The Train

1964, Les Productions Artistes Associés et al

John Frankenheimer's riveting quasi-faux-documentary of the Nazis looting French art museums during World War II is, and in all likelihood will remain, my very favorite drama. Never mind that Burt Lancaster reprises his role as Burt Lancaster; Paul Scofield's memorable meltdown, as Colonel von Waldheim, surely brings the house down. Frankenheimer's unusual cinematic techniques—long unbroken takes, razor focus across the full depth of field, and choice of black-and-white film—are noteworthy, and enhance The Train's powerful, visceral drama. Not to mention that the train crashes are simply spectacular—and all of them are real. They even used real dynamite in a critical bombing scene. Of course, being a "train nut" admittedly influences my feeling about the film, but that's just incidental.

The New Yorker raved, "Not since Buster Keaton’s perfect comedy The General has the camera surrendered itself more eagerly to the steamy, sooty, black and silver, hissing and hooting world of rolling stock, signal towers, yards, shops, cranes, tunnels, bridges, and track."

By the way, it seems a number of "experts" on filmmaking, special effects and even physics insist adamantly that models were used in some of the sequences, particularly the bombing raid on the marshalling yard. Yet Frankenheimer is on record as stating—emphatically—that it's all real, and that his effects crew used roughly five thousand pounds of dynamite to destroy a railway yard and equipment that the French had wanted to demolish anyway. So right there our "experts" are declaring the director is a liar. Director Guillermo del Toro has stated, "You may be tempted to think they are model shots, but they're not. No miniatures were used." So, is he a liar too? How much actual research have our "experts" done on the making of this film to support their claims?

Here are some facts on which to chew. A making-of documentary shows one of the concrete bunkers they built, as well as the special cameras they used, to film the dangerous demolition sequence. Also bear in mind that the demolition was done for visual effect, and doesn't represent how bombs dropped on buildings and equipment might have actually appeared. Plus, the special cameras they used, not being cinematic cameras, produced images having an altogether different look from the rest of the film, which made those shots stick out, perhaps suspiciously to the deniers. Here are some additional facts from the American Film Institute: The "explosion sequence ... called for the destruction of thirty railroad cars", and "... the French government ... supplied actual railroad cars to be destroyed as well as military personnel to help with strategy and execution." Still more information: the sequence reportedly cost $3,000 per second, was covered by twenty cameras, and took four months to prepare; over fifty people under effects expert Lee Zavitz spent six weeks planting the charges. So, I guess somebody just made all of this stuff up, then?

I accept that it's real based on the factual information I've personally collected, as opposed to an opinion based on what I think was done; if someone can produce factual information to contradict this, I'll be pleased to correct myself. But there's no convincing the deniers; they believe what they want to believe, and when faced with facts that prove otherwise will no doubt double down rather than appear foolish. I suppose the moon landing was all done with models, too? Whatever.

       

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