The Train (1965)
Director: John Frankenheimer (who replaced Arthur Penn, who was fired)
Starring: Burt Lancaster (Labiche), Paul Scofield (Von Waldheim), Jeanne Moreau (Christine), Suzanne Flon (Mlle Villard), Michel Simon (Papa Boule), Wolfgang Preiss (Herren), Albert Rémy (Didont), Charles Millot (Pesquet), Richard Münch (Von Lubitz), Jacques Marin (Jacques), Paul Bonifas (Spinet), Jean Bouchaud (Schmidt), Donald O'Brien (Schwartz), Jean-Pierre Zola (Octave), Arthur Brauss (Pilzer), Jean-Claude Bercq (Major), Howard Vernon (Dietrich), Louis Falavigna (Railroad Worker), Richard Bailey (Grote), Christian Fuin (Robert).
French Resistance tries to destroy a train carrying French treasures to Germany
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Paris, August 2, 1944, 1511th day of German occupation. Col. Von Waldheim arrives to look at some of the paintings in a French art museum. A French curator comes over to talk to him. He tells her that this is all "degenerate" art, but he still likes it. The curator thanks Von Waldheim for saving all these paintings. He wonders if she is just saying this because the liberation of Paris is so close now. She says that Von Waldheim could have, after all, sent her away and brought another person in.
All of a sudden, other German soldiers come in and Waldheim tells the curator that they are taking the paintings to a "safe" place. He tells Captain Schmidt to make sure that everything is ready to go on the train tomorrow morning. Now a small army descends on the museum and starts packing up the paintings for transport. When they are through, the art museum is just a hollow shell of a place.
The following morning Waldheim learns that his train has been canceled. It was cancelled by the Frenchman Labiche, the area inspector for the trains. Labiche says they are making up a special train for the assignment on the orders of Von Rundstedt, military commander, Western Front. Waldheim orders Labiche to have the train ready to go at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Waldheim goes into headquarters which is a busy bee hive of activity, still trying to work its normal routine while things are being packed up to be taken back to Germany. He is told that the general has cancelled all appointments not dealing with the evacuation from Paris. Waldheim, however, just knocks on the general's door and goes inside. The colonel tells the general that his authorization is needed for him to get his train. The general receives a message: "The main highway between Avranches and Mortain has been captured by the Americans." When the general learns what Waldheim wants to transport, he says the transportation of degenerate art does not have priority over war transport. He then dismisses the colonel and turns his back to Waldheim. Another war message comes in: "The Second SS armored division Das Reich has fallen back toward Falaise."
Waldheim says that the degenerate art is worth enough money to equip ten Panzer divisions. The Reich will appreciate getting their hands on this commodity which is as readily exchanged as gold is. The trains are being loaded with German war supplies. Labiche walks through all this pandemonium down to the river, where he gets on a boat and goes below deck to meet other members of the French Resistance. The man in charge introduces Labiche to Mademoiselle Villard, the curator of the Jeu de Paume art museum. Labiche learns that the special train they are arranging for the colonel will be taking French art out of France and into Germany. Villard wants the Resistance to stop the train. The liberation of Paris may be three or four days or perhaps a week away.
Labiche says he won't waste lives on paintings. Villard speaks out for the importance of saving French art, but Labiche won't budge. Villard leaves. Labiche has his attention focused on a train carrying armaments back to Germany set to leave tomorrow morning. The man in charge says they should try to delay this train until 10 in the morning because at that time British planes will hit the yard at Vaires with saturation bombing. Labiche says the train will still be here at 10.
Labiche tells his men that he needs an engineer for the art train. He is selecting Papa Boule despite the negative reactions from two of the men who work for Labiche. One of the trainmen goes over to try to tell Papa Boule just how valuable the cargo is that he is carrying on his train to Germany. Papa read that the cargo is paintings, but he doesn't believe it. He's sure its French champagne and French perfume. The trainman tells him no, that this is great French art by Picasso, Renoir and many others. The German Captain Schimdt tells Papa to stay with his train until the train is ready to move out.
In the morning the armaments train moves out of the station headed to Germany. Waldheim gets a call from the office of General Von Lubitz, who says that the art train will be used to transport artillery. Waldheim lies and says the that train left the station a half hour ago. As soon as the telephone conversation ends, Waldheim tells Captain Schmidt to get his train moving immediately. Papa fires up the engine and pulls out of the station.
The armaments train pulls in at Vaires. The engineer is ordered to uncouple the engine and get it out of here. An armored engine will be used to transport the armaments train. The French engineer lets out a blast of steam just when German troops walk by. This leads to a confrontation between the troops and the engineer that delays the train. Labiche is up in the tower looking at all of this. A German orders the engineer back to his cab. The armored engine is supposed to back up, but the French have jammed the switch using the German supervisor Dietrich's own pipe so that the armored engine winds up on the wrong track. As the German officers start yelling, an air raid siren goes off. The German troops jump off the train. This gives Papa Boule enough time to get his train through the station depot. Labiche tries to stop Papa by jumping on the engine, but Papa just kicks Labiche off the train.
At the next station, Rive-Reine, Papa stops the train saying there is a break in the oil line. Captain Schmidt asks Papa if he can fix it and Papa replies that he might be able to move the engine back to Vaires, but only without taking the train cars. When the captain leaves, Papa fixes the oil line by removing the French coin he had stuck in one of the oil caps. Papa then goes back with the captain to Vaires. Back in Vaires, Labiche tells Papa to drive the crane engine. Papa starts to leave, but is stopped by the Gerrman officer in charge, Major Herren. He wants Papa to take off the oil caps. Papa does so but the officer finds no French coins there. Then he has Papa turn out his pockets. There the officer finds a French coin slick with oil and tells Col. Waldheim that this was sabotage. Papa is taken away by two German soldiers. Labiche goes into action to save Papa. He says that Papa risked his own life to get the train out of the Vaires depot and on to the next one. And Papa is an old man who doesn't know what he's doing. But Papa denounces Labiche for cooperating with the enemy. Waldheim gives the signal for the execution of Papa. The guards place him against a wall and shoot him to death. Labiche is stunned by the turn of events. And so are the other French railway workers.
Waldheim tells Labiche that he is holding him personally responsible so that the engine is fixed quickly. Labiche starts working. The two engineers left, one of them named Pesquet, are going to drive the engine once Labiche repairs it. Labiche calls the men fools and asks them if they want to be killed like Papa Boule? They say Papa Boule wanted it this way and they can get away with it. All contact have been made except at Metz, but Labiche can call Maurice at Metz and get him to go along with the plan.
The German train supervisor, Major Herren, tells Labiche to get that engine out of the way, because it is blocking work on four or five other engines that are to be sent to the front. Labiche goes as the engineer along with his two compatriots. On their way, a British spitfire attacks the engine from above. Labiche races for a train tunnel. The engine and coal train take a few hits, but Labiche reaches the tunnel and stops the engine once inside. The spitfire leaves. Labiche tells the two other engineers that once they get to Rive-Reine, he will make that call to Maurice.
The train arrives at Rive-Reine. Captain Schmidt demands to know what happened? Labiche just says: "Allied aircraft." Col. Waldheim is there and wants to know why Labiche made a daylight run? Labiche explains it was on orders from Major Herren. Waldheim is suspicious of Labiche and tells him that he will be the engineer on the train. The train will leave at 7 p.m., so Waldheim tells Labiche to get some sleep at the local hotel. Captain Schmidt goes with Labiche over to the hotel. Christine is the owner. The captain pays, reluctantly, the 60 francs for the room.
In his room Labiche looks out to see how many guards are around. He sees one. He quickly locks his door and goes out the window when the guard walks away on his regular route. He gets to the ground and jumps onto a wall. He makes contact with Pesquet. He tells Labiche that there are two Germans in the office and he wants him to wait two minutes. The engineer goes over and lights up the gas tank of one of the German trucks. Everyone rushes out to see what has happened. Labiche gets into the railway office. When a German guard comes in, Labiche, pretending to be a window washer, takes out his knife and kills the guard from behind. He then makes a telephone call, probably to Maurice.
Waldheim gets suspicious and sends men to make sure Labiche is still in his room. Labiche doesn't make it back in time, but Christine slows the Germans enough so that Labiche can sit at the kitchen table and start eating something laid out for him by Christine. When the Germans find Labiche, Christine says he's been there for a long time. Later she scolds Labiche for risking her life to save his skin. Labiche gives her 100 francs for the damages caused by the Germans to the place. The Germans beat up the station master Jacques to get him to talk. He talks, but gives them the wrong information.
The Germans come and get Labiche as it soon will be 7 p.m. Sgt. Schwartz will ride with Labiche. Labiche pulls out. He is supposed to stop at Saint-Avold, but the other engineer tells Labiche if they stop there, they both will get their heads blown off. Labiche blows through the stations of Montmiral and Chalons, followed by Verdun. The station master puts in a call to Maurice but he is out. So the Jacques leaves a message that Maurice is to call the station master at Rive-Reine.
Labiche tells his co-worker that he is going to stop at Saint-Avold because it's better than having to go into Germany. The train reaches Metz, which was just hit by an air raid. Sgt. Schwartz says they are heading south now. The guys say they had to go around the destroyed tracks at Metz and the sergeant should watch out for the next town sign: Remilly. The sergeantssees the sign for Remilly and relaxes. After the train passes, workers remove the banner placed over the real name of the town, Pont a Mousson.
Jacques reaches Maurice and tells him to have some cheese put on Labiche's train when it stops at Commercy. Of course. The next stop will be Saint-Avold. The train slows down. Captain Schmidt goes to make a telephone call. Two guards watch the engineers. But it turns out that the guards are actually Frenchmen in Nazi uniforms. They mention the signal word: "cheese". The train moves out again.
The train races by the station Zweibricken. After the train passes the workers take down the signs for Zweibrickeln, revealing the real name of the station: Vitry.
Jacques sends out another train that derails on purpose. The engineer and Jacques put on a good show for the Germans there. Labiche now takes his train through Rive-Reine (with another fake sign over the real name).. Labiche's co-engineer uses the coal shovel to knock down Sgt. Schwartz. Then both French engineers grab him and toss him off the train. Now the men release the engine from the coal and other cars and leave them behind. Labiche fixes the train to keep going and jumps off the train, along with the other engineer. They run away from the train. A German guard wounds Labiche as he runs over the bridge.
The train keeps going so that it runs into the train deliberately derailed by Jacques. There is a massive collision. The French send a line of art cars down to crash into the back of the train that just rammed the derailed engine. And last comes a deliberately fixed run-away engine and smashes into the line of train cars. The engineer, Pesquet, jumped off before the engine crashed into the train cars, but he is shot down by German troops at the railway station. Waldheim rushes over in his pajamas and overcoat to the train wreck scene. He is furious. He yells for his troops to: "Get them! Kill him!"
Labiche runs back to Christine's hotel. She tells him that he can't stay here. Jacques and the engineer who staged the deliberate derailment are now executed for their part in the scheme. Waldheim is sure Labiche is around someplace but the squad looking for him in the surrounding woods has failed to find him. Waldheim orders the squad to look for Labiche in the town.
Christine has hid Labiche in the hotel basement. She brings him down some liquor. They hear the Germans searching around for Labiche. Christine grabs a couple of bottles of wine and rushes upstairs to talk to the Germans. She says sarcastically that she sees Labiche and Gen. De Gaulle everyday in her hotel and she hides them in her wine cellar. Disgusted, the Germans leave.
Christine asks Labiche why he has put her in danger again? Labiche tells her that there were over a hundred railway workers involved in creating the railway destruction. He says that many of them will be shot for this. Then he tells Christine that there were French paintings on his train: "The national heritage, The pride of France." Labiche starts to leave, saying that he must see his remaining engineer, but Christine tells him he can't go out in daylight because everyone is looking for him. She tells him to wait until it is dark. Labiche puts his hands on her shoulders from behind her. She turns into him and he hugs her.
The Germans use a crane car to remove the engines and other cars from the railway. At night Christine makes sure the coast is clear for the wounded Labiche. Labiche escapes and finds his co-worker, who tells Labiche that the Germans grabbed 10 men at the Metz station and shot them on the spot. There were three dead at Chalons. The two men stop talking when they hear some noise. They go to check it out, only to find that it's the head of the local French Resistance and Jacques's nephew. The chief says to Labiche: "That was quite a job you did." He then asks about the art train. It is being fixed up. Labiche says they should blow it up with explosives, but the chief says that London wants that train saved. Allied aircraft will be bombing all trains and switches in the area. Orders are to mark the art train cars with white paint on top of the first three cars so that the aircraft will pass it up. This makes Labiche mad because everyday of delay means railroad men will be killed by the Germans. The other engineer, however, wants to save the art train and so does Jacques's nephew. The nephew says he can get help for the painting job in Montmiral where Jacques had lots of friends.
In Rive-Reine the nephew climbs on top of the station roof. He sets off the air raid siren. All lights are turned out as the Germans head for cover. Now the French paint crew goes into action. On top of the cars, they dump their paint on the roofs and spread it all over the car roofs. The nephew dislodges a tile from the roof and it crashes next to Waldheim. He has the lights of the station turned back on. Another officers shoots twice and hits the nephew and he comes tumbling off the roof to hit the ground. With his automatic weapon, Labiche opens fire on the death-dealing officer and kills him. Then he tells the painters to get off the train. Two jump off, but Didont runs to the last roof and finishes the job. Before he can get down, Didont is shot and killed.
Waldheim has the tops of the cars cleaned of the white paint. The air raid siren goes offr before the men can finish the paint removal. Three planes fly directly over them but the planes don't drop any bombs. Waldheim concludes that the white paint is some type of signal to the pilots to spare the art train. Waldheim says this art train will be his ticket out of France and back to Germany. Meanwhile Labiche plants plastic bomb material on the railroad tracks. The art train is coming and Labiche hurriedly has to hook the explosives up to the detonator. He blows up the track before the train gets to the place so the train will not be destroyed. (The Germans had also put innocent Frenchmen on the front of the engine.)
Waldheim tells the troops to go into the woods after Labiche, but Major Herren suggest that the colonel just send his men down the tracks for five miles in order to keep Labiche from blowing any more railway track. Waldheim agrees to the measure. The engine backs away from the damaged tracks. The Germans have the tracks fixed. Labiche runs between the forward guard and the train. He starts taking the track apart with help of the tools he finds in a small railway shed. Labiche can't finish the job because three German guards are headed his way. He hides in the high grass and bushes. The train hits the track that is loose enough to derail the train but not by much as the engine was only going 10 miles per hour.
Major Herren says they can't get the train back on the tracks. So the colonel flags down a column of German trucks heading down the road. He tells the Major to get the paintings off the train. He will use the German trucks for transporting the French art. The only way he can stop the column is to step in front of a moving jeep. The major leading the column, however, tells his men to get back into their trucks. The colonel asks that Major Herren shoot the officer, but Herren won't do it. Herren tells his men to get on the trucks too. He tells the colonel that the war is over, they have lost. But the colonel stays behind with the train. He says there will be other trucks.
Before the Germans left, they gunned down their French hostages. Labiche arrives and shuts the engine down. Then he sees the dead Frenchmen by the tracks. He starts to walk over to the bodies, when the colonel calls him back. He tells Labiche that the paintings will always belong to him or a man just like him, but not to a mere brute like Labiche. Labiche answers by killing the colonel with his automatic weapon. Labiche drops his weapon, gets on the road and starts walking back to Christine.
Based on an actual event, this film is about the French Resistance under German Occupation in World War II. More specifically, it was about the resistance thrown up by the railway workers, to slow down the Nazi war machine as the Allied forces came closer and closer to the liberation of Paris. The German Colonel Waldheim wants to take back to Germany, hundreds of costly paintings by famous French painters. Railway supervisor Labiche does not want the assignment to stop the Germans from taking the art out of France and to Germany. He says he doesn't want to risk any lives over some paintings. What he doesn't realize is that French painting is valuable not only as both French art and history, it's a French treasure. He finally comes around to taking the assignment to stop Waldheim from taking the French art out of the country. The movie starts out slowly but the railway chaos that ensues is worth the wait. Quite clever of those railway workers. But then there is an act 2 of resistance that is also interesting. Burt Lancaster was good as Labiche. There is a bit of a love story between Labiche and Christine (played by Jeanne Moreau), but not much time is spent on it. It's definitely more of an action film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
Return To Main Page
Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)