DVD Classic Thriller Review: Night Train to Munich – Criterion Edition

Night Train to Munich – Criterion Edition  |  Director Carol Reed  |  Score: 6.2

Not unlike a certain, extremely well-known horror film involving a deranged young man with a deeply rooted mother fixation, Carol Reed’s 1940 thriller follows fairly well-charted waters until it suddenly springs in an unexpected direction. Only, instead of a bravura bloody shower sequence, we get a visual gag: On the shelf of a train station bookstore in a war-heavy station somewhere outside of Munich, we see two best-selling tomes sitting aside one another, vying for travelers’ attention, Mein Kampf and Gone With the Wind.

That bit of levity comes largely from left field, interrupting our regularly scheduled spy thriller with two new characters, English sportsmen Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne), two old friends who call everyone “old man” and seem thoroughly vexed to have Germany’s announcement of war with Britain put them in a muddle with their travel plans. The train they were taking has been overtaken with German troops, including the transport of a valuable Czech scientist, Axel Bromasch (James Harcourt) and his comely daughter, Anna (Margaret Lockwood), by two rivals, the hero, Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison), a Brit posing as a German officer in order to steal away with the scientist and his daughter, and the villain, Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid), a German spy who posed as a Brit in order to trick Bromasch and his daughter to return to Germany after they made their initial escape out of the country.

Charters and Caldicott add an overt comedic presence into what had been an extremely subtle thread previous to their arrival. It’s the kind of film where even sworn enemies don’t seem to take each other terribly seriously, and everyone’s accents are absolutely ridiculous (Harrison, whose “German” accent essentially involves booming his voice and lowering it an octave, might well have been the late Phil Hartman’s inspiration for Lionel Hutz). Rather than play things for maximum drama, Reed engagingly pulls back on the reigns a bit to allow the two Brits to steal the show away from the principles. Obsessed with Cricket and golf, their main objective before getting involved with the conspiratorial goings-on is to retrieve Charters’ tailor-made golf clubs from Berlin before the war shuts down the two country’s postal exchanges.

In addition to a new and pristine digital transfer, this Criterion disc also offers a filmed conversation about the movie from scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington, and an essay by critic Philip Kemp.

Night Train to Munich – Criterion Edition at Amazon!



Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.comand his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success.  You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.

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