Monday, July 2, 2012

Night Train To Munich (1940)


Carol Reed's Night Train To Munich is a very enjoyable film in the mold of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes but lacking that little something that proves why Hitchcock is a genius and Reed only a very good director. Nevertheless, the sense of hokum being made from yesterday's headlines is infectious. It begins with the Germans marching into Prague, forcing armour-plating scientist Dr Bomasch to flee to England leaving his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) behind. She's arrested and sent to a camp but escapes with the aid of sympathetic Czech prisoner Karl Marsen (the always excellent Paul Henreid) and makes her way to England. However the Gestapo kidnap them back and British agent Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison) is despatched to follow them disguised as a German officer. It's as if Lady Vanishes writers Sydney Gilliat and Frank Launder decided to prove they didn't need Hitchcock now that he'd high-tailed it to America. And they do prove it. The film is fun and engrossing with good early detail of British seaside attractions and Nazi concentration camps. Admittedly Lockwood isn't as sexy as she was in the earlier film, Caldicott and Charters (Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford) are slightly less fun (as befits the fact that war has broken out since 1938) and Harrison is ridiculous as a Nazi officer but it doesn't matter, everyone is appealing and it rattles along to an exciting cable-car shoot-out finale. You do feel, though, that Hitchcock would've made slightly more of that, found a striking camera angle, had someone fall to their death. His big-bellied shadow hovers over proceedings which is a little unfair but it's so nearly a Hitchcock film it's hard not to look for that extra something that made him better than the rest; a greater eye for composition, a deeper instinct for mise-en-scene, a more piercing attitude to sex. You always feel Hitchcock has some inner compulsion at stake in his films as well as being a keen pupil of technique and its effect on audiences. Is this true of Reed? Why is he making this film? Isn't it Hitchcock-lite, just as The Third Man was Welles-lite? I don't mean to disparage Reed, he's done a fine job here and three or four of his later films are classics but it's hard to sense a unified intelligence behind his work, just as it's hard to imagine Hitchcock ending up making a faceless musical like Oliver! (Pauses. Thinks about the notion of a Hitchcock musical. Ignores the little-seen Walzes From Vienna (1934) because it was before Hitchcock had truly found his voice. A proper in-his-prime musical. What would that have been like? What if, just as he responded to Michael Powell's Peeping Tom with Psycho, he'd responded to Powell's The Red Shoes? What would a Hitchcock musical look like? Sweeney Todd maybe? How much better would that have been with Hitchcock instead of that tedious child Burton?) None of which should take away from the fact that Night Train To Munich is a frequently tense, amusing, well-written adventure with just enough from-the-headlines urgency and grit to keep it from silliness.

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