review

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.

 

Make Way For Tomorrow (Criterion Blu-ray Review)

MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (directed by Leo McCarey) is the latest release from Criterion (#505). After viewing this film I could only think of one word over and over that describes it best.

Devastating.

I couldn't believe that a film from 1937 is still current and so relatable.

THE FILM

Here's Criterion's official synopsis:

Make Way for Tomorrow, by Leo McCarey, is one of the great unsung Hollywood masterpieces, an enormously moving Depression-era depiction of the frustrations of family, aging, and the generation gap. Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore headline a cast of incomparable character actors, starring as an elderly couple who must move in with their grown children after the bank takes their home, yet end up separated and subject to their offspring’s selfish whims. An inspiration for Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this is among American cinema’s purest tearjerkers, all the way to its unflinching ending, which McCarey refused to change despite studio pressure.

Thankfully my folks aren't at the age where I may have to deal with something similar. However, I'm even getting older now where these thoughts do cross my mind.

McCarey achieves some very masterful sequences. Particular of note is a sequence featuring a "private" phone conversation that is overheard by party guests. It first starts out as what seems to be a comedic scene, however by the end there is a emotional resonance to it that is totally unexpected. And this is what happens throughout the film.

Upon watching the Criterion special features, I discovered the two leads playing the elderly parents (Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore) played about 20 years older than they really were. I was fooled. 

Performances all around are strong (though some can be a bit dated by the time). Again, it may very well be that the subject matter is close to me now so I really felt everyone's pathos. Some characters are selfish, others are not. And they're all behaviors I could relate to.

The ending of the film (don't worry I won't spoil it) was not a total tearjerker as described. I wasn't bawling. However I did sit there in silence for a good five minutes. Contemplating life...and death.

This is a mark of a good movie. Leaving you sitting there after the credits.

Thinking.

VIDEO/AUDIO

  • United States
  • 1937
  • 92 minutes
  • Black and White
  • 1.33:1
  • English

I'm sure Criterion took the utmost care in its HD restoration. However the image looks a bit grainy to me. It was distracting, but they definitely were noticeable. Sound was perfect.

BONUS FEATURES

  • High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Tomorrow, Yesterday, and Today, a 2009 interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about the career of director Leo McCarey and Make Way for Tomorrow - this was a great, insightful treat on the filmmaker's career
  • Interview from 2009 with critic Gary Giddins about McCarey’s artistry and the political and social context of the film - another wonderful interview recalling McCarey's career. Well worth a watch
  • PLUS: A booklet feauring essays by critic Tag Gallagher and filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier, as well as an excerpt from film scholar Robin Wood’s 1998 piece “Leo McCarey and ‘Family Values’

BOTTOM LINE

I'd never heard of this film prior to Criterion's release. And I didn't even know Leo McCarey directed some of the more well-known classics (AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, THE AWFUL TRUTH, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY'S) that I'd grown up with. So this film was definitely a pleasant surprise for not only its relevant subject matter, but also for its brave ending that was definitely unorthodox for its time.

If you enjoy classics centered around family relationships, then add this one to your shelf!

Viva physical media.