September 18, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/09/18/long-ships-1964-richard-widmark/The Long Ships (1964) with Richard Widmark
The Greatest Viking Adventure of Them All!
Surprisingly, we aren’t talking about the Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis epic The Vikings.  Though 1964’s The Long Ships was directed by Jack Cardiff, the cinematographer of The Vikings, the similarities do not go much farther.
Filmed at what one might saw was the end of the classic epic picture which was so prevalent in the 1950s, The Long Ships has a rather odd pairing of Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in the lead roles, as a delinquent (yet playful) son of a Viking lord, and a Moorish Ruler, respectively .
Perhaps given the success of the earlier Viking film, the overall feeling here is one where the tongue is firmly in cheek.  Though some have likened the film to an odd kind of “The Vikings Meet Monty Python,” that is clearly an overstatement.  Although the plot is severely weak (and lighthearted) and there are several continuity and factual error, the film is still quite enjoyable with its roughly two hour running time.  With the exception of Poitier, everyone seems to be in on the lighthearted feel.  Poitier however, seems to be attempting his best Olivier impression.
Now to that bogus plot.  Widmark (playing Rolfe) has heard of the “Mother of All Voices,” a solid gold bell made by monks, but no one seems to know if it is just a fairy tale or reality.  Poitier for one has dedicated his life to finding it.  After escaping from the clutches of the evil Aly Mansuh (Poitier), Rolfe swims back to Scandia from the ‘Moorish’ lands.  After a brief reconciliation with his family, he steals a ship built for his father’s King.  Said King Harald (Clfford Evans) follows in hot pursuit.
Of course after a few comings and goings he and his crew is again captured by Mansuh, who again works him for information about this wondrous bell.  Now, however, Mansuh reveals what might be the star of the film, the gruesome torture device “The Mare of Steel,” where the tortured slides down a 12 foot long blade face down.  Not sure if wondrous devise is part of the book on which the film is based, but it definitely has a wow factor- though truth be told it is more of a death devise as surely no one survives such a thing.
Yet again, the Vikings manage to escape, and again they are caught.  But before in what definitely borders on the Pythonesque is a scene where the Viking encounter Poitier’s harem.  The bedlam between the Vikings, the twelve or so ladies of the harem, and their male minder, is only slightly above buffoonery.  When recaptured again they are made an offer by Mansuh’s wife; find the bell and have your freedom.
In a nice (and presumably intentional) touch that most will likely not notice is the fact that here Poitier’s wife is in fact apparently a Caucasian woman, in a rare early instance of a mixed marriage on screen.
At the end of the day of course the bell is found encased in a stone bell tower.  After almost no effort whatsoever, the bell is extracted from its home and shipped on a raft back to the Islamic Kingdom.  Right on cue, King Harald with his Vikings appear and retake the bell after it rolls over on the hapless Poitier, killing him in the process.
Now mind you there is nary a mark on the bell and the raft is barely large enough for it to sit on, but never mind that.  It is all part of the suspension of logic that you need for most Irwin Allen films- among which this is.
Beyond the plot, the acting is among the strengths of the picture.  Especially Widmark who though classically out of his element, understands perfectly the role he turned down several times before accepting.   That said, he in only slightly less out of place than poor Sidney Poitier, who tries his best to be the nasty bad guy, but his James Brown bouffant doesn’t help him at all.
Though Cardiff is rightfully known as one of the great cinematographers of all time, this outing is merely average.  Though taking much from the earlier film The Vikings, the great visual feel of the earlier film is not among them.
Perhaps the most egregious shortfall of The Long Ships is the constant storms which all seem equally poorly shot with some incredibly shoddy special effects.  Even the partially camp atmosphere of the film justifies the constant tight shots of the long ship in the same position only to be hit by a bucket of water.
There’s a storm scene late in the picture where the ship lists precariously, exposing the oars down the port side.  But every oar is in precisely the same position as every other, reflecting a serious flaw in the model.  In a cost saving move, several of the same shots are used interchangeably during multiple storms.  Even by 1964 standards, better should be expected.
All said though, The Long Ships is a lot of fun.  Everyone seems to be in on the joke for the most part.  The film is fun and quick paced and one shouldn’t focus overly long on its shortcomings (as I have). The Long Ships is great fun as long as you don’t take it other than it was intended: a nice romp full of adventure.
Suspend a bit of belief and you’ll really enjoy this one.  If you want serious, go yank out your “Ben Hur.”
Could I interest you in an expedition to find one of the three Saxon crowns?

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/09/18/long-ships-1964-richard-widmark/

The Long Ships (1964) with Richard Widmark

1964 the long ships

The Greatest Viking Adventure of Them All!

Surprisingly, we aren’t talking about the Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis epic The Vikings.  Though 1964’s The Long Ships was directed by Jack Cardiff, the cinematographer of The Vikings, the similarities do not go much farther.

Filmed at what one might saw was the end of the classic epic picture which was so prevalent in the 1950s, The Long Ships has a rather odd pairing of Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier in the lead roles, as a delinquent (yet playful) son of a Viking lord, and a Moorish Ruler, respectively .

Perhaps given the success of the earlier Viking film, the overall feeling here is one where the tongue is firmly in cheek.  Though some have likened the film to an odd kind of “The Vikings Meet Monty Python,” that is clearly an overstatement.  Although the plot is severely weak (and lighthearted) and there are several continuity and factual error, the film is still quite enjoyable with its roughly two hour running time.  With the exception of Poitier, everyone seems to be in on the lighthearted feel.  Poitier however, seems to be attempting his best Olivier impression.

vlcsnap-2014-09-07-15h24m56s222Now to that bogus plot.  Widmark (playing Rolfe) has heard of the “Mother of All Voices,” a solid gold bell made by monks, but no one seems to know if it is just a fairy tale or reality.  Poitier for one has dedicated his life to finding it.  After escaping from the clutches of the evil Aly Mansuh (Poitier), Rolfe swims back to Scandia from the ‘Moorish’ lands.  After a brief reconciliation with his family, he steals a ship built for his father’s King.  Said King Harald (Clfford Evans) follows in hot pursuit.

The Long Ships 1964 the mare of steelOf course after a few comings and goings he and his crew is again captured by Mansuh, who again works him for information about this wondrous bell.  Now, however, Mansuh reveals what might be the star of the film, the gruesome torture device “The Mare of Steel,” where the tortured slides down a 12 foot long blade face down.  Not sure if wondrous devise is part of the book on which the film is based, but it definitely has a wow factor- though truth be told it is more of a death devise as surely no one survives such a thing.

Yet again, the Vikings manage to escape, and again they are caught.  But before in what definitely borders on the Pythonesque is a scene where the Viking encounter Poitier’s harem.  The bedlam between the Vikings, the twelve or so ladies of the harem, and their male minder, is only slightly above buffoonery.  When recaptured again they are made an offer by Mansuh’s wife; find the bell and have your freedom.

The Long Ships 1964 poitier 2In a nice (and presumably intentional) touch that most will likely not notice is the fact that here Poitier’s wife is in fact apparently a Caucasian woman, in a rare early instance of a mixed marriage on screen.

At the end of the day of course the bell is found encased in a stone bell tower.  After almost no effort whatsoever, the bell is extracted from its home and shipped on a raft back to the Islamic Kingdom.  Right on cue, King Harald with his Vikings appear and retake the bell after it rolls over on the hapless Poitier, killing him in the process.

Now mind you there is nary a mark on the bell and the raft is barely large enough for it to sit on, but never mind that.  It is all part of the suspension of logic that you need for most Irwin Allen films- among which this is.

The Long Ships 1964 widmarkBeyond the plot, the acting is among the strengths of the picture.  Especially Widmark who though classically out of his element, understands perfectly the role he turned down several times before accepting.   That said, he in only slightly less out of place than poor Sidney Poitier, who tries his best to be the nasty bad guy, but his James Brown bouffant doesn’t help him at all.

Though Cardiff is rightfully known as one of the great cinematographers of all time, this outing is merely average.  Though taking much from the earlier film The Vikings, the great visual feel of the earlier film is not among them.

Perhaps the most egregious shortfall of The Long Ships is the constant storms which all seem equally poorly shot with some incredibly shoddy special effects.  Even the partially camp atmosphere of the film justifies the constant tight shots of the long ship in the same position only to be hit by a bucket of water.

The Long Ships 1964 poitierThere’s a storm scene late in the picture where the ship lists precariously, exposing the oars down the port side.  But every oar is in precisely the same position as every other, reflecting a serious flaw in the model.  In a cost saving move, several of the same shots are used interchangeably during multiple storms.  Even by 1964 standards, better should be expected.

All said though, The Long Ships is a lot of fun.  Everyone seems to be in on the joke for the most part.  The film is fun and quick paced and one shouldn’t focus overly long on its shortcomings (as I have). The Long Ships is great fun as long as you don’t take it other than it was intended: a nice romp full of adventure.

Suspend a bit of belief and you’ll really enjoy this one.  If you want serious, go yank out your “Ben Hur.”

The Long Ships 1964 finaleCould I interest you in an expedition to find one of the three Saxon crowns?

September 11, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/09/11/captured-1933-leslie-howard/Captured! (1933) with Leslie Howard
Films of the First World War usually seem to pale in comparison to those of the Second.   Outside of perhaps a very few films, most any film buff would mention a World War II- or Vietnam War film as among their top choices.  For the former the Evil was certainly much greater, with Hitler a clear front-runner for the title of Evil Incarnate.  The latter is still recent in the minds of many; both photographic and filmed records of these two wars are somewhat pervasive.
But what about the Great War?  Certainly portions were filmed and photos are many, but another reason perhaps that this war fares a bit worse in Hollywood is twofold.  One, the technology of the industry was still being perfected, with sound appearing in the late 20s- though obviously there were the silents.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this war simply was so disastrous that frankly no one wanted to revisit it.  With the reasons for it not so clear cut as the Second, and literally an entire generation slaughtered in places like Verdun, Ypres, the Somme, and the Marne, there was little appetite to revisit it as isolationalism took over the States.
Captured!, a rather forgotten little film, was released by Warner Brothers in the summer of 1933.  Though perhaps drawing some original impetus from Hitler’s rise to power in January of the same year, here the focus is purely on the prison camp in which the film is set.
Leslie Howard, still best remembered as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, is Captain Fred Allison, a captured Victoria Cross recipient and reluctant leader of the captured men.  He is a newlywed, as well, somehow meeting, wooing, marrying, and purchasing a home with Monica (Margaret Lindsay) all over the course of six presumably busy days.  He pines for her but hasn’t gotten any letters from her In quite a while, much to his disbelief.
After another prisoner attempts to escape, the prisoners are confined to a dank cellar, bereft of their few perks, and limited to a diet of bread and water.  Finally a new commandant arrives in the form of Carl Ehrlich (Paul Lukas), who gradually befriends Allison after realizing they are both Oxford graduates and removes the punishments.
Here is where Captured! Is most successful- in telling the gritty and solitary world of life in these camps.  Though the guards are harsh, there isn’t the sense of wickedness for the mere sake of it which you’d see in films set in the next war.  You can still see the shared kinship these soldiers have for each other even though they are on opposite sides of the trenches.  But alas, what could have been a good tale goes a bit sideways……
With the arrival of Allison’s old friend Digby (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who has also just been captured.  Peppered with constant questions about Monica, Digby yearns to escape whatever the cost.  As becomes clear, Digby and Monica have themselves become an item and this is the reason for the lack of any new letters for our star.
In what continues to be a somewhat incredulous amount of coincidences, Digby does escape, but in the process his relationship with Monica is exposed.  After a very brief reconciliation with Monica in (presumably) England, Digby is returned to the German camp at their request to face trial on murder and rape charges for an incident which took place in the course of his escape.
Disgusted at the situation, Digby clams up and, though innocent, is summarily sentenced to be shot.  In one of the more melodramatic scenes of the short picture, Howard rushes in at the last minute to save his friend.
Now knowing that his brief marriage is over, Allison concocts a plan for the entire camp population to escape, even at the risk of his own life.  Overtaking some guards, Allison creates enough of a distraction to permit the remaining captives to escape to a nearby German air base, where they all fly home to freedom.  (Never mind how all these men flew home in presumably two-seater aircraft.  Lots of captured pilots, perhaps.)
In a violent scene really out of character with most of Howard’s career, he grabs a machine gun and blasts away at the Kaiser’s finest until he is blown to smithereens.
Captured! gives the viewer a very promising first and final act, but the middle circles like water in the drain.  When focused on the camp and the situation there, the film is a home run.  The tepid inclusion of Digby- or more accurately the inclusion of his fling with Monica- derails the proceeding with a series of implausibility’s.
The acting is superb however, and it is shameful that this picture isn’t better know today as it is surely among Leslie Howard’s finer performances.  His usual rather deadpan and disengaged style works wondrously here with a little tweaking to be the downtrodden and forlorn captive.  For those in the know on Howard’s career, Captured! follows Berkeley Square in his filmography.
There is a particularly poignant moment when Howard and another prisoner are discussing the nearby air base.  Howard looks sadly skyward at the other’s mention of “those bomber planes,” almost as if he new his fate would be related.  Note to the evolution of language as a mere six years later we would have just said “bombers.”
Lucas too ads his usual charm and dedication to the role, and the scenes he shares with Howard (especially those in Lucas’ quarters) are the best in the film.  His level and calm delivery is almost the sheer antithesis of what you’d expect in a prison camp- as we see in the later film The Bridge on the River Kwai.
Last among the stars we have Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  It is unfair to shackle him as the cause of the films problems as he is literally just the messenger.  That said, his performance is over the top and comes off as more than a bit insincere.
With most of the film shot at night, there is at times an almost nourish feel to the proceedings under the surprisingly effective direction of journeyman Roy Del Ruth.  There are surely things you’ll take from Captured! and find in almost every prisoner-of-war picture made since.
With an easy investment of 75 minutes, this one is well worth the time if you can happen to find it.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/09/11/captured-1933-leslie-howard/

Captured! (1933) with Leslie Howard

1933 captured

Films of the First World War usually seem to pale in comparison to those of the Second.   Outside of perhaps a very few films, most any film buff would mention a World War II- or Vietnam War film as among their top choices.  For the former the Evil was certainly much greater, with Hitler a clear front-runner for the title of Evil Incarnate.  The latter is still recent in the minds of many; both photographic and filmed records of these two wars are somewhat pervasive.

But what about the Great War?  Certainly portions were filmed and photos are many, but another reason perhaps that this war fares a bit worse in Hollywood is twofold.  One, the technology of the industry was still being perfected, with sound appearing in the late 20s- though obviously there were the silents.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this war simply was so disastrous that frankly no one wanted to revisit it.  With the reasons for it not so clear cut as the Second, and literally an entire generation slaughtered in places like Verdun, Ypres, the Somme, and the Marne, there was little appetite to revisit it as isolationalism took over the States.

captured 1933 leslie howard douglas fairbanks jrCaptured!, a rather forgotten little film, was released by Warner Brothers in the summer of 1933.  Though perhaps drawing some original impetus from Hitler’s rise to power in January of the same year, here the focus is purely on the prison camp in which the film is set.

Leslie Howard, still best remembered as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, is Captain Fred Allison, a captured Victoria Cross recipient and reluctant leader of the captured men.  He is a newlywed, as well, somehow meeting, wooing, marrying, and purchasing a home with Monica (Margaret Lindsay) all over the course of six presumably busy days.  He pines for her but hasn’t gotten any letters from her In quite a while, much to his disbelief.

captured 1933 paul lukasAfter another prisoner attempts to escape, the prisoners are confined to a dank cellar, bereft of their few perks, and limited to a diet of bread and water.  Finally a new commandant arrives in the form of Carl Ehrlich (Paul Lukas), who gradually befriends Allison after realizing they are both Oxford graduates and removes the punishments.

Here is where Captured! Is most successful- in telling the gritty and solitary world of life in these camps.  Though the guards are harsh, there isn’t the sense of wickedness for the mere sake of it which you’d see in films set in the next war.  You can still see the shared kinship these soldiers have for each other even though they are on opposite sides of the trenches.  But alas, what could have been a good tale goes a bit sideways……

With the arrival of Allison’s old friend Digby (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who has also just been captured.  Peppered with constant questions about Monica, Digby yearns to escape whatever the cost.  As becomes clear, Digby and Monica have themselves become an item and this is the reason for the lack of any new letters for our star.

captured 1933 douglas fairbanks jrIn what continues to be a somewhat incredulous amount of coincidences, Digby does escape, but in the process his relationship with Monica is exposed.  After a very brief reconciliation with Monica in (presumably) England, Digby is returned to the German camp at their request to face trial on murder and rape charges for an incident which took place in the course of his escape.

Disgusted at the situation, Digby clams up and, though innocent, is summarily sentenced to be shot.  In one of the more melodramatic scenes of the short picture, Howard rushes in at the last minute to save his friend.

Now knowing that his brief marriage is over, Allison concocts a plan for the entire camp population to escape, even at the risk of his own life.  Overtaking some guards, Allison creates enough of a distraction to permit the remaining captives to escape to a nearby German air base, where they all fly home to freedom.  (Never mind how all these men flew home in presumably two-seater aircraft.  Lots of captured pilots, perhaps.)

In a violent scene really out of character with most of Howard’s career, he grabs a machine gun and blasts away at the Kaiser’s finest until he is blown to smithereens.

captured 1933 leslie howard 2Captured! gives the viewer a very promising first and final act, but the middle circles like water in the drain.  When focused on the camp and the situation there, the film is a home run.  The tepid inclusion of Digby- or more accurately the inclusion of his fling with Monica- derails the proceeding with a series of implausibility’s.

The acting is superb however, and it is shameful that this picture isn’t better know today as it is surely among Leslie Howard’s finer performances.  His usual rather deadpan and disengaged style works wondrously here with a little tweaking to be the downtrodden and forlorn captive.  For those in the know on Howard’s career, Captured! follows Berkeley Square in his filmography.

There is a particularly poignant moment when Howard and another prisoner are discussing the nearby air base.  Howard looks sadly skyward at the other’s mention of “those bomber planes,” almost as if he new his fate would be related.  Note to the evolution of language as a mere six years later we would have just said “bombers.”

Lucas too ads his usual charm and dedication to the role, and the scenes he shares with Howard (especially those in Lucas’ quarters) are the best in the film.  His level and calm delivery is almost the sheer antithesis of what you’d expect in a prison camp- as we see in the later film The Bridge on the River Kwai.

captured 1933Last among the stars we have Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  It is unfair to shackle him as the cause of the films problems as he is literally just the messenger.  That said, his performance is over the top and comes off as more than a bit insincere.

With most of the film shot at night, there is at times an almost nourish feel to the proceedings under the surprisingly effective direction of journeyman Roy Del Ruth.  There are surely things you’ll take from Captured! and find in almost every prisoner-of-war picture made since.

With an easy investment of 75 minutes, this one is well worth the time if you can happen to find it.

September 4, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/09/04/train-1964-burt-lancaster/The Train (1964) with Burt Lancaster“The art train is not to be destroyed.  Orders are to mark it so that the planes will pass it up.”— a French Resistance leader
Some critics, and even that lesser breed of us, those mere movie observers and hyper film buffs, are rumored to enjoy writing negative reviews, not usually true, except for those few writers who set out to be just that—venomous and abrasive, concocting negativism into a style of sorts and, supposedly, “happy in their work.”  In reality, most critics want to enjoy a movie, go to a theater or open a new DVD expecting the best from the director and actors, in the way parents wish the best for their children.
As for The Train, made in 1964, a negative review would be out of place and would reflect suspicion upon the mental state of such a reviewer, and, most important, such an approach would be totally untrue.  The film, made in the unusually fertile ’60s—some say a partial rebirth of Hollywood’s golden age—is a rip-snorting adventure film, with just enough serious drama, and historical fact thrown in, to make the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  At 133 minutes, it never seems long.
There are the authentic train movies, such as Buster Keaton’s silent film The General, The Great Locomotive Chase, also set during the American Civil War, Night Train to Munich, the Basil Rathbone-Sherlock Holmes Terror by Night,The Polar Express,any number of versions of The Lady Vanishes and most obvious, perhaps, Murder on the Orient Express.  In Runaway Train, Jon Voight is trapped on a racing train with no engineer and no brakes, a precursor of Speed, though Speed is about a speeding bus, another genre, and, like subways, less exciting, less romantic than trains.
Even a larger number of “train” movies are incorrectly classified, just happening, incidentally, to have a train in them, either for a scene or two or as a picturesque prop, such as Bad Day at Black Rock (in the beginning and at the end), In the Heat of the Night(beginning and end and in the middle) or North by Northwest(in a considerable sequence, granted, and a romantic finish).  Not saying these hybrids can’t be excellent. East of Eden, 3:10toYuma,The Thin Man, Last Train from Gun Hill and From Russia with Love have only passing involvements with trains. A list of either type of train movie would be close to endless.
With the already passing mention of two Alfred Hitchcock films, it is interesting to consider that director’s fascination with trains, either for dramatic settings or as symbolic conveyors of evil: The 39Steps, Secret Agent, Saboteur,Strangers on a Train, Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound, The Paradine Caseand others where trains are even less prominent—say, Suspicion, which opens with Joan Fontaine riding a train, and Marnie, where Tippi Hedren walks a station platform in the first shot.
Another director, David Lean, reveals his own fascination for trains in a large portion of his films, including the meeting of lovers Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson inBrief Encounter; the usually forgotten The Passionate Friends; Doctor Zhivago; Laurence of Arabia, where Peter O’Toole struts atop derailed train cars; A Passage to India;and, of course, Bridge on the River Kwai where blowing up a Japanese railway bridge is the object of the film, ending in the destruction of both the bridge and the train that starts across it.
Set not only during World War II but in the hectic closing months of the war, The Trainis about all kinds of trains and authentic turn-of-the-twentieth-century locomotives, in any number of realistic, uncomputerized circumstances.  Trains are seen switching, being repaired and sabotaged, strafed by Allied planes, even derailed and wrecked.  In one planned collision, a locomotive went faster than expected and destroyed three of the five cameras set up to record it.
As its director John Frankenheimer said, “I wanted all the realism possible.  There are no tricks in this film.  When trains crash together, they are real trains.  There is no substitute for that kind of reality.”
When the original director, Arthur Penn, seemed to have lost the gist and tempo of the movie, seeing it more as a document of history rather than an adventure film, its main star Burt Lancaster substituted Frankenheimer, who had directed the star in his two previous films, Birdman of Alcatraz and Seven Days in May.  The tempo issue was resolved: nothing slow about this film!
Even though they are losing the war and on the run, the Germans have lost none of their greed, their desperation or their grandiose plans. Before the Allies can reach Paris, the Wehrmacht, headed by Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield, two years away for his Oscar forA Man for All Seasons), plans to take to the fatherland five carloads of art treasures stolen from the Jeu de Paume Museum, paintings by Renoir, Manet, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso and others, the “degenerate” art Nazis so abhor but nonetheless steal and, now, with time running out, are hiding in caves in Germany.
The curator of the museum, Mademoiselle Villard (Suzanne Flon), alerts the French Resistance.  The train must be delayed, diverted, stopped, but not in a way that would damage this heritage of mostly French art.  The Villard character is based on a real person, the much-decorated French art historian Rose Antonia Maria Valland, who was a member of the French Resistance and a captain in the French army.  She was present at the Jeu de Paume in 1941 when Herrmann Göring came to select paintings for his own collection.  She secretly recorded the names of the paintings’ original owners and, in many cases, to where they went; after the war, she assisted in the return of many art treasures to their rightful owners and museums.
During what is now a “normal day” with the Nazis in charge, Paul Labiche (Lancaster), a railway inspector in the marshaling yard of Vaires, supervises the switching during an Allied strafing attack.  Lancaster is his stoic self, though maybe a little less tight-jawed than usual and with less flashing of those trademark teeth, but he is still the athletic, commanding presence on screen. With his acrobatic expertise, exhibited especially when he was younger in such swashbucklers as The Flame and the Arrowand The Crimson Pirate, Lancaster does his own stunts—shimmying down a signal tower ladder, boarding a moving locomotive, vaulting walls and rolling down hills.
(Speaking of stunts, there is another actual performance—again, no tricks, but perhaps a technical inaccuracy—where French actor AlbertRémy, playing a Resistance fighter named Didont, uncouples an engine from the trailing cars while the train is moving.  The cars themselves slowly roll to a stop, but the engine and tender race on down the track to collide with a standing locomotive.  I don’t know about French trains, or French trains in the 1940s, but in the United States, when cars become uncoupled while underway, the brake/air line thus broken, the train goes into emergency and stops, ASAP.  There are here a number of other historical and technical goofs to which war films seem especially prone.)
When a massive engine is derailed by the Resistance, the art-loving, art-mad Waldheim insists that the engine be rerailed and orders two cranes, before those irritating Allies arrive.  His second-in-command Herren (Wolfgang Preiss) tells him it’s impossible.  During the night, the Resistance applies white paint to the tops of the first three box cars of paintings, a sign for Allied planes not to attack the train.  When Waldheim’s men start to remove the paint, he orders them to leave it, that it’s his ticket to Germany.
The Resistance at first doesn’t care much about the paintings; sabotaging trains, after all, is one of their missions, and they do it well. Neither does Labiche, at this point, care about the art.  But when an old mustachioed engineer (Michel Simon), whose defiant courage is commendable in itself, is shot for trying to sabotage the train, the Resistance decides on a plan to misroute the train.  Now Labiche somewhat reluctantly joins them.
In reality, the Resistance deceived the Germans by merely running the train around Paris until the Allies arrived.  The film takes a more elaborate and dramatic approach—and comic one, too.  Aboard the train, a Nazi (Jean Bouchaud) gleefully marks off on his map the cities they pass—the station signs in northeastern France: Verdun, Metz, Rémilly—true enough—and on into, he thinks, Germany, but the signs of German towns are lettered canvases draped over French station names.  The train is actually making a turn south toward central France.
The French Resistance has arranged a collision without damaging the precious art cargo.  The leaders are captured and executed, butLabiche, shot in the leg, limps away on foot.  (Actually, during production, Lancaster had aggravated a previous knee injury while out golfing, and the limp was written into the script.)
While sleeping over at a railroad-side hotel, to be the engineer for the train next morning, Labiche is provided an alibi by the hotel’s proprietor Christine (Jeanne Moreau) to conceal his clandestine excursions to do a bit of sabotage.  A tentative romance is suggested, but neither the story line nor the generally vivace tempo of the film allows for much loitering, and the film hardly suffers from the absence of any further romantic development.
After the train is re-railed, Waldheim places French civilians on the engine to prevent sabotage, but Labiche delays the train by dislodging the spikes that fasten the rails to the crossties.  Waldheim sends men ahead on foot to check the track and repair the rails, the train slowing to a crawl.  Eventually, the German’s vigilance fails and Labiche succeeds in derailing the train—without injuring the hostages or damaging the art works.  In retaliation, Waldheim has the civilian hostages executed and his small contingent of men joins a passing convoy whose officer refuses to transfer the art works to his trucks.  Waldheim is left alone with his stranded train.  “His” train, always his train.
In their final confrontation, Labiche is taunted by Waldheim for having no appreciation for great  art: “A painting means as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape… .  Beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it.  [The paintings] will always belong to me, or a man like me.” Labiche, pretty much unconcerned about “art for art’s sake” from the beginning, looks at the dead Frenchmen the Germans have just killed and shoots Waldheim.  Labiche then limps away, leaving the train and its paintings.
Lancaster is practically alone in a mostly French cast and a sufficient number of German actors to comprise the disloyal opposition.  This “observer” of films is probably among the many American viewers who will see few familiar faces, but I did recognize two French actors from the largely French-set Charade.  Jacques Marin, the police inspector Grandpierre in that Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant caper, is the stationmasterin The Train; he reroutes the art train—at the cost of his life.  Paul Bonifas, the stamp dealer in Charade, has an even smaller part as Spinet, a Resistance fighter.
As for the German actors, Wolfgang Preiss is more familiar to many, if not by name, then as the standard Nazi, real and imaginary: in The Longest Day, Anzio (as Kesselring),Von Ryan’s Express, A Bridge Too Far (as Rundstedt), The Boys from Brazil and the TV mini-series, The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance (as Brauchitsch).  And these are just his American films, not to mention his many native German ones.  He died in 2002, age 92.
Richard Münch, who played General Jodl in Patton, is cast as the officer who first denies Waldheim authority for his train, then approves it.  Arthur Brauss, in a look-quick-to-see role as Pilzer, has made an enormous number of German films, though his few English-language ones involving Nazis include Von Ryan’s Express, Cross of Iron and John Huston’s Victory,
One exciting highlight of The Train is the sequence where Labiche, at the controls of a lone locomotive, flees the strafing of an Allied fighter, racing down the track for the cover of a tunnel.  Sure, he’s far exceeding the speed limit for engine and track, but, hell, man, this is war!  Labiche reaches the tunnel and brakes before he runs the engine out the other side.  The scene was based on an actual incident in WorldWar II, in another theater of the war.

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The Train (1964) with Burt Lancaster

1964 the train“The art train is not to be destroyed.  Orders are to mark it so that the planes will pass it up.”— a French Resistance leader

Some critics, and even that lesser breed of us, those mere movie observers and hyper film buffs, are rumored to enjoy writing negative reviews, not usually true, except for those few writers who set out to be just that—venomous and abrasive, concocting negativism into a style of sorts and, supposedly, “happy in their work.”  In reality, most critics want to enjoy a movie, go to a theater or open a new DVD expecting the best from the director and actors, in the way parents wish the best for their children.

As for The Train, made in 1964, a negative review would be out of place and would reflect suspicion upon the mental state of such a reviewer, and, most important, such an approach would be totally untrue.  The film, made in the unusually fertile ’60s—some say a partial rebirth of Hollywood’s golden age—is a rip-snorting adventure film, with just enough serious drama, and historical fact thrown in, to make the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience.  At 133 minutes, it never seems long.

There are the authentic train movies, such as Buster Keaton’s silent film The GeneralThe Great Locomotive Chase, also set during the American Civil War, Night Train to Munich, the Basil Rathbone-Sherlock Holmes Terror by Night,The Polar Express,any number of versions of The Lady Vanishes and most obvious, perhaps, Murder on the Orient Express.  In Runaway Train, Jon Voight is trapped on a racing train with no engineer and no brakes, a precursor of Speed, though Speed is about a speeding bus, another genre, and, like subways, less exciting, less romantic than trains.

in-the-heat-of-the-night-1967-2Even a larger number of “train” movies are incorrectly classified, just happening, incidentally, to have a train in them, either for a scene or two or as a picturesque prop, such as Bad Day at Black Rock (in the beginning and at the end), In the Heat of the Night(beginning and end and in the middle) or North by Northwest(in a considerable sequence, granted, and a romantic finish).  Not saying these hybrids can’t be excellent. East of Eden3:10toYuma,The Thin ManLast Train from Gun Hill and From Russia with Love have only passing involvements with trains. A list of either type of train movie would be close to endless.

With the already passing mention of two Alfred Hitchcock films, it is interesting to consider that director’s fascination with trains, either for dramatic settings or as symbolic conveyors of evil: The 39StepsSecret AgentSaboteur,Strangers on a TrainShadow of a DoubtSpellboundThe Paradine Caseand others where trains are even less prominent—say, Suspicion, which opens with Joan Fontaine riding a train, and Marnie, where Tippi Hedren walks a station platform in the first shot.

lawrence-of-arabi-on-top-of-derailed-trainAnother director, David Lean, reveals his own fascination for trains in a large portion of his films, including the meeting of lovers Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson inBrief Encounter; the usually forgotten The Passionate FriendsDoctor ZhivagoLaurence of Arabia, where Peter O’Toole struts atop derailed train cars; A Passage to India;and, of course, Bridge on the River Kwai where blowing up a Japanese railway bridge is the object of the film, ending in the destruction of both the bridge and the train that starts across it.

Set not only during World War II but in the hectic closing months of the war, The Trainis about all kinds of trains and authentic turn-of-the-twentieth-century locomotives, in any number of realistic, uncomputerized circumstances.  Trains are seen switching, being repaired and sabotaged, strafed by Allied planes, even derailed and wrecked.  In one planned collision, a locomotive went faster than expected and destroyed three of the five cameras set up to record it.

As its director John Frankenheimer said, “I wanted all the realism possible.  There are no tricks in this film.  When trains crash together, they are real trains.  There is no substitute for that kind of reality.”

When the original director, Arthur Penn, seemed to have lost the gist and tempo of the movie, seeing it more as a document of history rather than an adventure film, its main star Burt Lancaster substituted Frankenheimer, who had directed the star in his two previous films, Birdman of Alcatraz and Seven Days in May.  The tempo issue was resolved: nothing slow about this film!

The Train 1964 Scofield 2Even though they are losing the war and on the run, the Germans have lost none of their greed, their desperation or their grandiose plans. Before the Allies can reach Paris, the Wehrmacht, headed by Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield, two years away for his Oscar forA Man for All Seasons), plans to take to the fatherland five carloads of art treasures stolen from the Jeu de Paume Museum, paintings by Renoir, Manet, Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso and others, the “degenerate” art Nazis so abhor but nonetheless steal and, now, with time running out, are hiding in caves in Germany.

The curator of the museum, Mademoiselle Villard (Suzanne Flon), alerts the French Resistance.  The train must be delayed, diverted, stopped, but not in a way that would damage this heritage of mostly French art.  The Villard character is based on a real person, the much-decorated French art historian Rose Antonia Maria Valland, who was a member of the French Resistance and a captain in the French army.  She was present at the Jeu de Paume in 1941 when Herrmann Göring came to select paintings for his own collection.  She secretly recorded the names of the paintings’ original owners and, in many cases, to where they went; after the war, she assisted in the return of many art treasures to their rightful owners and museums.

The Train 1964 LancasterDuring what is now a “normal day” with the Nazis in charge, Paul Labiche (Lancaster), a railway inspector in the marshaling yard of Vaires, supervises the switching during an Allied strafing attack.  Lancaster is his stoic self, though maybe a little less tight-jawed than usual and with less flashing of those trademark teeth, but he is still the athletic, commanding presence on screen. With his acrobatic expertise, exhibited especially when he was younger in such swashbucklers as The Flame and the Arrowand The Crimson Pirate, Lancaster does his own stunts—shimmying down a signal tower ladder, boarding a moving locomotive, vaulting walls and rolling down hills.

(Speaking of stunts, there is another actual performance—again, no tricks, but perhaps a technical inaccuracy—where French actor AlbertRémy, playing a Resistance fighter named Didont, uncouples an engine from the trailing cars while the train is moving.  The cars themselves slowly roll to a stop, but the engine and tender race on down the track to collide with a standing locomotive.  I don’t know about French trains, or French trains in the 1940s, but in the United States, when cars become uncoupled while underway, the brake/air line thus broken, the train goes into emergency and stops, ASAP.  There are here a number of other historical and technical goofs to which war films seem especially prone.)

The Train 1964 cranesWhen a massive engine is derailed by the Resistance, the art-loving, art-mad Waldheim insists that the engine be rerailed and orders two cranes, before those irritating Allies arrive.  His second-in-command Herren (Wolfgang Preiss) tells him it’s impossible.  During the night, the Resistance applies white paint to the tops of the first three box cars of paintings, a sign for Allied planes not to attack the train.  When Waldheim’s men start to remove the paint, he orders them to leave it, that it’s his ticket to Germany.

The Resistance at first doesn’t care much about the paintings; sabotaging trains, after all, is one of their missions, and they do it well. Neither does Labiche, at this point, care about the art.  But when an old mustachioed engineer (Michel Simon), whose defiant courage is commendable in itself, is shot for trying to sabotage the train, the Resistance decides on a plan to misroute the train.  Now Labiche somewhat reluctantly joins them.

The Train Jean BouchaudIn reality, the Resistance deceived the Germans by merely running the train around Paris until the Allies arrived.  The film takes a more elaborate and dramatic approach—and comic one, too.  Aboard the train, a Nazi (Jean Bouchaud) gleefully marks off on his map the cities they pass—the station signs in northeastern France: Verdun, Metz, Rémilly—true enough—and on into, he thinks, Germany, but the signs of German towns are lettered canvases draped over French station names.  The train is actually making a turn south toward central France.

The French Resistance has arranged a collision without damaging the precious art cargo.  The leaders are captured and executed, butLabiche, shot in the leg, limps away on foot.  (Actually, during production, Lancaster had aggravated a previous knee injury while out golfing, and the limp was written into the script.)

The Train 1964 Lancaster FlonWhile sleeping over at a railroad-side hotel, to be the engineer for the train next morning, Labiche is provided an alibi by the hotel’s proprietor Christine (Jeanne Moreau) to conceal his clandestine excursions to do a bit of sabotage.  A tentative romance is suggested, but neither the story line nor the generally vivace tempo of the film allows for much loitering, and the film hardly suffers from the absence of any further romantic development.

After the train is re-railed, Waldheim places French civilians on the engine to prevent sabotage, but Labiche delays the train by dislodging the spikes that fasten the rails to the crossties.  Waldheim sends men ahead on foot to check the track and repair the rails, the train slowing to a crawl.  Eventually, the German’s vigilance fails and Labiche succeeds in derailing the train—without injuring the hostages or damaging the art works.  In retaliation, Waldheim has the civilian hostages executed and his small contingent of men joins a passing convoy whose officer refuses to transfer the art works to his trucks.  Waldheim is left alone with his stranded train.  “His” train, always his train.

The Train 1964 Lancaster FinaleIn their final confrontation, Labiche is taunted by Waldheim for having no appreciation for great  art: “A painting means as much to you as a string of pearls to an ape… .  Beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it.  [The paintings] will always belong to me, or a man like me.” Labiche, pretty much unconcerned about “art for art’s sake” from the beginning, looks at the dead Frenchmen the Germans have just killed and shoots Waldheim.  Labiche then limps away, leaving the train and its paintings.

Lancaster is practically alone in a mostly French cast and a sufficient number of German actors to comprise the disloyal opposition.  This “observer” of films is probably among the many American viewers who will see few familiar faces, but I did recognize two French actors from the largely French-set Charade.  Jacques Marin, the police inspector Grandpierre in that Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant caper, is the stationmasterin The Train; he reroutes the art train—at the cost of his life.  Paul Bonifas, the stamp dealer in Charade, has an even smaller part as Spinet, a Resistance fighter.

The Train 1964 Wolfgang PriesAs for the German actors, Wolfgang Preiss is more familiar to many, if not by name, then as the standard Nazi, real and imaginary: in The Longest DayAnzio (as Kesselring),Von Ryan’s ExpressA Bridge Too Far (as Rundstedt), The Boys from Brazil and the TV mini-series, The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance (as Brauchitsch).  And these are just his American films, not to mention his many native German ones.  He died in 2002, age 92.

Richard Münch, who played General Jodl in Patton, is cast as the officer who first denies Waldheim authority for his train, then approves it.  Arthur Brauss, in a look-quick-to-see role as Pilzer, has made an enormous number of German films, though his few English-language ones involving Nazis include Von Ryan’s ExpressCross of Iron and John Huston’s Victory,

The Train 1964 Lancaster strafingOne exciting highlight of The Train is the sequence where Labiche, at the controls of a lone locomotive, flees the strafing of an Allied fighter, racing down the track for the cover of a tunnel.  Sure, he’s far exceeding the speed limit for engine and track, but, hell, man, this is war!  Labiche reaches the tunnel and brakes before he runs the engine out the other side.  The scene was based on an actual incident in WorldWar II, in another theater of the war.

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