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 even care about the French and German characters speaking 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 all the way back in 1999 (and recycled nine years later in this collection), The Train was finally given a much-needed upgrade in Twilight Time's 2014 Blu-ray. Unfortunately, it soon went out-of-print and, like the 1999 non-anamorphic DVD, still commands high prices from third-party sellers. Luckily, Twilight Time has just released an Encore Edition (reportedly, their last time doing so)...but unlike most previous Encores, no additional bonus features or other perks have been added this time around; only the cover artwork is different.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Twilight Time's out-of-print 2014 Blu-ray represented a huge leap in quality over MGM's non-anamorphic 1999 DVD, and not surprisingly this Encore Edition is identical in every way. Image detail on this 1.66:1, 1080p transfer is strong with crisp texture and details (especially during outdoor sequences); dirt and debris is scarce aside from a few 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 exceptionally strong from start to finish, with the film's dynamic compositions and crisp cinematography providing plenty of support for the story to unfold neatly.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The audio is presented in its original DTS-HD Master Audio 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
Aside from the different cover art (this time a recognizable black-and-white still image, rather than the earlier poster design), everything's the same here too. This one-disc release is housed in Twilight's usual unbranded clear keepcase; also tucked inside is a nice Booklet
with a reprinted Julie Kirgo essay and a few production photos.
Everything from Twilight Time's out-of-print 2014 Blu-ray
; nothing more, nothing less. These recycled extras include two feature-length Audio Commentaries
(one with director John Frankenheimer, the other with film historians Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman), as well as the usual Isolated Score Track
and Theatrical Trailer
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. Twilight Time's new "Encore Edition" will please fans of the film who missed out on their 2014 Blu-ray, including those stuck with MGM's non-anamorphic DVD or Kino's better (but still standard definition) 2015 disc. Overall, this is a solid package with a fine A/V presentation; the bonus features are limited but enjoyable, especially an exclusive second audio commentary that's only available on either Twilight Time Blu-ray. Highly Recommended while it's still available.
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.