11th May2015

‘The Train’ Blu-ray Review (Arrow Academy)

by Paul Metcalf

Stars: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau, Suzanne Flon, Michel Simon, Wolfgang Preiss, Albert Rémy, Charles Millot, Richard Münch, Jacques Marin, Paul Bonifas, Jean Bouchaud, Donald O’Brien, Jean-Pierre Zola, Arthur Brauss | Written by Franklin Coen, Frank Davis | Directed by John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn (uncredited)


What is more precious, art or human life? Your first reaction is probably to say human life and that would be the most logical answer, but for cultural worth the answer may not be so easy.  During World War 2 precious works of art were stolen and still to this day are found and become big news.  Arrow Academy’s latest Burt Lancaster release The Train creates a story loosely based on real life events, looking at the protection of French masterpieces, and the human cost of war.

In 1944 during the last gasps of Germany’s occupation of France, art lover and fanatical Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) plunders a Paris Museum of some of France’s greatest masterpieces determined to take them back to Germany as the chaos of retreat ensues.  As the paintings are delivered onto a train bound for Germany it is down to station master and resistance fighter Labiche (Burt Lancaster) to find ways to delay the train inside French Territory until the allied forces finally arrive and can save the cultural treasures.

Burt Lancaster was an actor who plays the troubled, angry hero well and Labiche is a perfect character for him.  At the end of the war this man is tired at the cost of life and every battle he is part of costs him friends and resistance fighter colleagues.  It is interesting that the film sets the scene for the audience by making it clear to us just what masterpieces Von Waldheim is stealing and what a huge loss to France they would be.  To Labiche though his initial reaction is to just let the train go and to protect the people.

The way his colleagues ignore his view though and push to slow the train is what pulls him into the battle, but we are constantly shown the cost of this decision.  Labiche is pushed into acting to slow the train, but he is constantly made to pay by being witness to men dying all to save the paintings.  We may ask if this battle is worth it, but as mentioned even to this day we are seeing cases of works of art being found that were stolen not only from nations but families too and they are returned.  There is a cultural importance to art, and an economical one too but in the end a human life is also a work of art of nature, should that not be given protection too?

One thing that The Train is praised for is the action scenes, and the scale of the production is very impressive.  The use of real trains instead of miniatures in action scenes gives a realism to the action, as well as Lancaster doing his own stunt work (as often was the case) to further make the scenes appear more legitimate.  In terms of acting he is on top form, as is Paul Scofield as Von Waldheim though he somewhat hams up his character at times.  There is a feel about the Nazi Colonel though who loses his sanity in his lust for the paintings and this does bring about the need to add a little cheese to the performance, especially as he becomes more demented.  His own personal downfall coming from the very fact that his obsession with the paintings over human life leads to his downfall.

Typically for an Arrow Academy release we see a more educational style in the special features made available.  The commentary by John Frankenheimer is interesting, especially as he provides details of how he created the action scenes so well.  Other features include a look at Burt Lancaster’s career in the sixties by biographer  and interviews on the making of the film as well as behind the scenes features.

While Arrow Video focus on the more cult side of films, I love that the Arrow Academy label show some love to earlier more classically styled films that remind us just how good actors like Burt Lancaster were, and when their greatest years were.  The Train is a good action and war film showing Lancaster at his best.  For fans of the genre and the actor purchasing Arrow Academy’s release of The Train is money well spent.

***** 5/5

The Train is available on Blu-ray in the UK now.

Review originally posted on PissedOffGeek

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