Rakesh's movie talk
Train, The (1964)

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Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (based on novel by Rose Valland)
Starring Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield and Jeanne Moreau

I watched The Train solely on the reputation of the director alone. John Frankenheimer gave us the excellent Manchurian Candidate, French Connection 2 and Ronin. They are all great movies. Brilliant stuffs. I am not a fan of Burt Lancaster, probably not yet, but he is held up high by critics, so nothing can possibly go wrong.

The reaction to watching this movie may wary from person to person. One may see it as a plain WWII movie. One would see it as some sort of escape movies ala The Great Escape and Von Ryan's Express. And some might want to watch it for philosophical reasons. The immortality of Art versus the mortal lives. It's all there, and I bet it will entertain everyone.

The story is set in German occupied France in the second world war. Lancaster plays Labiche, a railway man - a Bogart-like hero. You know that type; the reluctant, world-weary, cigarette butt at the corner of the mouth and a sneer at the other. Well, not exactly like that, but Lancaster plays the character the way he usually does, with a lot of energy, effortlessly. I am still not a fan yet, but I will not hesitate if I were to see his other movies. Does that make me a fan? Dang!

So, there are a big collection of art. Name all those great artists and you have them here. It is raided by the Krauts who plans to bring it back to their country with a train. A German colonel in charge, Col. von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), is an art enthusiast. Not exactly, a fanatic who gets obsessed with them so much that it doesn't matter to him if he had to sacrifice lives to ensure the arts pieces safety. Labiche is reluctant at first to go against them, but when lives are treated like mere livestock, he gets into action. What happens, why, and how Labiche response makes this a fantastic thinking man's action movie. Well, anyone who can think can enjoy this movie at least.

Here's a comment I picked up from IMDB (www.imdb.com) that I liked and agree with. He is identified only as Bee-17:

I won't dwell on the plot or characters, both of which are superb. Instead, use this film as a reality check of Hollywood today.

It is full of long, yet kinetic camera work: tracking and panning, revealing and hiding, meticulously scripted. Continuity is near perfect as the camera moves from airplane to train to ground. The visceral impact of watching real actors in real action without cuts cannot be understated. Today's films cheat the need for planning and shot development by peppering action sequences with epilepsy-inducing quick cuts.

The Train used no miniatures, no digital effects, no CGIs, no blue screens... I think a film like this is more satisfying because of its honesty. Real explosions, wrecks, and derailments. The camera firmly anchored in reality instead of floating around a virtual, rendered world. Is anyone really amazed by the visuals in Godzilla, Independence Day, or the upcoming Pearl Harbor? They may be nice, but I'll take the battle sequences of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" over anything that Jerry Bruckheimer can dream up.

After watching The Train and seeing just how good an action movie can be, I feel cheated more than ever by the crap in the multiplex today.


See! Its amazing how real everything looks, merely because they are real. Lancaster is involved in most of the stunts and I read elsewhere that he injured his knees during the filming. The injured knee is well used throughout this movie. You gotta watch it to understand it.

The burst of firepower at the climax is expected. You know it will happen, but when it does it shocks you. It happens quickly, briefly, without the hero dropping one-liner or saying anything that resembles wit. It stops there and boy, that will guarantee to make you think about the whole movie again.

P.S Sorry to use the word 'REAL" again, but those are real trains Frankenheimer used for the wreckage and derailment scenes. No models. Real stuff, buddy.