Sunday, September 19, 2010

#523: Night Train to Munich

(Carol Reed, 1940)

It's impossible to talk about Night Train to Munich without mentioning its predecessor, Hitchcock's perfect The Lady Vanishes. Written by the same team, starring the same woman, and featuring one of the same classically British pair of characters as sidekicks and comic relief, both films are romantic espionage thrillers with a comic slant that also happen to center around a train and getting an important person out of enemy territory. Carol Reed (a true studio craftsman, who would go on to direct many other classics, including The Third Man) doesn't have the same wryly dark sensibility that was probably Hitchcock's strongest suit, but the movie is so exciting and throws enough curve balls at the viewer that it's easy to forget the superior earlier film while watching this one.

Night Train to Munich isn't the best movie ever or anything, but it's the kind of movie that big narrative film was invented for. It's pure, unadulterated fun, never less than entertaining. For the most part, blockbuster films have forgotten this, mostly thanks to the auteur power seeping into all areas of filmmaking, imbuing skilled but soulless hacks like Michael Bay with the courage to attempt to make "serious" pictures when they should be entertaining audiences. A film like Star Trek, the franchise's excellent reboot, indicates that there are still some people who understand this. But the fact that Night Train to Munich was able to accomplish this in 1940, just one year into the war, is an astonishing accomplishment in contemporary terms. It's hard to imagine a movie made, for example, in 2002, using a plot about terrorists to not only poke fun at the enemy, but craft a film that is essentially meant as escapism, nevertheless utilizing mild propaganda and solidifying national unity. They simply don't make 'em like they used to.

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