Train, The (Encore Edition)
Train, The (Encore Edition)
Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
Released on: October 18th, 2016.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Suzanne Flon, Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, Michel Simon
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Directed by John Frankenheimer and based on the novel Le front de l'art by Rose Valland, 1964’s The Train takes place in France in 1944 at the height of the Second World War. The Allies are closing in and a high ranking German officer named Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) is determined to get all of the most valuable works of French art out of the country while he still can. To do this, he and his crew commandeer a train in order to transport the goods from Paris back to Germany where they will be safely stowed away from the advancing enemy forces.
The French Resistance learns of Waldheim’s plot and decides that they’re going to do everything in their power to the paintings in their homeland where they rightfully belong. Enter a man named Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), the station master who is in charge of the train’s schedule. He and the small group of French Resistance men work together, he on the schedule and the rest of the men on creating a distraction that the Germans will not be able to ignore that they hope will allow them to reclaim the valuables.
Although The Train occasionally attempts (and only occasionally succeeds) at trying to be more than just a WWII action movie, the film is at its best when it concentrates on the action and the tension, really making the most out of some admittedly very impressive set pieces. There’s some fantastic stunt work here and a lot of it had to have been a logistical nightmare to pull off with as much style and grace as we see executed, but pull it off is exactly what Frankenheimer and company do here. Without wanting to head into spoiler territory there are a few scenes here, particularly towards the end of the film, which simply would not be done this way today. Obviously made well before CGI took the danger out of a lot of big, epic stunt scenes, this was all done in camera and it’s quite clever how it all plays out.
Frankenheimer controls his pacing and his grip on the film’s ever mounting tension admirably. He was a very skilled director when it came to these qualities here and this movie turns out to be every bit as intense as The Manchurian Candidate. He also gets some rock solid performances out of his cast. Paul Scofield is perfectly easy to dislike in his attempts to liberate the decadent French artwork from its proper owners in the name of Nazi glory (and against the orders of his commanding officer) and he manages to deliver an intense performance without ever hamming it up. Lancaster, a veritable man of steel at this point in his career, is a noble hero who is convincingly tough enough to work in the lead. He may not always show the most range here but the story never really asks him to. He’s very good in the part, the consummate marquee star of the era and quite an excellent casting choice. All of this is shot in gloriously gritty, grainy black and white, the high contrast image obviously devoid of color and giving the movie a certain period feel, relaying the decade in which it was made (a decade full of pop art color extravaganzas!) and giving it very much a ‘you are there’ feel.
This isn’t the deepest picture ever made and it doesn’t do quite as good a job at exploring character motivations and the morality of certain characters as it could and maybe should have but don’t let that sour you. The Train is a top notch action epic made by a director at the top of his game.
Twilight Time brings The Train to Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.66.1 widescreen and the transfer is excellent. Some shots look sharper than others but this seems to stem back to the photography, not the elements or the transfer. Detail is very strong here throughout the movie while contrast is, with one or two minor exceptions, pretty much perfect. Black levels are nice and deep and texture is strong. The picture is stable and free of compression artifacts or digital tinkering and we wind up with a really authentic feeling film-like picture on this disc.
The only audio option on the disc is an English DTS-HD Mono track, there are no alternate language options here though removable English closed captioning is offered. While the mono track obviously doesn’t offer the listening experience a surround mix would, particularly for the action scenes, it does offer a decent amount of depth. Levels are set properly, dialogue is clean and clear and there’s not a trace of hiss or distortion to be found. Effects carry a good amount of weight to them and the score has very good clarity to it. The audio here is strong, to be sure.
The disc includes two audio commentary tracks, the first with film historians Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor and Nick Redman and the second with director John Frankenheimer. The historian track is well thought out and quite informative, offering up a lot of great information on the cast and crew as well as some critical insight into the effectiveness of the picture. They cover the source novel, some of the more memorable set pieces and discuss the performances in a fair bit of depth. It’s a good listen. Frankenheimer’s track is carried over from the DVD and finds the director flying solo where maybe a moderator might have helped because there’s a lot of dead air here and as such, it’s got pacing issues. There are moments, however, where the director perks up and speaks his mind, offering some interesting stories about camera work, how some of the set pieces were staged and what it was like directing Lancaster.
Rounding out the extras on the disc is the film’s isolated score in DTS-HD format, MGM 90th Anniversary trailer and the film’s original theatrical trailer as well as some menus and chapter selection. Inside the Blu-ray case is an insert booklet with some archival materials and an essay from Kirgo who offers up her thoughts on the picture and provides some welcome background information and trivia about the film. Liner notes may be a small thing to some, but many of us appreciate them!
The Final Word:
The Train is a clever and suspenseful film that proves to be a great mix of action and fine performances set against an engaging backdrop and benefiting from some fantastic camerawork. This is absolutely worth seeing, a film that frequently flirts with greatness, and the Blu-ray from Twilight Time is a keeper.
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