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Limited Edition of 3,000 Units
Director: John Frankenheimer
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Distributor: Twilight Time | Twentieth Century Fox [Home Ent.]
Country: United States
Genre: Thriller | War | Action
Running Time: 133 minutes (2:13:14)
Region Code: Region Free
Rating: Not Rated
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 (Original Aspect Ratio)
Video: 1080p High Definition (24fps)
Codec: MPEG-4 | AVC
Image: B & W
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono [Main Feature] | English DTS Audio 2.0 [Commentary Track 1] | English DTS Audio 2.0 [Commentary Track 2] | English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 [Isolated Score Track]
Subtitles: Optional English SDH
Based on French art historian and resistance member, Rose Valland’s* 1961 autobiographical memoir ‘Le front de l’art’, and with an Academy Award-nominated story and screenplay by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis, John Frankenheimer’s 1964 war thriller remains one of the finest, most intelligent and most enthralling films of its era and proves a true revelation courtesy of Twilight Time’s new Limited Edition Blu-ray release.
Released just twenty years after the events that are being depicted, there is a definite immediacy and general sense of authenticity surrounding the piece that many films of a similar ilk tend to lack.
Burt Lancaster heads the cast in true muscular fashion as Paul Labiche, a workaday French railway inspector reluctantly persuaded to join the French Resistance in a dangerous operation to prevent the steel-spined Colonel von Waldheim’s (Paul Scofield) attempts to transport a trainload of plundered French-owned art masterpieces out of Paris and back to Germany in early August 1944, prior to the imminent liberation of Paris by the Allies.
If we look into the historical background however, it becomes clear that the events depicted in the film differ slightly from the truth and are in fact inspired by another incident altogether. Whereas the 1 August, 1944 art shipment depicted in the film was actually held up by a combination of excessive regulation and paperwork, eventually coming to a halt only a mile or so outside of Paris, the real inspiration for the film was drawn from the slightly more interesting events surrounding train No. 40,044, seized just outside Paris in mid-August 1944 by Free French Forces officer Lt. Alexandre Rosenberg, son of the world-renowned Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg, the former owner of many of the stolen paintings.
The film is really something of a masterpiece. Expertly constructed courtesy of Coen, Davis and Frankenheimer, The Train delivers a masterclass in plotting, suspense and intense, enthralling action, but it is the underlying tones of profound emotion and intelligence that provide many of the film’s more effective moments. The character development and increasing animosity between Lancaster and Scofield is superb (perhaps more impressive when we consider that they do not really share a great deal of screen time and that the majority of their relationship is developed in their individual scenes) and it is this combined level of intricate detail and character focus that propel the film to the upper echelons of its genre.
Having previously collaborated on The Young Savages (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Seven Days in May (1964), Burt Lancaster called in director John Frankenheimer having previously fired original director Arthur Penn due to his intimate vision for the film. Penn had wanted to give primary focus to the role art played in Labiche’s life and explore why this man would risk his life to save France’s art from the Nazis, giving little attention to the actual operation of stopping the eponymous engine itself. After the commercial failure and critical panning of Lancaster’s previous film, Luchino Visconti’s now widely celebrated 1963 masterpiece, ‘The Leopard’, Frankenheimer was brought in to ensure a greater sense of commerically-attractive action and suspense was prevalent, and what a decision that proved!
From a technical perspective, it is again quite remarkable. The large-scale set pieces, notably the derailing of trains, air raid bombings and engine collisions, put many of today’s action sequences to shame considering they were achieved practically and feature genuine train wrecks, carefully accomplished with the use of dynamite.
The stark black and white lensing, deep focus photography and highly skilled tracking shots are incredibly well executed by cinematographers Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz (the DP responsible for Max Ophuls’ ‘Le Plaisir’ and later, Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Army of Shadows’) and perfectly round off this immersive and visually arresting gem.
* Rose Valland was art historian at the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, who, working with the French Resistance, secretly recorded details of the Nazi plundering of National French and private Jewish-owned art that had been looted by the Germans from museums and private art collections throughout France and were being sorted for shipment to Germany in World War II.
Following the Liberation of Paris, Valland worked for the ‘Commission de Récupération Artistique’ (Commission for the Recovery of Works of Art), saving many thousands of works of art and receiving the Légion d’honneur in the process. To this day she remains one of the most decorated women in French history.
Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1, Twilight Time’s MPEG-4 AVC encoded, 1080p High Definition transfer is generally quite excellent and proves a significant improvement on the previous, problematic DVD editions of the film.
The grayscale image is stable, clean and beautifully rendered, offering strong levels of contrast, with crisp whites and deep blacks (with no obvious signs of crushing), impressive depth of field (particularly in the numerous external sequences) and superb levels of clarity and sharpness throughout.
There is some age related wear and tear present, mostly in the form of frequent light speckling, however aside from that the source elements appear to be in great shape and what is ultimately offered is a very strong presentation, free from any intrusive digital manipulation, compression and sharpening, leaving a nice layer of authentic grain intact.
The lossless English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix provided for the main feature is surprisingly much stronger and more robust that anticipated. Gunfire, explosions and the frequent sounds of screeching brakes and general train ambience all prove vibrant, full and fairly striking and Maurice Jarre’s unusual score is given an effective presentation.
Overall the track is very clean, with excellent levels of clarity and fidelity and there are no signs of any damage or artefacts to report whatsoever.
Audio Commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor, and Nick Redman
Audio Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer
Isolated Score Track
Original Theatrical Trailer (0:04:23)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (0:02:06)
6-Page Booklet: Featuring Production Stills and Booklet Essay by Julie Kirgo
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