Blu-ray Review: The Train (1964) - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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John Frankenheimer’s The Train has been issued as a limited edition Blu-ray by boutique label Twilight Time. The 1964 film is an old school action film set during World War II, but its visceral style keeps it utterly fresh and exciting half a century later. Burt Lancaster stars as French trainman Paul Labiche, a man who steps up to stop the Nazis from stealing priceless, irreplaceable fine art from a French museum. The tight, intelligent writing received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay (Franklin Coen and Frank Davis are the only credited writers; the work of Walter Bernstein, Howard Dimsdale, and Nedrick Young went uncredited), odd since the film is based on the book Le front de l'art by Rose Valland.

Train booklet cover (212x250).jpgIf the gist of the plot sounds familiar, that’s because it’s thematically linked to the recent George Clooney film The Monuments Men. This is a significantly different film, however, one that is refreshingly free of pretention and sentimentality. The Train began life as a troubled production. Frankenheimer assumed directorial duties after a severe clash between original director Arthur Penn and star Lancaster. Frankenheimer called for rewrites, streamlined the action, and crafted a nearly-vérité epic that wrecks real, full-size trains and features stunningly photographed large-scale explosions. Way ahead of its time, The Train goes for the jugular with a barrage of in-your-face, high-wire set pieces that have lost none of their edge (in fact, the film’s stock has only risen in the midst of the age of digital fakery that dominates contemporary action).

Paul Scofield makes for a slyly seductive villain as Col. Franz von Walheim, the art-loving Nazi who orders scores of painting to be transported out of France and into Germany before the Allies liberate Paris. While Labiche’s appreciation of the inherent value of fine art remains somewhat ambiguous throughout, his support of his fellow countrymen is unequivocal. With the aid of the French Resistance, Labiche must figure out how to delay the train’s departure, allowing time for Allied forces to arrive. The plot unfolds naturally, with a remarkably propulsive momentum that still manages to pause for effective dramatic beats. Lancaster amazes with some very obviously self-performed stunts (including jumping onto a moving train after sliding down an impossibly high ladder, all in one smooth take). Every moment of The Train is believable.

Train Burt Lancaster (380x302).jpgTwilight Time’s 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray presents a very strong image framed at 1.66:1. Two cinematographers are credited for capturing the stunning photography of The Train: Jean Tournier (Moonraker, The Day of the Jackal) and Walter Wottitz (Oscar winner for The Longest Day). Their work is done justice, for the most part, with rich clarity. Very occasionally there’s a shot or two that jitters a tad bit (that’s not a reference to the unavoidable camera movement caused by powerful explosions during some action scenes). Print flaws flit across the screen momentarily from time to time as well, but overall this is a solid offering. The DTS-HD MA mono mix is quite powerful despite its simplicity. The more bombastic action scenes pack a notable punch.

Train 2 (230x280).jpgPorted over from an older DVD edition is a commentary track by director John Frankenheimer. New to this edition is a second audio commentary featuring Twilight Time team members Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, joined by veteran film editor Paul Seydor (White Men Can’t Jump, Major League II, Turner & Hooch). It’s a lively track, with each participant not only highly enthusiastic about The Train, but also well-informed about the production. We also get Maurice Jarre’s score as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Kirgo contributes a characteristically excellent booklet essay.

The Train was issued by Twilight Time as a limited edition, with only 3,000 copies available. It has sold out, quite understandably, so those interested will have to seek a copy from the secondary market. For more information about currently available Twilight Time titles, visit the label’s exclusive distributor Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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