A multinational group of train passengers become involved in a post-World War II Nazi assassination plot.A multinational group of train passengers become involved in a post-World War II Nazi assassination plot.A multinational group of train passengers become involved in a post-World War II Nazi assassination plot.
Just after WWII has ended comes this film about getting inside the post-Nazi world for an assassination. It's multi-national and filled with bitter scenes of German ruin.
This actually is an amazing film, starting off (and ending) as beautiful and dramatic. And it's complex but luckily edited with precision. It's filmed with remarkable realism in post-war German (Frankfurt and Berlin), with trains and train stations and lots of darkness and steam and drama. (Later there are huge areas of utter utter devastation.) The first half hour has a stunning film-noir style, lots of angles, deep shadows, moving camera, and so on, all under the hand of master cinematographer Lucien Ballard. It's great to just watch.
It's also a rare imperfect glimpse of what it might actually be like in that era where Germany was an occupied territory. It's almost shocking, even now, or maybe especially now since we have seldom seen anything remotely this vast and awful in a long time. That really is the depth of the movie that was intended and effective.
The plot (trying to save a German diplomat who is out for a peaceful future) you might call a device, and it is the weakness of it all, even though they place much of the best of it on a train where the drama is classic train stuff, car to car. There is also a lot of narration, explaining (rather well, but still having to explain) what is going on. Robert Ryan plays the leading man, an American agriculture expert out to help recovery in Europe.
There is also the expected stereotyping—the casual smart American, the principled and arrogant Soviet, the suspicious and duplicitous Germans, the interested but somewhat victimized French, and the humorous and unflappable Brit. I'm serious—it's here, and it's done well enough you can easily buy into it. Merle Oberon is restrained but wonderful.
Director Jacques Tourneau is always interesting and often compromised ("Out of the Past" is interesting and very uncompromised, for sure.) This movie has so many shifts and complications it is hard to know what they all mean, and this makes it all the more interesting, even as the narration deadens our absorption into events. I admit to liking every minute of it, even the bureaucratic office scenes (which had their own slight believability). By the end, as they all say goodbye and drive in separate directions, the truth of divided Germany was clear—even in 1948.
The very last scene shows a man with one leg and crutches moving through some partly destroyed columns—very symbolic and right on.
- Oct 8, 2017