“No one’s ever hurt — just dead.”
During the final days of World War II in Europe — when German officer Colonel Franz Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) places a collection of priceless French art on a train, intending to send it to Germany — the museum’s director (Suzanne Flon) begs the Resistance movement, including engineer Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), to help save the art rather than having it blown up.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Burt Lancaster Films
- Jeanne Moreau Films
- John Frankenheimer Films
- Paul Scofield Films
- Trains and Subways
- World War II
John Frankenheimer and Burt Lancaster’s fourth film together — after The Young Savages (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), and Seven Days in May (1964) — was this action-packed wartime thriller set almost entirely in, on, or around trains. After a suspenseful opening sequence in which we see countless European art treasures being deliberated over and then packaged away:
… we are taken on a wild ride (literally) of cat-and-mouse maneuvering between determined Colonel Von Waldheim (“The paintings are mine; they always will be! Beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it!”) and equally determined, highly agile resistance fighter Paul Labiche (“You know what’s on that train? Paintings. That’s right — paintings; art. The national heritage — the pride of France. Crazy, isn’t it?”).
With no models used (all action was real), the film possesses a consistently heady air of real-life danger, with one expertly filmed action sequence after the other — including a railway station bombarded through “140 separate explosions and a ton of T.N.T., two thousand gallons of gas and twenty two cameras.”
Watch for Michel Simon as a sabotaging train engineer:
… and Jeanne Moreau as a gradually-sympathetic supporter who serves as an almost-love-interest to Lancaster.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Paul Scofield as Colonel Franz Von Waldheim
- Highly atmospheric cinematography
- Numerous excitingly staged, often dangerous action sequences
Yes, as a fine film by a master director. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.