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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Train
The Train
Kino // Unrated // May 5, 2015
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 30, 2015 | E-mail the Author

John Frankenheimer's The Train (1964) is an almost effortlessly compelling thriller that remains entertaining more than five decades later. It deftly balances strong characters, an interesting story, and expertly shot action sequences around an intense backdrop that feels broadly appealing and personal all at once. The film answers its own loaded question of "Are some objects more valuable than lives?", but still leaves enough room for different interpretations, interesting real-world parallels, and a terrific struggle between two men on the same side of different coins. In fact, it's so good that you won't care that the French and German characters speak perfect English.

Our story goes like this: in Nazi-occupied France, German forces led by Colonel Franz von Waldheim (Paul Scofield, Quiz Show) have stolen hundreds of valuable paintings from French museums. Packaged securely, these pieces represent valuable pieces of national heritage created by the likes of Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, and countless others. Museum curator Mademoiselle Villard (Suzanne Flon, The Trial) pleads for help from the French Resistance: led by Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster, Judgment at Nuremberg), they're reluctant to help at first, adamant that mere paintings aren't worth risking human lives. Though his team would only have to delay the train for several days until their liberation by Allied forces, this would still be a near-impossible operation: air raids and German ground forces pose a constant threat, and significant damage to the train could potentially destroy the precious cargo inside.

Naturally, Labiche's feelings change as The Train progresses and, before long, he's face-to-face with Colonel Waldheim, whose deep respect for the artwork and the history behind it serve as a potent counterbalance to our somewhat reluctant hero. The film's numerous action set-pieces help to bolster the film's momentum; they're flashy with a purpose and, more importantly, responsible to keeping the tension high during The Train's surprisingly brisk 133-minute lifespan. The crisp cinematography by Jean Tournier and Walter Wottitz showcase the French landscapes in striking black and white, while the tight editing by David Bretherton (An Affair to Remember, The Diary of Anne Frank) keeps everything running smoothly. While the establishment of its characters feels a bit paint-by-numbers, there's no doubt that the finished product is one of the decade's most potent and enduring historical dramas.

First released on DVD by MGM back in 1999 (and recycled nine years later in this collection), The Train was finally given a much-needed upgrade with Twilight Time's Blu-ray last year. Unfortunately, it went out-of-print almost immediately and, like the 1999 non-anamorphic DVD, still commands high prices from third-party sellers. Much like Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and a handful of other MGM catalog titles licensed to Twilight Time, The Train has now been given second life on DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber's "Studio Classics" line. Though obviously a step down in the A/V department and lighter on supplements than the Blu-ray, this low-priced disc is much easier to find and serves as a respectable runner-up for those who arrived a little late to the party. Sometimes, a silver medal is good enough.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Twilight Time's out-of-print Blu-ray represented a huge leap in quality over MGM's 1999 DVD (which was, not surprisingly for its time, non-anamorphic), and thankfully Kino's release uses that newer source material as the basis for this solid 1.66:1, 480p transfer. Image detail is quite good and details are crisp during outdoor sequences; dirt and debris is scarce, aside from a few trouble spots near the beginning, and there are no flagrant digital imperfections along the way. Nighttime sequences obviously don't fare as well: shadow detail is limited and there are moments of persistent flickering, but it's nothing major and likely due to source material issues. Overall, the visuals are quite good from start to finish, with the film's dynamic compositions and crisp cinematography providing plenty of support for the story to unfold neatly. Unless you're completely adamant about owning the Blu-ray, there's a lot to like here.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.

The audio is presented in its original Dolby Digital mono format and defaults to a two-channel spread, with a moderate and a pleasing amount of depth on occasion. Dialogue and background effects are adequately balanced and don't fight for attention, but the absence of LFE and wide dynamic range gives most of the action sequences a thin, compromised sound that can be a little hard on the ears at higher volumes. Defects are minimal, though I did notice some distortion and clipping that rendered some of the dialogue difficult to decipher; like most of the other issues, this is likely a source material issue. Thankfully, optional English subtitles are included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The menu uses original poster artwork; it arrives in a standard keepcase with cover art identical to the menu. This is a dual-layered disc with a switch near the 70-minute mark and, like most Kino DVDs, is locked for Region 1 only.

Bonus Features

Not too much here...just a sparse but occasionally interesting Audio Commentary with the late director, originally recorded for the MGM DVD and also included on Twilight Time's Blu-ray, as well as the film's Theatrical Trailer. Missing from the out-of-print Blu-ray is a second audio commentary by Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman, and Paul Seydor, as well as a music-only audio track also included on both previous releases. Disappointing, but hardly a surprise.

Final Thoughts

John Frankenheimer's The Train is a highly entertaining and expertly shot slice of 1960s cinema, serving up capable performances, great action, and a tense, foreboding atmosphere almost every step of the way. Kino's new DVD serves two purposes: it's a clear replacement for MGM's out-of-print and non-anamorphic 1999 DVD, as well as a suitable consolation prize for those who missed the boat on Twilight Time's Blu-ray last year. Affordably priced with a solid A/V presentation, it's a good compromise for casual fans of this classic thriller who don't want to shell out top dollar for a more complete version. Firmly Recommended, especially for those who don't own it on home video yet.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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