
on 11 June 2004
For £5 this movie has to of been one of the best buys i ever made in terms of movies.
The film is set in the last years of WWII and follows a french patriot who is working for the german military as a train yard runner. a patriotic colonel in the german army decides to take paintings from the paris art museum and crate them up and send them to Germany via train. massive confusion occurs when the few french resistence fighters driving the train plan a series of sabotage attacks on the train right under the colonels nose. The film is highly interesting and in my opinion the fact that it is in black and white makes it even more enjoyable than it would be if it were in color. The film is tense nearly all the way through and a good film to sit down and watch. The end of the film is a highly tense and climatic part which i'm not going to spoil but i'll tell you this; if you like these types of films you won't be dissapointed at all. AT ALL! a very good buy and even if it were £15 i would have bought it, a great movie that can be watched time and time again and still have practically the same effect as it did when you first watched it.
on 19 July 2016
Quite a magnificent motion picture. The atmospheric filming in black and white thoroughly convinces us that the year is 1944 and so far better showcases the last few weeks of historical despair and hope during the last days of German-occupied France. A broodingly intelligent, brave and impressively athletic Burt Lancaster (I believe that he performed his own stunts) stars as French Railway Inspector/Engineer Labiche, who is cajoled by the French Resistance into preventing German Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) from transporting an irreplaceable collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art to the Third Reich by commandeering a very precious entire train. Time seems to be running out for everyone as Scofield serves up his most coldly enigmatic portrait of Germanic ruthlessness in his brilliant portrayal of a reserved, motivated yet merciless military man and art devotee. The film highlights the question as to how many lives are worth losing in order to save 'priceless' art and so it probes the deeper human feelings of paradox and inner-conflict which so often accompany the human condition in time of war. The film succeeds brilliantly under the attentive direction of John Frankenheimer and convinces by its use of real steam engines (even in crash scenes), passing shots of historic rail stations, and also by its deliberate inclusion of pitiless execution scenes which collectively add to the grit and verity of the story's human foundation. Loosely based on factual events, I don't think that I've ever seen Burt Lancaster more enigmatically convincing in such a role and so I recommend the film as a must-see. The art involved might well be Impressionist but the film itself is definitive human realism.
on 6 March 2006
I first saw this film on TV many years ago and was recently delighted to see it again on DVD. It is a great WW 2 story and Burt Lancaster plays a great part as the central character trying to prevent the Germans transporting the Art treasures of France to Germany at the end of the war.Plenty of action ensure this is a war film that you will enjoy time and time again. Definetly one for the collection !!!!.