Monday, 22 March 2010

THE TRAIN (1964)

John Frankenheimer was a great director. He had been a top television director during the 1950s and had moved to the big screen with the modest THE YOUNG STRANGER and the ambitious THE YOUNG SAVAGES in the early 1960s. For me SAVAGES has some very serious script and strucural problems but it looked terrific and had excellent performances that proved Frankenheimer could direct and worked well with actors. It also had Burt Lancaster who saw the potential of the director and went on to make several more highly rated films with him of which THE TRAIN is one. The pre-credit sequence introduces the German officer played by Paul Scofield quite sympathetically - an art lover who has done his best to protect the greatest French paintings during the Nazi occupation of Paris. This initial impression is soon dispelled when whe discover his intention to take all the paintings to Berlin Not only is he a thief but he is as vicious a murderer as you could expect to find in the German army of the time. His plans are thwarted by the Resistance and the initially reluctant train controller, Labiche (a wonderfully physical performance by Burt Lancaster) whose personal fight with Scofield and with the train itself takes on the scale of Ahab's fight with Moby Dick. But the film is far from being the simple action adventure you might expect and has an interesting moral conundrum at its centre as the efforts of Labiche and the Resistance cause the deaths of countless railway workers. Ironically, Labiche has no interest in art and, as Scofield tells him, he will never be able to appreciate what he has fought to save. On an action level the film benefits from Frankenheimer's skill staging such things and the cast includes Jeanne Moreau, Michel Simon and Wolfgan Preiss. Frankenheimer died in 2002 leaving behind a legacy of films such as SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, SECONDS, FRENCH CONNECTION II, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. Some of his later films were under valued and some where unmitigated disasters (his ecological horror THE PROPHECY is so bad it is funny) but there are more pluses than minuses in his fascinating career. Rating ****

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

I first saw THE TRAIN last year and I enjoyed it quite a lot. The bleak black & white photography and the outdoor shooting around the train and the train tracks worked very well. I agree that Frankenheimer was a very good director but I sadly only have one of his movies in my collection (my mother's favourite film THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE) and several of the other films you mentioned (BIRDMAN, SEVEN DAYS) I've never actually seen! Netflix queue here I come.