• The Train (1964) - John Frankenheimer

    George Clooney’s THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) has its roots in the 1964, Oscar-nominated, WWII action thriller, THE TRAIN,  directed by John Frankenheimer (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, BIRD MAN OF ALCATRAZ, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, RONIN) and starring Burt Lancaster (FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, ATLANTIC CITY, ELMER GANTRY, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ).

     

     

    Excerpted from Variety, December 31, 1964 …

    “After a slow start, THE TRAIN picks up to become a colorful, actionful big-scale adventure opus. Made in French and English in France, it was entirely lensed in real exteriors with unlimited access to old French rolling stock of the last war … From the novel Le front de l’art by Rose Valland, [THE TRAIN] concerns an elaborate railroad resistance plot to keep a train full of French art treasures from being shipped to Germany near the end of the war. An earthy station master (Burt Lancaster), if in the resistance, is reluctant to sacrifice men for paintings, especially with the war nearing its end. But he finally gives in when an old engineer, almost his foster father, is killed by the Germans for trying to hold up the art train. An elaborate plot is put into action. Lancaster himself is made to drive the train by the fanatic German colonel (Paul Scofield) to whom the art has become bigger than the war itself. Jeanne Moreau has a small but telling cameo bit as does Michel Simon as the dedicated old engineer who swings Lancaster into line to go all out for saving the train. But above all it is the railroad bustle, the trains themselves and some bangup special effects of bombing attacks and accidents that give the pic its main points.”

     

    burt-lancaster-the-train-1964Excerpted from Stephen B. Armstrong, The Film Journal …

    “Late in the summer of 1963, Burt Lancaster was in Europe working on THE TRAIN, a period film about World War Two and the French Resistance. Two weeks into production, however, Lancaster had Arthur Penn, the picture’s first director, fired. He then recruited John Frankenheimer, with whom he’d worked on projects like THE YOUNG SAVAGES (1961) and THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962). “Burt called me and asked if I would come to direct it. I’d just finished Seven Days in May [another Frankenheimer-Lancaster collaboration], “I was quite tired,” Frankenheimer once told Gerald Pratley in an interview.  “I didn’t want to do it, yet he asked me to do it as a favor to him. And also, I wanted to go to Europe” … THE TRAIN’S scenario is based on events that actually occurred during the last month of the Nazi Occupation, when Paris railroad workers saved the Musée du Jeu de Paume’s collection of modern art … THE TRAIN does not idealize its heroes. In fact, it does something quite different by establishing likenesses between the film’s French protagonists and their German adversaries. … Frankenheimer [‘s] …  refusal to gild and sentimentalize the conduct of people living under occupation lends THE TRAIN a degree of authenticity other “resistance” pictures, such as Lang’s HANGMEN ALSO DIE (1943) and Clement’s BATTLE OF THE RAILS (1946) lack … Frankenheimer often cited BATTLE OF ALGIERS by the way, as one of his favorites. Much like THE TRAIN, it broods over, and ultimately condemns, the ruinous effect that political repression has upon the human spirit.”

     

    paul-scofield-thetrain-231Excerpted from The New York Times, Bosley Crowther, March 18, 1965) …

    “Such movement of railway equipment, chases and collisions with trains, throwing of switches, and derailments as used to make for vivid action in silent films is brought to mind with fondest feeling by John Frankenheimer’s THE TRAIN … Brought to mind, too, by this realistic and intensely engrossing account of the sabotaging of a Nazi endeavor to smuggle a trainload of art treasures out of France toward the end of World War II is that sizzling French war film, BATTLE OF THE RAILS, which was made by Réné Clement and a company of chemin de fer workmen in 1945 …  [THE TRAIN] is a vivid melodrama through which Mr. Lancaster bolts with all that straight, strong, American sporting instinct and physical agility for which he is famous, vis-à-vis Paul Scofield’s Nazi colonel who rants and rages because the train does not go through … Mr. Frankenheimer’s strong, resourceful camera gets some exciting shots that are all the more eloquent for this purpose by being in somber black-and-white. And Maurice Jarre has added an unobtrusive but nudging musical score, which is sparingly used in conjunction with excellent, realistic railroad sounds … Of course, all the way through, one shudders, as one did through Battle of the Rails, at the thought of nonmilitary French people committing themselves so valiantly. And one wonders, at the end of this picture, at the irony of people giving up their lives for what seems like such a nonessential purpose. But that’s really the point of the whole thing.”

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