Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
France/Italy/USA, 1964. Les Films Ariane, Les Productions Artistes Associes, Dear Film Produzione. Screen story and Screenplay by Franklin Coen, Frank Davis, based on Le Front De L’Art by Rose Valland. Cinematography by Jean Tournier, Walter Wottitz. Produced by Jules Bricken. Music by Maurice Jarre. Production Design by Willy Holt. Costume Design by Jean Zay. Film Editing by David Bretherton. Academy Awards 1965. National Board of Review Awards 1965.
The war is coming to an end, we’re in the last few months of battle and things aren’t going well for the Germans who have been occupying and destroying all of Europe for years. In France, a gallery of paintings by some of the country’s greatest artists is significant to German colonel Paul Scofield, who orders it all to be boxed up and loaded onto a train to be kept as Nazi loot. Thankfully, the trainyard is already populated by workers who have the resistance spirit, already in the process of delaying the departure of some engines to make sure they get caught in Allied bombing raids, but when he’s asked to help keep the enemy from stealing these paintings, railway superintendent Burt Lancaster balks at the notion that they’re worth the effort. When a personal loss changes the playing field, however, he and Albert Rémy get on board and do everything in their power to make sure that masterpieces by the likes of van Gogh and Matisse never leave France, the process of which involves a lot of smart maneuvers that could get everyone killed (and, as this film does a brilliant job with presenting impressive stakes, sometimes does). This is one of the best movies set on a train that you will ever see, made so vivid and exciting by director John Frankenheimer’s insistence on using a lot of real vehicles for the scenes of destruction. The budget skyrocketed because of his demands but the result is well worth it, there’s a real feeling of size and power coming off the screen thanks to the fact that real locomotives are being destroyed before your eyes, and it helps that he films it all so effectively. Buying Lancaster as a Frenchman is probably the only artificial move being made here, it’s particularly awkward to watch him next to actors like Remy and Michel Simon who are being badly dubbed by English-speakers, but make the choice to forget about this quickly and enjoy this thrilling ride. Jeanne Moreau has a gem of a supporting role as an innkeeper whose political sympathies don’t complicate her desire to stay out of trouble’s way.