Monday, March 11, 2019

83. The Train (1964)

SYNOPSIS: A cultured Nazi officer (Paul Scofield) is determined to get stolen French art works out of Paris to safety in Germany by train. The French Resistance goes to great lengths to delay the train carrying the paintings.  Resistance member / railroad inspector Labiche (Burt Lancaster) engineers the elaborate plan which involves rerouting the train and even staging a spectacular collision.

BACK-STORY: The Train is a war movie directed by John Frankenheimer that was released in 1964. It is based on a non-fiction book entitled "Le Front de lArt" by Rose Valland. The film was originally helmed by Arthur Penn, but co-producer and star Burt Lancaster axed him because Penn wanted to make more of a character study and Lancaster insisted the action be revved up. The film was shot on location in France. No models were used. Those are all real trains crashing and getting blown up. The air bombardment of the marshalling yard was symbiotic because the French government wanted the area cleared anyway. (That less than one minute scene required fifty men wiring TNT for six weeks.) Lancaster (51) did all of his stunts. This included sliding down a hillside. When he injured his knee stepping in a hole while golfing, it was written into the script that he would be wounded while fleeing under fire. One scene where the train races into a tunnel to avoid a strafing Spitfire was added to have an additional action sequence. Frankenheimer was almost killed when the helicopter he was filming from came within ten feet of being hit by the Spitfire.

TRIVIA:  Wikipedia, imdb, Cinema Retro #6
1.  Burt Lancaster had original director Arthur Penn fired after three days and replaced with John Frankenheimer.  Frankenheimer envisioned the movie as a character study of the men of the Resistance, but Lancaster insisted on it being also about the trains.
2.  The marshalling yard bombardment scene involved 140 explosions, a ton of TNT, 2,000 gallons of gasoline, and 22 cameras.  It took the explosives expert six weeks to set the explosives.  The French railway allowed the destruction because they wanted to destroy the yard, but did not have the funding.
3.  Lancaster sprained his knee stepping in a hole while playing golf.  Frankenheimer dealt with it by having Labiche get wounded while crossing the pedestrian bridge.
4.  It was nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
5.  Lancaster performed all his stunts.
6.  The movie is loosely based on a saving a train full of art, but in reality the train was routed around Paris until the Allies took the city.
7.  Train Magazine chose it as the #1 train movie in its 100 Greatest Train Movies issue.
8.  No models were used in the filming.
9.  In the train derailment, the train was going too fast and wiped out almost all of the cameras.
10.  The Spitfire strafing the train before it entered the tunnel was added after the studio felt the movie needed one more action scene.  It almost ended in disaster when the Spitfire came within thirty feet of hitting the helicopter Frankenheimer was filming in.  His wife fainted.
11.  The original ending had Labiche and Von Waldheim shooting it out.
12.  Lancaster (who had been a circus performer) did all his own stunts.
13.  It is based on the book by Rose Villand who was a French art historian and member of the Resistance.  She secretly recorded Nazi plundering of art and helped save thousands of works.  She is in “The Monuments Men” as Clair Simone.
14.  This was the second time Frankenheimer took over a Lancaster film for a fired director.  The first was “Birdman of Alcatraz”.  He demanded the film be entitled “John Frankenheimer’s The Train”.   He also demanded total control over the final cut and a Ferrari.  When the last scene in “Seven Days in May” had to be reshot, it was done in Paris where “The Train” was shooting and Lancaster’s character gets into the Ferrari to drive off.
15.  The producers purchased 4 locomotives, 40 railroad cars, 7 railroad buildings, and various German weapons and vehicles.

Belle and Blade  =  4.0
Brassey’s              =  4.0
Video Hound       =  5.0
War Movies         =  4.4
Military History  =  #62
Channel 4             =  not on list
Film Site                =  yes
101 War Movies  =  no

OPINION:   “The Train” is one of the greatest guy movies and perhaps the greatest if you are a guy who loves trains.  Lancaster turns in one of his best performances and his physicality is a highlight.  It has suspense, but it is not just an action movie.  It has a provocative theme that questions whether works of art are worth human lives.  It is probably underrated at #83 and is certainly better than several of the movies that are ranked higher.  As you will see.  For the full review, go to The Train


  1. One of the relatively few movies that took full advantage of Lancaster's acrobatic ability (the others were the swashbucklers "The Crimson Pirate" and "The Flame and the Arrow").

    Lancaster was careful to make enough "message" films to please the critics, while also making enough entertaining action movies ("guy movies") to please the public and to make money.

    1. He was not just a great actor. He was a great film-maker.


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