Closely Watched Trains / Closely Observed Trains (1967)

Closely Watched Trains / Closely Observed Trains (1967)

“Because that’s what the Fuhrer wants. But we must like each other, because we are all in the same boat.”

In Czechoslovakia during World War II, a shy, bumbling railroad dispatcher (Vaclav Neckar) is more concerned with losing his virginity than with spotting espionage on passing trains.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Black Comedy
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Eastern European Films
  • Trains and Subways
  • Virginity
  • World War Two

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this Oscar-winning foreign film — “one of the landmarks of the brief Czech film renaissance” — offers a “beguiling mix of comedy… and jolting tragedy.” Full of “likeable, quirky characters, a strong sense of locale… and a great deal of charm,” the film functions as both a blackly humorous historical vignette and an ironic commentary on the travails of male adolescence. As in Jerzy Skolimowsky’s Deep End (1971), the story centers on a naive young teenager who is so obsessed with sex that it colors his entire impression of the world around him — and who is so distressed by his inability to “perform” sexually that he takes drastic action. The ultimate message, as Peary notes, is that males can “perform great acts of heroism… yet consider themselves failures as men if they get too anxious in bed to please a pretty flirt.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Vaclav Neckar as Milos
  • Milos’ charming yet tortured romance with a fellow conductor (Jitka Bendova)
  • “Ladies’ man” Hubicka (Josef Somr) stamping the date up and down the legs of a willing young woman

Must See?
Yes. This is a must-see foreign gem.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Closely Watched Trains / Closely Observed Trains (1967)

  1. Yes, a must. A remarkable film, startling in its simplicity, which holds up quite well today and will undoubtedly continue to do so – it has a unique take on the vagaries of both adolescence and war. The direction, performances, photography and overall design result in a satisfyingly compact 90+ minutes. Small moments enrich: the young dispatcher’s mother places a cap on her son as if crowning him king; the playfully lecherous photographer’s behavior causes a mother to cover her child’s eyes; the camera lingers on a sign in a brothel that decries the crushing Soviet occupation, etc. The film’s surprising conclusion is ruefully and ironically placed against a young woman’s explanation of a game called ‘Everything flies that has wings’. ‘CWT’ very much deserved its Best Foreign Film Oscar.

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