The Train (John Frankenheimer / U.S.-France-Italy, 1964):

War's winding railway, its treasures and casualties. Paris on the "1511th day of German occupation" is the starting point, "degenerate art" is the Nazi plunder as troops disband with the Liberation on the horizon. (Crates leave the museum under the opening credits adorned with such names as Cézanne and Degas and Matisse, "the national heritage" as confiscated loot.) The pillaging proceeds under the auspices of the canvas-collecting colonel (Paul Scofield), the train taking the cargo into Germany is operated by an irritable resistance fighter (Burt Lancaster), and there you have the crux of John Frankenheimer's grid, aesthete versus saboteur. A refined tragic view, the human burden of irreplaceable legacy: "Your horizon is about to be broadened." The coin in the oil line and the camera inches away from the derailed wheels, all part of the matchless choreography of metal and smoke, Lancaster zigzags through it like Keaton on a tear. Hiding in a tunnel from an air raid, the locomotive lets out a shrieking whistle of frustration; later, a German officer is roused from sleep and opens a back door to behold an unmanned caboose bearing down on him (cf. Hitchcock's Number Seventeen). "Men want to be heroes, and then their women mourn," laments the innkeeper (Jeanne Moreau) caught in the thick of things, the weary voice of France. Frankenheimer in full command, with iron behemoths managed deftly on crisscrossing lines of movement and a fine flash of Gance's La Roue in the accelerated montage of the climactic collision. (In the middle of the bustle and the explosions, the magical effect of Michel Simon's eyes lighting up warmly at the mention of Renoir.) A ripping system of motion, at once streamlined spectacle and thorny moral quandary—"Beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it," so goes the pivotal barb in a showdown strewn with corpses and paintings. Inglourious Basterds has an echo or two, considerations extend to Éloge de l'amour and The Rape of Europa. Cinematography by Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz. With Suzanne Flon, Wolfgang Preiss, Albert Rémy, Charles Millot, Richard Münch, Jacques Marin, and Howard Vernon. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home