Welcome to today’s show, my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follows the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
I think it was William Faulkner speaking on “As I Lay Dying” said you setup a task for people to do and put obstacles in their way. I am going to embark on a series of films where the people are trying to go somewhere or get somethings done and there are obstacles in the way.
The first of these movies is The Train (1964) where a group of Nazis are trying to move a train of stolen art from Paris and are opposed by the French Resistance. Ranked No. 1 in Trains Magazine’s special issue, “The 100 Greatest Train Movies.”
Before I go any further, I wanted to let you know that I will be murdering the French language from here on out. Sorry about that. If you write me an email complaining I will read it with a fake Nazi accent.
Paul Scofield played the role of Nazi and French art thief Col. Von Waldheim. Scofield was born in England in 1922. He began training for theater in 1939 at the age of 17. When World War II broke out he was ruled to be physically unfit for military service. He entertained troops during the war. By 1946, he was on the way to becoming a great Shakespearian actor.
Scofield was only in about 30 movies but his talent just leaps off the screen. His first role, for which he received great praise was That Lady (1955) where he played King Philip II of Spain with Oliva DeHaviland.
Of course, Scofield was so convincing in The Train (1964) as Nazi Col. von Waldheim that he could pass for a German. In A Man for All Seasons (1966), as Sir Thomas More, Scofield shows the range from pride, to fear, humility, and redemption. During this role, he is taken from counselor to the king, outcast, heretic, convict, and condemned. However, his poise always shown through. It is, in my opinion, his greatest role. Scofield was great in Scorpio (1973) pairing again with Burt Lancaster in this spy thriller.
Scofield paired with younger Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branaugh in the wonderful Henry V (1989) in a small part as Charles VI of France. He played the ghost in Hamlet (1990) along with substandard actor Mel Gibson. In Quiz Show (1994) Scofield played the role of Mark Van Doren, the academic and father of the man caught at the heart of the quiz show “Twenty One” scandal. Then he turned in a masterful role as Judge Thomas Danforth during the Salem Witch Trials in The Crucible (1996). Of course, this story is an anti-McCarthy tale.
A private man, he accepted a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), but he refused knighthood three times. He died in 2008 at the age of 86.
Jeanne Moreau played the role Christine, a hotel proprietor that helped the resistance. Moreau was born in Paris in 1928. She began in the theater in 1947 and began taking movie roles in 1949. Moreau is one of the most popular actresses in France. She has worked with all of the major international directors. The great Roger Ebert thought she was one of the greatest actresses of his generation. I found this quote from iMDB.com to be very accurate: “This lack of artifice revealed Moreau’s “essential qualities: she could be almost ugly and then ten seconds later she would turn her face and would be incredibly attractive. But she would be herself”.” She is still active and had turned to directing.
Suzanne Flon played the role of Mademoiselle Villard. Mademoiselle Villard inventoried the art at the Nazi distribution point. This character and the Claire Simone (Kate Blanchett) in The Monuments Men (2014) are based on the life of Rose Antonia Maria Valland. Valland was born in France in 1898.
She graduated from a teachers college in 1918 and planned on being an art teacher. She continued her graduate level education until 1932 when she became a volunteer assistant curator at the Jeu de Paume Museum. In 1941, following the Nazi occupation of Paris, she was paid and placed in charge of the museum. The Nazi began to loot the treasures of occupied Europe. The museum where Valland worked was selected as the distribution point for these works of art. Valland never let the Nazi know she spoke German as she secretly recorded the stolen artwork and its destination. She recorded over 20,000 pieces of art. Valland regularly informed the Director of the National Museum of the status of the thief and let the French Resistance know which trains were carrying art so they would not be destroyed.
On August 1, 1944, almost three weeks before the liberation of Paris, Valland found out that five box cars of modern art was being shipped out by the Nazis. She notified the French Resistance and they kept the train from leaving Paris. Later the train was recovered by the French Army.
Following the war, Rose Valland worked for the Commission for the Recovery of Works of Art and was made the chair in 1954. She wrote her memoire in 1961 and retired in 1968.
For her work, Rose Valland became one of the most decorated women in French history and she was awarded the Légion d’honneur, the Médaille de la Résistance, the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Medal of Freedom the United States. Rose Valland died in 1980 at the age of 81.
Now back to the actress that played this short but important part. Suzanne Flon. Flon slowly became active in theater and had her first role in Captain Blomet (1947). This lead to an almost 5-decade career that included such films as: Moulin Rouge (1952), Confidential Report (1955), The Trial (1962), Thou Shalt Not Kill (1961), The Train (1964), and One Deadly Summer (1983). Flown remained active on stage, in film, and on television until her death at 87 in 2005.
Michel Simon played the role of French train engineer Papa Boule. He had a large face and nose and his face was partially paralyzed in the 1950s in a makeup accident. This and his age really gave him a devil-may-care look in this role.
Simon was the son of a sausage-maker. He was drafted into the Swiss Army at the beginning of World War I. He was discharged because of tuberculosis and a generally bad attitude. He worked as a handyman, a boxer, photographer, and right-Wing anarchist. At last, he became a stage actor and moved to Paris in 1923. His first film was in 1925. With the coming of sound films, Simon became one of the best-known character actors in France. Simon slowed his work after the makeup accident in the 1950s but he continued to work until his death in 1975.
Wolfgang Preiss played a subordinate German officer Herren who was the conscience of German Col. Von Waldheim. Preiss was born in Nuremberg, German in 1910. He studied philosophy, dance, and theater science. He had his first stage role in 1932, which it would seem to me, to put him on a collision course with the Nazis. However, it did not seem to be so. He was exempt from military service and made his first film in 1942. Following the war, he worked in German films until he was noticed by the international community. In an odd irony, he like other German actors of his age band was continually cast in films as German/Nazi officers. Some of the films include: The Longest Day (1962), The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), The Cardinal (1963), The Train (1964), Von Ryan’s Express (1965), Is Paris Buring? (1966), Anzio (1968), Raid on Rommel (1971), and A Bridge Too Far (1977). He was also in two American mini-series, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” in the 1980s. He stopped acting in the late 1990s and died at the age of 92 following a fall.
Nick Dimitri from Episode 17 – Hard Times (1975) played a German Soldier but was uncredited.
The movie begins in August 1994. The Nazis have occupied Paris for over 1100 days. Nazi Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) is in the Jeu de Paume museum admiring the paintings of the modern masters such as Picasso, Gaugin, and Renoir. Museum curator Mademoiselle Villard (Suzanne Flon) turns on the lights and admires the works with Nazi. After a bit of banter, she thanks him for saving the paintings. He asks if she feels comfortable saying thank you now that the allies are days away from liberating Paris. He then announces that the paintings are being removed and sent to Germany. His Nazi henchmen go to work creating the art and the von Waldheim orders the art to be at the train depot in the morning.
In the morning when von Waldheim arrives at the depot the crates are not loaded and there is not a train waiting. He goes to see the French Railroad Manager Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster). Labiche curtly explains that he did not cancel the train, the German Army did. All priority was being given to an armament train. Von Waldheim goes to the HQ of General Von Lubitz (Richard Munch). There is almost a sense of panic as the soldiers pack, burn papers, and rush about with orders. Von Lubitz is only concerned with the evaluation of the German Army before they are cutoff. Von Lubitz thinks the art von Waldheim is degenerate like jazz and the other stuff Nazis didn’t like. Von Waldheim makes the case that art is worth enough to equip 10 Panzer divisions. Von Lubitz authorizes the train but with the proviso that if military needs change the authorization will be rescinded.
Labiche walks across the Nazi-filled rail yard to a river barge that is docked nearby. In the barge are Spinet (Paul Bonifas) the area leader of the French Resistance, the remaining two members of Labiche’s unit: Didont (Albert Rémy) and Pesquet (Charles Millot), and Mademoiselle Villard. Spinet explains about the art train. Labiche says he will not waste lives for art and has already lost 15 men. He says he can blow it up. After some back and forth Mademoiselle Villard thanks them for the work they are doing and accept their decision. Didont and Pesquet are much more sympathetic and want to help.
Spinet explains that they want the armament train delayed in the rail yard at Vaires so it will be caught in the planned 10:00am planned Allied air raid. Labiche believes he can make the delay happen.
Pesquet is assigned to the armament train. Because there is a shortage of engineers, Labiche assigns his elderly mentor Papa Boule (Michel Simon) to drive the art train. Boule is sitting in the rail yard café stating his disappointment at not being given a more important job. When he is told that he is taking modern art he thinks lovingly of a girl he once knew that modeled for Renoir. Muttering about the glory of France Boule ask for his change in franc coins.
In the morning the armament train, driven by Pesquet leaves the yard. Von Waldheim gets a call from Von Lubitz rescinding his authorization. Von Waldheim says the train has already left. After the lie, they order the train to leave immediately.
In Vaires, Pesquet steams a group of German soldiers and causes a slight delay. Labiche is in the switching tower under the supervision of a German officer. They have to switch to an armored engine for the armament train which will require Labiche to throw several switches. At the critical moment, one of the switches won’t move. They have placed the German officer’s pipe under the switch so they can’t be blamed.
German Major Herren (Wolfgang Preiss), calls the switching yard about the delays but it is too late the air raid begins with the armament train sitting in the yard. The armament train is destroyed. Papa Boule seeing the air raid takes the art train through the yard at full speed. Labiche (with Lancaster doing his own stunts) slides down the ladder from the switching station, jumps on the moving train, and is kicked to the ground by Papa Boule.
The air raid was filmed at Gargenville yard. More than 50 people worked for six weeks setting the charges that all blew in under one minute. This was allowed because the French National Railway wanted to modernize the yard but lacked funding until the film was made.
At Rive-Reine the main rod bearings on Boule’s train are smoking. Boule opens the oil valves and removes the francs he used to block oil flow. He must take the engine back to Vaires. German Major Herren finds the oiled and dented francs in Boule’s pocket. Although Labiche pleads for Boule’s life and promises to repair the train personally. Labiche almost has von Waldheim convinced when Boule speaks up and calls Labiche a traitor. The Nazi’s shoot Boule on the spot. This to me is the first place where Labiche moves towards – it’s not about the art – it’s about opposing Nazis, simply because they are Nazis.
Von Waldheim orders Labiche to repair the train. In the morning, Labiche, Pesquet, and Didont prepare to take the engine back to the train. They tell Labiche that they want to stop the train and the Papa Boule would want it that way also. They explain that they have a plan and everyone is onboard except Metz which has to hear it from Labiche. He refuses.
They are ordered to take the engine out in the daytime and are attacked by a single British Spitfire. Labiche speeds the train into a tunnel to save it. He tells the two he will call Metz.
When the train and the engine are reunited at Rive-Reine, von Waldheim sends Pesquet back and makes Labiche the engineer. The train is scheduled to leave at 7pm so they take Labiche to a hotel. The hotel is run by Widow Christine (Jeanne Moreau). Labiche has to get out of his room so he can make the call. Pesquet sets a German truck of fire and in the confusion, Labiche goes to the Stationmasters office where he kills a German guard and ties up the stationmaster Jacques (Jacques Marin) so he will seem innocence. Jacques is beaten by the Nazis until he gives a fake id of the attacker. Finally, the Germans think to check on Labiche. Labiche gets there just before the Germans and goes to the kitchen. Christine says he has been in the hotel the whole time but gives him the business about risking her life.
That night Labiche and Didont start driving the train towards Germany. Each time they pass a station, German officers in the back of the train cross off the town name on a map. Sgt. Schmidt (Jean Bouchaud) is assigned to ride in the engine. When they get to Metz, apparent bomb damage forces them to turn southward. At each town fake signs are put up making the Germans think they are going in the right direction. At the French town of Commercy the Germans call to inform von Waldheim that they have reached St. Avold, the last French town before Germany. In reality, they have been moving west and are almost back at Rive-Reine.
Jacques has an engineer come in too fast through the yard and his train derails. As the art train nears town another train pulls in behind it from a side track. The following train is driven by Pesquet. They shove Schmdit off the moving train and decouple the engine. They set the engine at full speed and jump. The Germans miss Didont but shoot Labiche in the leg.
During a day off from filming, Burt Lancaster hurt his knee while playing golf. They had him shot in the film to explain his limp.
The art train engine smashes into the derailed train making a bigger mess. The rolling art cars come in and hit the back of the mess and then they are hit by Pesquet’s train traveling at high speed. There were no models used in this movie so all of the train wrecks are real. In one wreck, three of five cameras were destroyed.
When Pesquet runs away he is shot by the Germans. Jacques, the station manager, and some others are executed. Labiche makes it back to Christine’s hotel and hides in her cellar.
German Maj. Herren oversees the clean-up of the wrecked trains. That night Labiche, Didont, Spinet, and Jacques nephew Robert meet at a farmhouse. Spinet tells them that London wants the roof of the first three cars painted white so they will not be done. Robert says he can get the paint and help.
In the dark Robert sets off the air raid signal and all the Germans except von Waldheim take shelter. A group of men scramble to the train and begin painting. Von Waldheim sees Robert on the roof and turns the lights on. He shoots Robbert. Didont is shot trying to spread the last of the paint.
In the morning, works are scrubbing the paint off when an air raid occurs. In the distance, the Nazis can hear artillery as the Allies drew nearer. When the planes pass over the painted train, von Waldheim realizes the train is protected and can be moved in daylight.
To the east of town, Labiche sets plastic explosive on the railroad track. As the train nears he sees that there are French hostages on the engine. He ignites the explosive early and the train is able to stop without derailing. Von Waldheim wants to have his soldiers search the woods for Labiche. Herren convinces him to just guard the tracks to keep Labiche away. The wounded Labiche struggles to get ahead of the Germans advancing down the track. He finally does get far enough ahead and removes screws from the track support.
When the train gets going again Herren does not see the missing bolts in time and the train truly derails. Maj. Herren tells von Waldheim that it cannot be repaired with the equipment they have.
A German truck convoy comes down the road and von Waldheim stops it and has the men unload so the art can be put on the trucks. The major in charge of the convoy puts the men on and Maj. Herren tells von Waldheim he has lost. The Germans from the train jump on the truck but not before taking the time to murder the hostages.
Von Waldheim stays alone by the train. After the convoy is gone Labiche comes out of hiding and shuts the train down. He then sees the murdered French bodies. When he climbs off the train he is facing von Waldheim. The Nazi claims such great art will always belong to people who can appreciate it. Labiche looks to the dead hostages and shoots him down with a machine gun. This is where I believe Labiche realizes – Nazis must be exterminated like the vermin they are.
As Labiche walks away, the crates of art are juxtaposed with the bodies of the dead hostages.
The film ends. Burt Lancaster only spoke twice in the last 33 minutes of the movie and did not speak once 27 minutes remained. It was originally planned that the two would have a shootout but the director decided von Waldheim would commit suicide by taunting.
During World War II the real art train was simply routed to circle around Paris until the Allies arrived.
World-Famous Short Summary – Train moves through Indian territory
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Beware the moors