Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Train


One of the better train movies, and one of the better WWII movies. Burt Lancaster is a stationmaster in the last days of Occupied France. Paul Scofield is an art-loving Nazi colonel who intends to steal a trainload of “degenerate” art he has been assembling. The Resistance wants the train stopped before it reaches Germany. (This is “based on fact,” but the real story is that the French managed to tie it up in so much red tape that the train barely managed to leave Paris. But there’s not much drama in bureaucracy.) Burt doesn’t want to do it, rightly pointing out that people will surely die for a bunch of paintings. “Don’t you have copies?” one of his friends asks the museum director. But he is gradually drawn in, and we’re off to the races. The train lore is wonderful, as are the old steam engines. It’s a cat and mouse game, and a Big Con, as the names of stations are changed in the middle of the night. There is a spectacular three-part train wreck that had me laughing aloud in appreciation. There is a giant bombing raid on a rail yard, using real dynamite. (The yard was scheduled to be torn down but there was no money to do it, so the filmmakers offered to help out!) John Frankenheimer, the director, says he thinks this was the last wide-screen B&W epic, and I think he’s probably right. The photography is great, some of it looking like real war footage, and there is some wonderful use of something that was pretty new at the time: the zoom lens. After almost 2½ hours it comes down to a battle of wits between Burt and Paul, and just when you think it has to be over, one of them comes up with one more trick. I really love this one.