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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Night Train to Munich: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Night Train to Munich: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // Unrated // September 6, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted September 1, 2016 | E-mail the Author

Bookended in film history by Alfred Hitchcock's influential The Lady Vanishes and Ernst Lubitsch's daring To Be or Not To Be, Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich (1940) can't help but feel like a distant bronze medalist if these thematically similar films were competing. It's especially true for the former: Hitchcock's earlier film featured the same two screenwriters (Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, who collaborated together on nearly 40 films in three decades) and three cast members (Margaret Lockwood in the leading role, plus Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne reprising their "Charters and Caldicott" characters from The Lady Vanishes before getting their own spin-off in John Baxter's 1941 film Crook's Tour), as well as similar settings, structures, and character relationships.

That's a lot of baggage to overcome in hindsight, making it almost as hard to appreciate Night Train to Munich on its own terms as it likely was more than 75 years ago. Yet Reed's film does have an obvious charm and its fair share of merits, not the least of which are striking cinematography by the prolific Otto Kanturek (his final film, as he died a year after its release) and winning performances by Lockwood, Rex Harrison, and more. The story, based on Gordon Wellesley's novel Report on a Fugitive (earning him a Best Writing Oscar nomination), goes like this: Czech scientist Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt) flees his country for England after Nazi occupation, but his daughter Anna (Lockwood) isn't so lucky. Thrown into a concentration camp and interrogated about her father's research, she manages to escape with "schoolteacher" Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid) to search for Axel. Assisted by undercover British intelligence officer Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison), Anna is eventually duped by the very man who helped her escape...and before long, she and her father are (re)captured by the Nazis. It's up to Dickie and a few other unexpected helpers to come to their rescue; if all goes well, they'll be in neutral Switzerland before it's too late.

As a lightweight espionage thriller laced with comedy (which, to be honest, is the main area in which Night Train to Munich feels regrettable), it works well enough from a technical perspective: the plot-heavy production speeds by well enough at just 95 minutes, though obviously feels as condensed as you'd expect given the subject matter. It's aided greatly by the terrific locales and photography, with highlights including a daring third-act cable car sequence and creative use of several miniatures (which are more convincing than some of the painted backdrops). The dependably good Lockwood and Harrison make a fine pair and turn in charming performances, with Henreid and the returning team of Radford and Wayne not very far behind. Yet for all of its modest highlights, Night Train to Munich's obvious familiarity and often predictable plot don't make it all that memorable. It's the very definition of "good, not great", and a film that would probably be forgotten had so many big names not been attached.

Regardless, Criterion have granted Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich a Blu-ray upgrade six years after their own 2010 DVD (not long after the studio's first wave of Blu-rays in 2008, which makes me wonder why it didn't get one the first time around), which predictably offers a cursory boost in the A/V department. Unfortunately, the DVD's paper-thin collection of bonus features (a dry 30-minute conversation with Bruce Babington and Peter Evans) has not been expanded, which doesn't exactly make this a worthwhile release for die-hard fans or newcomers.

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Night Train to Munich looks stronger and more stable than Criterion's own 2010 DVD, although it appears to have been taken from the same restoration since no new master is advertised. Black levels are consistent, image detail and textures are quite good, and the film's strong grain structure is represented perfectly well from start to finish, which results in an extremely natural, clean, and crisp appearance. No obvious digital imperfections or heavy manipulation (including compression artifacts, interlacing, excessive noise reduction, etc.) could be spotted along the way, aside from a few unsteady scene transitions and a few peppered bits of documentary footage. I can't imagine Night Train to Munich looking much better on home video than it does here, so fans and newcomers alike should be pleased with Criterion's efforts.

DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.

There's less to say about the PCM 1.0 track, aside from that it's perfectly adequate and sounds a little better than expected for a film that's three-quarters of a century old. Dialogue, sporadic music cues, and background effects are relatively crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while the overall experience even manages to showcase a few moments of depth at times. Overall, this lossless mono presentation seems true to the source material and purists will enjoy the lack of surround gimmickry. Optional English subtitles are included during the film.

Menu Design, Packaging, and Extras

As usual, Criterion's interface is smooth and easy to navigate. This one-disc release is locked for Region A players; it's packaged in their typical "stocky" keepcase with Eric Skillman's terrific cover artwork originally created for the DVD. The Insert includes a reprinted essay by film critic Philip Kemp, while the bonus features are once again limited to a Conversation with Bruce Babington and Peter Evans (30 minutes), likewise created for the 2010 DVD.

I can think of at least a dozen Criterion DVDs that deserved a Blu-ray upgrade long before Night Train to Munich, but the film still has a certain charm to it...not to mention striking cinematography and several fine performances. Yet its lightweight stature doesn't make this a particularly memorable production, especially since it's bookended in film history by the more successful The Lady Vanishes and To Be or Not To Be. Criterion's Blu-ray is a passable effort with an A/V presentation that obviously beats its own 2010 DVD, but the complete lack of new bonus features (not to mention Night Train to Munich's relatively small footprint) doesn't make this an essential upgrade or a recommended blind buy. Rent It, although die-hard Carol Reed fans may want to indulge if the price is right.

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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