Night Train to Munich (1940)

Hello, CMBA members! I’m excited to be participating in the fall Trains, Planes, and Automobiles blogathon. This is my third blogathon entry for CMBA: others were reviews of Intermezzo (both versions — 1936 and 1939) for Fabulous Films of the 30s and The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958) for Fabulous Films of the 50s.

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“In time you will see things the way I do — the way everyone in Germany does.”

Night Train Munich Poster

Synopsis:
An armor-plating inventor (Felix Aylmer) flees Prague in time to avoid Nazi occupation, but his daughter (Margaret Lockwood) is caught and sent to a concentration camp, where she meets a handsome prisoner (Paul Henreid) who helps her escape to England. When she and her father are kidnapped and taken back to Germany, they must rely on the help of a charismatic spy (Rex Harrison) to help them cross to Switzerland — but will their ruse be spoiled by a pair of nosy British passengers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)?

Genres:

Review:
Made just two years after Hitchcock’s classic pre-war thriller The Lady Vanishes (1938), this film — directed by Carol Reed — bears inevitable comparison in many respects, given that it was co-authored by the same screenwriting team (Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder), took place in part on a train, and featured both the same leading actress (Lockwood) and the same wisecracking comedic duo (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne). By 1940, however, war had officially broken out, and the difference in narrative emphasis shows: Nazis are called out explicitly as heinous villains, concentration camps (albeit in a sanitized sound-set version) are shown, and the call to action on behalf of Brits was more profound than ever. This became an early entry in the lengthy array of wartime cinema produced by Britain, functioning both as escapist fare and patriotic stimulation.

The movie’s pace is fast-moving, and while we find out the true identity of one key character early on, this doesn’t lessen the tension. We are primarily focused on admiring the daring-do of Harrison, who is nicely cast here as a brave (if slightly rash) spy willing to risk his life to help Aylmer and Lockwood. As in The Lady Vanishes, I’m not a fan of Radford and Wayne’s presence, though they are at least tightly integrated into the plot and serve a critical function. While Lockwood’s character isn’t all that memorable, Henreid — perhaps best known for his work in Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (1942) — does a fine job in an unenviable role, and Harrison is actually not annoying (plus, he SINGS — for real!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rex Harrison as Gus Bennett
    Night Train Cinematography
  • A fast-paced, enjoyably light-hearted yarn for wartime British audiences

Must See?
No; this one is fun but optional viewing for film fanatics.

Links:

One Response to “Night Train to Munich (1940)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for its place in cinema history, Reed’s direction, and its status as what is often referred to here as “a good show”.

    Given the overall positive report in the assessment above, I’m surprised that the ultimate conclusion reached is that it is not must-see. I’m at a loss in determining what the reservations are.

    It’s true that the film bears a marked resemblance to ‘The Lady Vanishes’ (though not in an extremely overt or distracting way) and that the film – which is not without pointed and welcome moments of humor – serves well as both “escapist fare and patriotic stimulation”. (I’m also not sure why Radford and Wayne are thought to be so annoying.)

    Reed’s crisp, efficient direction keeps everything moving in an admirable manner. The three leads, in particular, are fine (it’s also true that Harrison himself is not annoying – but giving a straightforward, unaffected performance) – and the film’s involved climax is exciting and satisfying.

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