I am a little late to this party. This forum keeps me busy. Often I am
reviewing products or forced to watch movies that I may not particularly
have picked to view, but am forced to when a studio sends me something
In other words, it's rare that I get the opportunity to watch a film that
I really want to see.
Today, I took that opportunity. I started my morning watching Witness
for the Prosecution for the very first time. I followed that viewing up with
The Train. Again, a film I never saw before and for which I am experiencing
for the first time on Blu-ray.
If you could see me now, sitting in front of my desktop computer as I type
this, you would notice a huge smile on my face. I have discovered some
truly extraordinary films today -- and I am a bit embarrassed that it has taken
me so long to see these classics.
There's a scene early on in The Train where where the character of Papa
Boule is told "...in matters of culture you are sadly deficient." I can relate
to that as far as my knowledge of classic film.
I have told this story before....growing up, many of the classic films I watched
were those that I happened to catch on television via the NYC Channel 7 4:30 movie.
The stuff I watched was mostly popular science fiction or comedy -- or whatever my
teenage short attention span could tolerate. In my early 20s, while working at a local
video store, I attempted to expand my knowledge of classic film by watching old movies
on VHS, but ultimately I was turned off by the poor quality of the video itself. It wasn't
until DVD and Blu-ray, where studios took a sincere interest in provided immaculate
presentations of their product in proper aspect ratio, that I found a renewed interest in
discovering these films.
...which brings me back to The Train...
What an utterly remarkable film and presentation this is from the folks at Twilight Time.
First and foremost, the film is just fantastic. I am already a huge Burt Lancaster fan from
watching movies like Twilight's Last Gleaming and From Here To Eternity. To see Burt in this
film is a pleasure in itself.
The other thing that really struck a chord with me is the fact that this is based on a true
story. As I watched the first few minutes of The Train as Von Waldheim (spectacularly
played by Paul Scofield) talks with the museum curator about taking the museum artwork,
I felt as if I had seen this all before. Then I remembered the film Monument Men. It's basically
the same story. Thing is, I hated Monument Men. I bought it and turned it off after an hour
because it felt so bland. Watching The Train, I found a sense of excitement and wonderment
about the actual historic events the film portrays -- something which is totally lacking in
I admit I know nothing about the events surrounding the attempts to stop the Nazis from
stealing priceless paintings from the French at the end of WWII. I am very happy that films
have been made to shed light on these events. That being said, I don't know how closely
The Train sticks to the facts, but I was simply won over by its story of how the French Resistance
were able to take a German bound train and return it full-circle back to France by changing
the station names. As far-fetched as it sounds, I think the film presented enough believability
with everything else that it made such an act seem plausible.
....and who knows...maybe some of what is depicted actually happened. I'd like to know.
One of the things I really cherish about owning this release is the audio commentary with
Film Historians Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. Now, I don't particularly like to
name drop, but I have met Nick and Julie and spent a carefree afternoon with them. They
are both wonderful people. Julie Kirgo seems like salt of the earth. I had absolutely no
idea that they were both film historians. And, I'm sorry to say, I only had the opportunity to
listen to portions of the commentary because I had no time to watch this film twice. I really
want to revisit this film just for the commentary, because I was very excited about Nick and
Julie being part of this. As I jumped through a few choice scenes, I was astounded by how
much knowledge was being shared by the three commentators. One of the things that was
brought out several times was how genuine a film like The Train is, compared to films of today.
I agree with Julie Kirgo when she says that no matter how good CGI is, it takes her totally out
of the film. I have that problem all the time. Today's films are no longer believable. It's one
of the reasons why I choose to watch more classic films than new ones. Ask me what is playing
in the theater and I generally won't know.
It was also very interesting to listen to Julie, Paul and Nick talk about Lancaster doing most of
his own stunt work and the fact that he was a circus acrobatic before becoming an actor. Part
of the reason you believe a film like The Train, is because the bodily damage that Lancaster endures
is something that is humanly possible -- unlike in today's films where characters jump out of a
10-story window and somehow survive the fall. There's something remarkable about watching
The Train for the fact that it's this huge action film that is done with real trains (as opposed to
miniatures), real explosions, and stunt work completely absent of green screen support. As our
commentators remind us, this was an era of filmmaking that didn't depend on huge spectacle
endings to make its story complete.
I suppose what I am trying to say here is that if I took anything away from watching The Train is
that I really despise the manner in which films are made today. Furthermore, there just aren't many
real actors anymore that can live up to the likes of Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield.
The transfer is fantastic. I was fooled for a moment by the MGM logo thinking that the film might
be in color, but I am never disappointed by a beautiful black and white presentation. In fact, I don't
think this film would have worked nearly as well if shot in color.
I am really beginning to have the same appreciation for films like The Train as the museum curator
had about the artwork the Germans were about to take. These films are obviously artwork that need
to be protected and preserved so people like myself can continue to discover and enjoy them. I am
so happy that distributors like Twilight Time and Kino are getting a lot of these smaller films out on
Blu-ray. I also understand the anger from fans when presentations are sometimes less than perfect
(which is certainly not the case here).
I think The Train stands as one of Twilight Time's most ambitious releases and it certainly is one of
the most prized films in my collection.