Thursday, April 30, 2015

Night Train to Munich

1940, UK, directed by Carol Reed

I couldn't recall if I'd ever seen this before: I might have caught it as a teenager on TV, but it's hard to be certain, especially given the thematic, visual and casting overlaps with The Lady Vanishes. A few critical comments come down rather harshly on this for not being the full Hitchcock in its easy transition from comedy to suspense, which seems to me to miss or at least evade the point of this being filmed and released after the war began while the Hitchcock film was released in 1938 (within a week of the Munich Agreement, as it happens, but obviously the film does not speak to that). In other words, the stakes are considerably raised here: there are no notional villains but rather very specific ones, with whom Britain was already at war (the tropes of cinematic Nazi behaviour are in full flight already by 1940, that much is clear), so the film has to serve multiple functions as entertainment and, to at least some degree, wartime propaganda. Within that context, I thought it remarkably well done -- the montage sequences that include documentary footage are chilling, apt, and useful to establish the context, while the performances, particularly from the contrasting duo of Paul (von) Henreid and Rex Harrison, each essentially having to play two characters, are very good indeed. I also enjoyed the re-appearance of the cricket enthusiasts from the Hitchcock film -- perhaps a little broad, and certainly stretching credibility, but also very much to be relished in that "I say, old chap" kind of way.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States