Caught on a Train
Traveling across Europe by train turns into an unsettling experience
for a young businessman in the award winning BBC drama Caught on a Train.
Like Martin Scorsese's movie After Hours a simple journey goes from
bad to worse to unbelievably bad over the course of the evening.
But unlike that film, this isn't a dark comedy, it is a thoughtful drama
that keeps you guessing throughout.
Peter (Michael Kitchen) boards an overnight train in Germany to travel
to Lintz where he has an important business meeting in the morning.
He is happy to find that he shares his compartment with an attractive young
American tourist, but his joy soon turns to dismay. A very demanding
aristocratic old German lady, Frau Messner (Peggy Ashcroft,) joins them
and insists that Peter is in her seat. He isn't, of course, but showing
her his ticket doesn't satisfy her. Frau Messner was used to having
a cadre of servants take care of in her younger days, but after the war
that all changed. Unfortunately, she has never gotten used to doing
anything for herself, and consequently orders around anyone and everyone
who happens to be around her. As the night goes on, Frau Messner
becomes more demanding and Peter grows more irritated. They are from
different generations and different worlds, and have nothing in common.
As they argue and bicker they learn a little about each other and while
they are still polar opposites, they may have much more in common than
either of them can imagine.
This movie has a lot of wonderful qualities. The first thing that
strikes the viewer is that you are not sure where the plot is going.
In this day when most conclusions can be inferred after the first 10 minutes
of a movie, Caught on a Train is ambiguous even half way through;
you are still not sure what the main plot is. There are a couple
of subtle but amusing references to The Lady Vanishes, the classic
Hitchcock movie that takes place on a train, but there isn't a big mystery
like Hitchcock's work. The film has an underlying tension throughout
it, and most of the time you are waiting for something unpleasant or bad
Director Peter Duffell did an excellent job of creating suspense from
little innocent acts. Buying some magazines or strolling to get a
bite to eat raises anxiety. This accentuates the tension in the film,
and makes the movie quite engrossing.
The acting was very good, as it is in most BBC productions. Peggy
Ashcroft does an outstanding job as the old noble woman whose time has
passed her by, but she doesn't realize it yet, and probably never will.
Michael Kitchen also gives a stellar performance as the easily irritated
Englishman who has more in common with his nemesis than he suspects.
The two channel mono soundtrack is adequate though not outstanding.
There isn't any hiss or distortion, but it is not a dynamic sounding movie
either, which in not surprising given the film's origins.
Like may BBC productions transferred over to DVD, this movie doesn't
have the greatest picture. There are a spots on the print, and the
image is fairly grainy. The full frame image isn't horrible, but
it is showing its age which is a shame.
There is an 18-minute featurette with the writer and talking about the
movie and the genesis of the project. It is intercut with sceens
from the movie, and older interviews with Peggy Ashcroft. Oddly enough
though the movie is in full screen, this featurette is presented in widescreen.
It was a good piece, both entertaining and informative.
In addition to text filmographies, there is an audio commentary with
writer Stephen Ploiakoff and producer Kenith Trodd. They talk about
the shooting of the movie, what working at the BBC was like, and the political
climate in Europe at the time which fleshes out some of the plot points
in the movie. Though is a rather dry track, they manage to talk through
the movie without resorting to describing the action on the screen.
This movie took me by surprise. I hadn't heard about it before
it arrived in my mailbox, and I wasn't expecting much. After all,
it's a made for TV movie about some people riding on a train; how good
could it be? Very good, as it turns out. This movie is surprising,
both in plot and quality, and you really don't realize what the movie is
about until the last reel. The script was wonderfully crafted to
keep the viewer interested but still guessing as to where it is leading.
This is a film that is well worth checking out. Recommended.