DATELINE: Another Gem Missed Years Ago!
A Man for German Seasonal Art?
After playing a saintly Thomas More, actor Paul Scofield showed his range by playing a Nazi colonel who steals all the major art works of Paris in August of 1944, and tries to smuggle them to Germany on a train. The Trainruns on time without Mussolini in 1965, as this slice of war thrills looks back twenty years earlier to the Nazi occupation in France.
Scofield is nearly as good as a Nazi officer as James Mason. He acts mostly with his eyes, which are extraordinary in conveying all kinds of reactions. He is magnificent to behold, but is secondary to the character of trainmaster played by Burt Lancaster.
If Lancaster seems a bit too athletic American for a French resistance fighter, he more than makes up for his age by doing a couple of amazing stunts—and other activities you might not expect from a star.
Their scenes together are fairly muted. It’s not exactly Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton burning up the screen, but blame that on the script that keeps them a bureaucratic arms’ length.
They’ve thrown Jeanne Moreau into the mix in what amounts to a cameo as a hotelier with a couple of scenes with Lancaster. You need some real French people in a movie made in France.
French resistance against the Nazis was heroic, but the alterations to train stations and pretense of fooling the fleeing chaotic Nazi army seems a bit hard to swallow.
The film wanted badly to be an art house thriller like Wages of Fear, but for that they should have cast Yves Montand in the Lancaster role.
As it is, this is one of those remarkable thinking man movies with art as motive thrown in: actually the Nazi appreciates the art more than the French who try to save it, which is a tad ironic. Painting the train is poetic license.
Scofield’s Nazi officer becomes increasingly nasty, and Lancaster’s hero becomes super-sized. It’s as it should be. Scofield turns into Richard III by film’s end.
We are not disappointed that Montand and Mason were not the leads. It would have been a slightly different flavor of filmdom. If you love a good train wreck, here you will be delighted.