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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

THE TRAIN (1965)

Getting the nuts & bolts right makes all the difference on this WWII actioner, sharply helmed by John Frankenheimer stepping in for Arthur Penn. (There’s an unusually good director’s commentary track on the DVD.) Burt Lancaster is in top form as a railroad managing engineer/resistance fighter who is responsible for keeping Paul Scofield’s retreating German officer from looting most of the paintings held in the Jeu de Palme. The magnificent trains are real, the stupendous crashes are real and Burt’s daunting stunts are real. (Buster Keaton, who knew a thing or two about trains, would be happy with the physical texture of this film, to say nothing of Frankenheimer’s long takes & deep focus lensing which show us things really happening.) It adds up to a level of verisimilitude not found in many better known WWII pics of the era and, along with the unusual sophistication of Scofield’s performance, helps turn a fairly standard story into compelling drama. A seriously undervalued near-precious gem.

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