The Train

The Train ★★★★½

James Frankenheimer gives a masterclass in the mechanics of suspense along with a masterclass in how Mechanically Generated Images — gears and switch levers and locomotives, etc. — can be much more effective than Computer Generated Images. No animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture, but many trains were.

If this were remade today, the filmmakers would use CGI trains and then greenscreen-in vertiginous locations, thinking this would make it more exciting, but it wouldn’t.

Burt and his gang of Gallic tricksters engage in slow motion sabotage and gaslight Nazis. They are grease-stained, sweaty, and forged from practical resistance into hatred and self-sacrifice even for symbolic victories.

Frankenheimer cleverly builds suspense by ensuring that viewer is like the Germans, never quite sure what's going on.

It’s filmed in gorgeous, deep focus B&W, crisp B&W when not deliberately obscured by steam. We are shown the entire catalogue of 60 years of sexy cinema train shots.

It’s shockingly revisionist for 1964, free of rah-rah miliaryism. It asks with increasing poignancy how much is art worth compared to a human life, how many dead men for a Picasso woman? It ends with both unnamed men and names stenciled on crates lying strewn beside the train tracks.

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