The Train (Arrow Films Blu-ray Review)

Preface: If you haven't heard of ARROW FILMS, think of them as the English counterpart to North America's Criterion Collection mixed with Shout Factory. Most of Arrow's catalogue is Region B, which means if you're in the US, your standard Blu-ray player won't play them. You'll need a region-free player, which can be found for under $200. It's worth it. I've expanded my collection and viewing opportunities by being able to get any film on Blu from around the world.

John Frankenheimer's THE TRAIN starring Burt Lancaster hits Blu-ray courtesy of Arrow Films (Note: it's a Region B disc).

THE FILM

Here's Arrow's official synopsis:

Synopsis: ONE MAN’S IMPOSSIBLE MISSION – TO SAVE HIS COUNTRY’S PRICELESS TREASURES

Directed by John Frankenheimer at the peak of his powers, The Train was made during a tremendous run of top-class pictures that also included Birdman of Alcatraz, Seven Days in May and The Manchurian Candidate, with Seconds soon to follow.

France, 1944. Art lover and fanatical Nazi Colonel Von Waldheim has plundered a Paris museum for its masterpieces, including works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Cezanne. His intention is to have them transported by rail to Berlin, but one man stands in his way. Aware that the Allied forces are fast approaching the French capital, Resistance fighter Labiche need only stall the train for a few more days, but he’ll have to use all of his wits and skills to do so.

Featuring two Oscar-winners in its lead roles – Burt Lancaster as Labiche and Paul Scofield as Von Waldheim – and Jeanne Moreau and Michel Simon in support, The Train combines star power with spectacular action sequences to produce a classic war movie.

Instead of a more traditional review I thought it'd be fun to do a running commentary for this. I jotted down my thoughts as the film played. It was my first time viewing so for the most part I paid attention unless I really needed to get a thought down.

There will be minor spoilers:

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Silence in the opening  minutes. Draws me into the German soldier.

An action/thriller film starting with people talking about art? Only in the classic days. Love it.

Love the font of the opening credits. Can't wait to see Burt. Haven't seen him in a film for a few months. Jeane Morreau is in this?? Yes!

Frankenheimer's deep-focus composition and camera movement are hypnotic.

The plot is about protecting art. France's National pride.  Man, I love this.

Love how they have set up that Lancaster's character (Labiche) values his men's lives over art. Setting up his belief system.

"I'm too old to be careful" - great line by the engineer character (Papa Boule)

The composition is masterful when we see the shot--reverse shot of the engineer being lined up for execution.

Humor always breaks the tension. Such an effective tool to make me like a character. Labiche "you gonna tuck me in as well?" (when being closely watched by the Germans)

Awesome cut of the door closing to the station agent being struck in the face.

Love how Jeanne is being sucked into the story now as an unwilling participant at first. Now she's warming up to Burt. Interesting....of course, they're interrupted just as they're starting to connect. Great storytelling

Ok the train whistle is starting to get on my nerves.

That old lady who closed the gate and stepped aside for the train was dangerously close. Didn't seem like a stunt woman. Wow.

Authentic train derailing. Frankenheimer and collisions pre-CGI world. Love it

Burt did his own stunts. Falling on that bridge looked badass.

Damn stakes are high. All the French Resistance people are being killed.

Love this dialogue exchange:                                                                                       "No one will be hurt.."                                                                                                   "No one's ever hurt. Just dead."

Lancaster's performance is on fire when he's told England simply wants to paint the train to mark it. Damn he was good.

Such a physically demanding role for Lancaster. When he lays the explosives on the tracks and runs. He sells it. When he slides down that rocky hillside -- jesus!

Paul Scofield as Colonel Von Waldheim is electric. His obsession. His defeat. Can't take my eyes off him.

Here it comes. Mano a mano. The final face off.  Great fucking shot of Lancaster's feet walking alongside the train. HIs determination. Its no different than the Colonel's.

Incredible final shot. That's how you end movies. No epilogue or tagged on ending needed. The story's done. And scene.

VIDEO/AUDIO
Region: B
Rating: PG
Cat No: FCD1103
Duration: 133 mins
Language: English
Subtitles: English SDH
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Audio: 1.0 Mono
Discs: 1
Black & White

The picture quality is simply gorgeous. Seems like natural grain throughout. Image is crisp. The film looks brand new. Sound had no issues on my 5.1 system.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the film
  • Uncompressed 1.0 mono PCM audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
  • Optional isolated score by Maurice Jarre
  • Burt Lancaster in the Sixties – a newly-filmed interview with Lancaster’s biographer Kate Buford, tracing the actor’s career throughout the decade - I love Lancaster so this is a total treat and the star of the bonus features. It's over 30 mins long and you learn a ton about his career aspirations and his power in Hollywood.
  • French television news report on the making of The Train, containing interviews with the locals of Acquigny
  • Archive interview with Michel Simon
  • Footage of The Train’s gala screening in Marseilles
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vladimir Zimakov
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Sheldon Hall, illustrated with original stills and artwork

BOTTOM LINE

I'd never gotten around to seeing THE TRAIN even though Lancaster is one of my favorite actors and I highly respect John Frankenheimer's work.

This film was amazing. It totally feels that it's the grandfather to the story formula of many action films that followed. It's tense. Its performances and stunts are phenomenal. I'd definitely add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.

 

SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Criterion Blu-ray Review)

SULLIVAN TRAVELS (written and directed by Preston Sturges) is the latest release from Criterion (#118). It was great to revisit this 1941 comedy/drama...maybe it's even one of the first American dramedies?

I haven't seen it since Criterion first released the film on DVD in 2001. I picked up the film to watch one of my screen crushes, Veronica Lake. It was not the screwball comedy that I was expecting.

I'd never seen anything like it before and wasn't sure how I felt about it. If anything I found SULLIVAN’s TRAVELS rather odd. Revisiting it 14 years later, the film is much more profound than I remembered.

THE FILM

Here's Criterion's official synopsis:

Tired of churning out lightweight comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to make O Brother, Where Art Thou?—a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. After his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, Sullivan hits the road disguised as a hobo. En route to enlightenment, he encounters a lovely but no-nonsense young woman (Veronica Lake)—and more trouble than he ever dreamed of. This comic masterpiece by Preston Sturges is among the finest Hollywood satires and a high-water mark in the career of one of the industry’s most revered funnymen.

This is one smart script, full of witty, snappy dialogue. It's full of memorable moments. I really love a hilarious car chase scene where Sullivan tries to outrun a press entourage by taking a ride in a sports car.

Driven by a 13-yr old.

It's as silly as it sounds.

Another brilliant moment sees Sullivan taken in by a love-starved Good Samaritan. The scene would be deleted if the film were remade today because it's quite a detour from the main story. But it stands out in a good way.

On a technical note....it was intriguing to watch the way Sturges and his DP (John F. Seitz) deal with the fact that Veronica Lake was pregnant during the filming. They do some ingenious framing and blocking to avoid showing her baby bump.

Also, the decision to shoot much of the film on location vs. a sound stage really helps lend a whole sense of realism to the movie (good call gents!).

And be sure to look out for their 4-minute oner. It's a joy to watch, knowing the filmmakers did it on a bet (allegedly) as well as to make it harder for studios to make cuts to the film.

The tone of the film is a bit uneven and unexpected for a film from this era. I was taken aback, particularly by its darker second half which seems to come out of nowhere. Revisiting it now the first half of the film is actually a bit clunkier to me, particularly its slapstick gags. McCrea is no Cary Grant.

I think the sudden shift from the comedic to dramatic tone is now actually what I love most about SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. It's unpredictability in story and theme is a welcome surprise.

As I viewed it, I couldn't help but wonder how SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS would be updated for a modern audience. Not that I'd want to remake the film, but it's an interesting exercise to think about how the story would unfold with its lead characters in today's world.

Movies at that time couldn’t be overtly sexual. Watch Veronica Lake get around the censors by playing with her hairbrush during the swimming pool scene. Or is that just me?

Nowadays, would there be more sexual tension and gratification with their relationship treated out in the open? Would they actually kiss? And how brutal and authentic would the homeless sequences play out in the darker half of the movie?

The more I think about it, Sturges was a clever filmmaker to get away with what he does for 1941. Bravo Mr. Sturges. Bravo.

VIDEO/AUDIO

  • Black and White
  • 1.37:1
  • English
  • New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray

It looks and sounds beautiful on Blu-ray. Criterion always does it right.

BONUS FEATURES

  • Audio commentary from 2001 by filmmakers Noah Baumbach, Kenneth Bowser, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean - This was pretty insightful in how each person explores the themes of the film and anecdotes surround the production. It was also interesting to see how the film relates to them. Thankfully, no one spends much time simply narrating what's happening on screen.
  • Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (1990), a seventy-five-minute documentary made by Bowser for PBS’s American Masters series - A thoroughly and fascinating exploration about Sturges' rocky career. It sounded like a dream to me until I learned what ultimately happened to him.
  • New video essay by film critic David Cairns, featuring filmmaker Bill Forsyth - This one was fairly interesting. It used too many straight clips without any VO/narration over it so it felt like bit overlong.
  • Interview with Sandy Sturges, the director’s widow, from 2001 - A quick interview. Pretty candid. More sad than anything knowing she's passed away.
  • Interview with Sturges by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper from 1951 - a fun 4-minute interview (I believe in front of a live-audience). Sounds a bit staged, but cool to hear him talk.
  • Archival audio recordings of Sturges - Nothing earth shattering. Probably of interest to die-hard Sturges fans (which I'm not).
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Stuart Klawans

 

BOTTOM LINE

A classic film that explores more serious subject matter than expected. Veronica Lake is lovely. The Criterion treatment helped educate me more about this production which I value.

Add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.







LOVELY Poster Art (Stuff We Never Ended Up Using)

Back in 2010, when deciding on how to market and get the appropriate tone for the surreal, dreamlike world of WHAT'S UP LOVELY, my talented brother (Mike King) and I were put to task on playing around with various images.

I found these as I was organizing some files and thought it'd be pretty fun to share versions that never saw the light of day.

Here are some versions that I designed.

 

Here's the teaser poster that we did prior to filming. A talented photographer friend Nicole Marie Polec went out with the lead actress Jenn Dees and me and shot around the Lower East Side. It's still one of my favorite posters for any of my films.

Here's the theatrical poster.


 

Influenced by a Quiet Master: (Bergman and Me)

I'm a huge Bergman fan. Growing up, I never knew who he was or saw any of his films. I think the only time in my childhood I heard the name "Ingmar Bergman" brought up was when Siskel and Ebert mentioned FANNY AND ALEXANDER being one of their favorite films of 1982.

As an adult, I've discovered some of his films have made a huge impact on me in terms of character (usually led by strong female protagonists), theme and gravitas, not to mention some very visually stunning work. In fact, CRIES AND WHISPERS might be one of the most terrifying films I've seen in the past 10 years.

Not that anyone would notice, but he has definitely influenced me in my filmmaking, especially for WHAT'S UP LOVELY and an upcoming film in the works.

Here's an amazing video essay showing the influence of PERSONA on a myriad of other filmmakers' works.


De Palma's Vision

It’s no secret I love De Palma. He's one of my favorite filmmakers and is such a genius with his visual style. I finally got to play with split diopter shots in my latest film UNNERVED,  which are mainly influenced by De Palma & other 70s films.

Here's an interview with him during his press junket for THE UNTOUCHABLES. He drops the fact that both Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson were also in the running for the role of 'Elliot Ness', ultimately played by Kevin Costner.

Here's a shot by shot analysis of the famous train step sequence from THE UNTOUCHABLES.

Vashi Visuals (@vashikoo) explains the split diopter shot and shows us how they're used so effectively in BLOW OUT.

A great montage on how he loves to use the overhead shot.

 

 

 

My Favorites: SISTERS; BLOW OUT; DRESSED TO KILL; CARLITO'S WAY; THE UNTOUCHABLES; MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE

Guilty pleasures : BODY DOUBLE; SNAKE EYES; FEMME FATALE; SCARFACE

The best thing I love about his films is that they are spectacularly amazing -- or spectacularly awful. But he doesn't stop. Success or fail, he keeps going.

Rumblings from the Mancave: UNNERVED update

I love seeing this photo. Our UNNERVED editor Jamie Cobb has been working her ass off shaping this film to where it is now. To see her be able to sit back and take it all in makes me smile. She's doing some amazing things with this cut that I would've never done myself, which is a great thing. Certain scenes I shot have been cut in ways I didn't expect, and that's exciting. That's an editor. I wonder if she'll start letting me call her my Thelma.