By Chaz Lipp
Though its limited release of 3,000 copies has already sold out, it’s well worth tracking down Twilight Time’s recent Blu-ray release of The Train. John Frankenheimer’s 1964 World War II classic isn’t nearly as well-regarded as it deserves to be. If you saw, or were at least aware of, the recent George Clooney film The Monuments Men, you already have some inkling of what The Train is about. On the eve of Paris’ liberation by Allied forces, the Nazis are trying to transport priceless works of stolen fine art out of a French museum. German Colonel Franz von Walheim cherishes these works and aims to secure their permanent residence in Germany. Led by trainman Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster), members of the French Resistence must work to pull the wool over the Nazis eyes in order to keep the art right where it is.
Though its running time of 133 minutes might suggest unnecessary padding, Frankenheimer keeps the gears of the plot moving forward as Labiche and company concoct a complex plan to keep the train out of Germany. The staging of the action was decades ahead of its time, with daring stunts (Lancaster’s self-executed stunt work must be seen to believe; no modern production would insure their star to do such dangerous stuff) and hard-hitting explosions. Full-scale, fully-operating vintage locomotives were utilized, and the wrecks are real and spectacular. As Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo points out on the newly-recorded commentary track, this is an action film with brains and brawn. The story is based in truth and the Oscar-nominated screenplay doesn’t skimp on character moments in the midst of the bombings.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray offers a clear, detailed image (framed at 1.66:1) that does the dual cinematographers’ (Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz) work full justice. So stunning is the imagery, with daringly long tracking shots and cameras that shudder from perilously close bomb blasts, that only a great high definition presentation would be acceptable. Aside from a few brief instances of visible print flaws and a touch of registration issues with a couple individual shots, this is the transfer that was required. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono soundtrack is simple but effective, with no fidelity issues.
Special features include a recycled audio commentary by the late director John Frankenheimer (who took over from fired original director Arthur Penn). New to this edition is an impassioned commentary track by Twilight Time’s in-house historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, along with longtime film editor Paul Seydor. Maurice Jarre’s score is available as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. There’s also a trailer and a new essay in the booklet by Kirgo.
The Train is a rough and tumble action film that transcends the limitations of its era. No CGI spectacle of the modern age can touch the practical stunts, derailments, and explosions seen here. But again, there’s a catch: you’ll have to search the collector’s market for a copy of Twilight Time’s sold out edition. Only 3,000 copies were issued and they were snatched up quickly. Visit Screen Archives for information about other Twilight Time Limited Edition releases.