This is an interesting and enjoyable war movie involving espionage, kidnapping and rescuing people in the early days of World War II. "Night Train to Munich" came out in August 1940 in Great Britain and in December in the U.S. Up to that time, the Allies had very little they could boast about to raise hopes and boost morale. The film setting is 1939 – at the official start of WW II when Germany invaded Poland (Sept 1, 1939). But, by the film's release date, Germany had since invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium and the Netherlands; and, the Battle of Britain had begun in July of 1940.
So, this film no doubt served as a morale booster at the time. While the Allies couldn't show much hope with battles being fought and won, they could make films about successes in spy and rescue events. While the story for this film is fictitious, there were many instances in which Allied and underground efforts helped people escape the Nazis. Early in the 1930s, British economist William Beveridge established the Academic Assistance Council that helped 1,500 Jewish and other academics escape Germany. Albert Einstein, John Maynard Keynes, Ernest Rutherford and others supported the group.
This film has a fine cast, with Rex Harrison in the lead as Gus Bennett, a British secret service agent whose real name is Dickie Randall. Margaret Lockwood has the female lead as Anna Bomasch. The movie mixes some early witty dialog and humor with intrigue and suspense as Gus launches his rescue attempt to get Anna and her scientist father, Axel Bomasch (played by James Harcourt) out of Germany to Switzerland. This is just the second appearance of a comic duo who would go on to appear in a number of films with their dry humor. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne are Charters and Caldicott, whom Gus enlists in his rescue effort. Paul Henreid plays a somewhat gentle yet nasty Nazi, Karl Marsen.
While this is a very good movie, I found some things in it that were odd. First was the naiveté of Anna in her first escape to England with Karl. Why would she believe Karl that she needed to hide, and not go directly to British authorities to find her father? Second was her crass attitude toward Gus Bennett who had reunited her with her father. She was a Yugoslav refugee in Great Britain under the protection of the British government, yet she treated her protector with disdain. I think the comedy could have been greatly reworked here so that she doesn't come off as a nag and ungrateful complainer. Here are a couple examples of the comedy dialog between the two.
Anna, "Nothing that happened to me in that concentration camp (in 1939, before she escaped the first time) was quite as dreadful as listening to you day after day singing those appalling songs." Gus, "With those few words, you've knocked the bottom out of my entire existence." Anna, "Pity I only knocked it."
Anna, "You know, if a woman ever loved you like you love yourself, it would be one of the romances of history." Gus, "Since I'm unlikely to think of an adequate reply to that, I think we ought to drink a toast. England expects that every secret service man this night shall do his duty." He pulls the cork on a champagne bottle that doesn't pop. "Flat!"
One quick scene I found very amusing was of a newsstand that had enlarged ad boards of Hitler's book, "Mein Kampf." In between them was an equally large ad board for Margaret Mitchell's novel, "Gone With the Wind."
Finally, there was quite a lot wrong with the last scene and the escape over a cable car from Germany to Switzerland. When the Nazis arrived, bullets began to fly as Gus fends them off while the rest make the cable crossing. The distance had to be several hundred yards. The gun play reminded me of the "B" Westerns I went to as a kid growing up in the 1940s and 1950s. Those Western six-shooters often had a dozen or more bullets in them. In this film, Gus appears to have a 32-caliber or similar revolver. The Germans also have similar weapons. The IMDb "Goofs" section notes this. With the advantage of DVD, I could back up the film and count the gunshots. Gus fired his small revolver a full two dozen times. And, he and two Germans who had handguns fired them more than 60 times. There were no scenes of anyone reloading their weapons. Finally, Gus was quite the shooter. He appears to be 200 to 300 yards away when he shoots Karl. Most expert weapons sources say that the maximum effective range for any pistol is about 50 yards. Indeed, the military pistol qualifying range from standing is just 25 yards. The National Rifle Association expert firing distance is 25 feet from standing, using both hands.
The silliness of these few instances detract somewhat from the film. Still, it is a very good movie overall, on a subject that later films during the war and after would explore in more detail. Rescuing scientists from the clutches of the Nazis makes interesting viewing -- especially if one doesn't have a big combat action movie to watch.