Blu-Ray Review- The Train
Distributor: Twilight Time
Street Date: June 10th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P, Black & White, 1.66:1 Aspect Ratio, 1.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio
Runtime: 133 Minutes
As Nazi Germany’s shadow continued to rise over European countries throughout World War II, Hitler ordered the soldiers of the Third Reich to steal fine art, jewels, gold, and other treasures from world history as “tokens” for their victories. The allied operation to get those treasures back from Germany was recently depicted in George Clooney’s underappreciated The Monuments Men, but John Frankenheimer’s 1964 film The Train masterfully utilized this same historical event for a different kind of motion picture. Based on Rose Valland’s book Le front de l’art, who secretly documented the Nazi’s plundering, The Train is an absolutely thrilling film.
Its German occupied Paris, 1944. Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) admires his beloved stolen paintings from the likes of Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh and more. The museum curator Mademoiselle Villard thanks him for appreciating the art, and not burning it, like the countless books the Nazi’s had destroyed throughout the War. To the Mademoiselle’s surprise, the Colonel reveals that he has ordered the paintings to be packed onto a train and shipped to Germany.
With the allied liberation of Paris only days away, Madam Villard seeks the aid of the French Resistance and French railway inspector Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) to mastermind a plan to stop the train carefully, as the precious cargo cannot be damaged. What follows is over two hours of non-stop thrills, with Labiche in pursuit of the train and the increasingly psychotic and determined Nazi Colonel. I hesitate to say too much more about The Train, as it’s full of surprises, incredible action sequences, and fine performances that I dare not spoil.
The late John Frankenheimer made many memorable action films over the years, from The Manchurian Candidate to Ronin, the man knew how to capture elaborate action sequences that were thrilling to behold. Burt Lancaster turns in a rough and tough performance here, including some incredible stunt work, much of which he performed himself. The story itself moves at such a breakneck pace that you’ll be left wondering how two hours went by so quickly. It was a pleasure to revisit The Train, especially in High Definition, and is an easy recommendation for both the action fan and history buff.
There is nothing quite like seeing the beautiful black and white cinematography of The Train in High Definition, and Twilight Time and MGM have teamed up to provide a transfer that is very pleasing to the eye. There are some light scratches throughout, likely inherent to the original source material, but it’s never distracting. Film grain looks natural and authentic, and fine object detail is surprisingly solid on the military uniforms, facial features, and even the train itself. Presented in its original aspect ratio, there is little doubt that The Train has ever looked better!
The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track included here balances dialogue, the great musical score, and action elements surprisingly well. The range isn’t quite as impressive, but this track handles the myriad of sounds accurately, making for an enjoyable audio presentation.
Twilight Time has provided fans of The Train with some generally solid special features. Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
- Audio Commentary w/Film Historians- Julie Kirgo, Paul Seydor, and Nick Redman provide an entertaining commentary here, digging into the production itself, their feelings on the cast, and the philosophical discussion that Frankenheimer’s film begs from the viewer. I especially enjoyed their discussion during the finale of the film, which brought up the fact that films like The Train were standard cinema entertainment in the 1960’s, with quality films churned out by the studios on such a regular basis. Great stuff!
- Audio Commentary with Director John Frankenheimer- I’m not sure when this was recorded, but it’s great to hear the late Frankenheimer discuss his film. There are somewhat large gaps in commentary at times, where he lets the movie speak for itself, but I especially enjoyed hearing about how they filmed certain sequences.
- Isolated Score Track- Twilight Time presents the score for The Train as an isolated audio track for enthusiasts that want to experience the musical piece all on it’s own.
- Original Theatrical Trailer- The original theatrical trailer runs over four minutes (!) and, like most previews for the era, showcases far too much of the movie itself. Nevertheless, this is a fun vintage trailer, complete with scratches and debris, an intense and cheesy voice-over, and select scenes from this masterpiece of a film.
- MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer- This 2 minute trailer showcases select films from MGM’s wonderful catalog including Rain Man, The Man with No Name Trilogy, The Princess Bride, Dances with Wolves, Skyfall, Platoon, In the Heat of the Night, The Silence of the Lambs, and many more. There is some nice High Definition footage here to showcase how great these titles look on the Blu-Ray format.
- Twilight Time Catalogue- Not necessarily a “bonus feature” per se, but I’ve always dug this helpful tool on Twilight’s past releases. This is presented on the main menu of the disc as a chapter selection to peruse their great Catalog on Screen Archives, and even indicates which titles are now out of print.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, this Blu-Ray release from Twilight Time features some beautiful black and white artwork for the film, which really captures the grand nature of classic cinema, and the studios’ desire to “sell” a film with a truly great poster. This is definitely not the photo-shopped “floating head” piece that most studios commission today. Twilight Time’s “Limited Edition” series print is at the bottom of the front cover design. On the reverse of the packaging you’ll find a short plot synopsis for the film, a list of special features, some review blurbs, and the technical specifications for the Blu-Ray disc.
Inside you’ll find another superb booklet from the distributor, complete with the original theatrical poster artwork, production stills, and a fantastic essay from regular contributor Julie Kirgo. Julie not only touches on the brilliance that is The Train, but also discusses everything from production history to Lancaster’s incredible physicality in his role. The Blu-Ray disc features the same cover design as the case itself.
The Train is the perfect example of good old-fashioned entertainment that is full of surprises, fine performances, and elaborate action sequences. It’s an easy recommendation for the action fan and history buff alike. The black and white cinematography looks exquisite in High Definition, and the audio track is surprisingly well balanced. Twilight Time has included some fun special features here, including two commentaries that are well worth listening to. The Train comes recommended.
Pete Macabre (“Film Fan” Pete)
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