John Frankenheimer's thrilling WWII action adventure classic The Train starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield returns to home video for an excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. The film is an action-packed but thoughtful examination of the cost of war with Lancaster and Scofield caught in a cat-and-mouse game over a train loaded with stolen French art. Thanks to KLSC, the film picks up an impressive new Dolby Vision 4K transfer, solid audio, and a lovely assortment of interesting bonus features. Very Highly Recommended
As I already previously reviewed KLSC's last Blu-ray release of The Train so I'll defer to those words here:
The war's end is near. The Allies are mere days away from liberating Paris. Before American, French, and English troops march into the city, Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) has ordered the theft of the most priceless paintings, the cultural heritage and glory of France to be shipped off to Germany for his own personal collection. Under pressure from the French resistance leaders and the allies, railroad man Labiche and his team of saboteurs must find a way to safely stop the train without destroying the irreplaceable works of art.
Our resident Classics Guru David Krauss already reviewed The Train on Blu-ray - twice. Since he covered those two Twilight Time releases, he was ready to pass the torch to someone else for the Kino Lorber Studio Classics re-re-release. Those two releases from Twilight Time are virtually identical - you can read reviews for them HERE and HERE.
While I do agree with David that The Train can be very uneven, I think it's a better movie than it's often given credit. It really is the product of two directors, Arthur Penn developed the film, cast the film, oversaw the screenplay - apparently lending his hands there as well. By all accounts, it was turning into an Arthur Penn film starring Burt Lancaster. But - Lancaster was the producer and star, he called the shots. After one day of filming Penn was fired, John Frankenheimer was hired, and the production shut down so they could retool the script to speed up the action.
The final product admittedly feels like a pie with a lot of hands in its making. Elements of Penn's more meditative intentions about the relationship between humanity and dignity with art remain. If you took a shot every time someone contemplatively uttered "the glory of France" you'd have a hell of a drinking game. Then you have the intense kinetic energy Frankenheimer brought to the production staging impressive and thrilling action sequences with Lancaster often front and center doing his own stunt work.
Despite the tinkering, the stuttering pace, and some of Lancaster's more "theatrical" monologues, I dearly love this movie. And not for nostalgia's sake that it was one of the films my wife introduced me to early in our relationship. I've always admired Frankenheimer and what he brought to films - especially troubled productions where he'd be unceremoniously brought in to save a film. His use of deep focus long takes for me always brought an intimate edge to any scene. Watch the scene where Labche pleads for Papa Boule's (Michel Simon) life. Lancaster's face takes up the left side, Simon and a Nazi Goon in the middle, with the extensive trainyard in the background all teeming with activity. It's beautiful photography and scene direction and there are numerous moments like that throughout the film. The human element is never lost even against several thrilling action set pieces.
If there's a knock I will give the film is that it plays to Burt Lancaster's best and worst tendencies. As a former circus trapeze performer, he brings intense physicality to every movie ready and willing to do all his own stunts. As a genuine dramatic actor, he can bring emotional weight to any role with simple mannerisms and line utterances. A simple "no" or "yes" carries more weight with Lancaster than a monologue. With The Train, the film seems to almost go out of its way to showcase Lancaster's natural physicality while also indulging some over-long monologues complete with some very stage-like gesturing that plays better for the back of the house than a major motion picture. But with a lot on the line and the need for a hit, I can forgive these indulgences.
Where The Train works best is the cat-and-mouse game between Colonel Von Waldheim and Labiche. While this story is based on historical efforts from French Resistance and railroad men to keep trains like the one featured in the film diverted long enough for the Allies to rescue them, it's the dynamic between the two leads that sells this show. At first, you're deceived that Von Waldheim may actually not be so bad - for a Nazi. He appreciates the art but is greedy and wants it for himself. However, we soon realize he's willing to risk any amount of human life to ensure the safe delivery of his prize. On the other hand, Labiche doesn't really give a damn about the art. It's important sure, but human lives are more important to him. He goes out of his way to make sure as few lives as possible are lost. When the death toll mounts he questions whether or not the mission is worth it. But then it's pointed out that all of the lives lost would be for nothing if Von Waldheim wins and so the game becomes personal - right to the bitter end.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
The Train pulls into the home video station one more time, only this time it's carrying a new two-disc 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Pressed on a BD-100 disc with a Region A BD-50 for the 1080p and bonus features, the discs are housed in a two-disc case with reversible insert art and slipcover. The discs load to static image main menus with traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet featuring a great essay from Julie Kirgo.
After three releases of The Train on Blu-ray, all using the same transfer, I actually didn't think we'd see another edition or one that would offer much of an upgrade. The past releases were pretty good. They offered nice clarity, and some clean details, but they were also marred by staining, sometimes rough speckling, and notable age damage. See something look that way long enough and you start to believe it can't look any better. Then along comes a new scan and some Dolby Vision HDR...
Well, color me gobsmacked. I genuinely didn't believe this film could look any better and I am simply floored by this transfer. I've been watching this film again and again for years and I was seeing details in costuming, facial features, and production design I'd never noticed or in some cases actually been able to see before. Little scars, the textures of the uniforms, Lancaster's fuzzy comfy cardigan, or even a crack in a pipe all shine with terrific clarity. Film grain is also naturally rendered without ever looking noisy or intrusive or loud as it frequently did in past releases. Nor are there any signs of DNR or smoothing tinkering. Then comes Dolby Vision HDR to give the film's grayscale a welcome boost. Whites are brilliantly crisp, blacks are deep and inky, and there's a wonderful range of shadows in between. Through so many sequences I was struck but the sense of three-dimensional depth I'd never felt with any past release. On that note, the film looks better than ever. Trouble spots of staining and age damage have been completely removed or so greatly mitigated you barely even notice anymore. Simply put, I'm amazed one of my favorite films looks this incredible.
On the audio front, KLSC brings back the same solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix but also sweetens the pot with a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 track. - here are my previous thoughts on the 2.0 Mono mix:
Where the previous Twilight Time releases offered a DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono mix, this release from KLSC has been bumped up to a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix that really doesn't add a whole lot to the show but still works nicely. Spread over the channels, this mix may offer a little more impact here and there, but flipping between the discs there really isn't a lot of variance. Dialog is still clean and clear. The Maurice Jarre score still hits the right notes between overt patriotism and steady thrills. Action sequences still have a terrific impact and the steady chugging of a train cooling down still packs a sonic wallop in the film's final moments.
Now the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is an interesting add, not sure why it wasn't a full DTS track, but it does offer up an alright surround experience. I still favor the 2.0 mono but this is pretty good. This track mostly spreads key elements like dialog and some key sound effects through the Front/Center channels leaving the side/rear channels for more establishing audio effects and music. It's not a bad mix per se, but I also wasn't blown away by it either. it feels true to the film, but I also felt like using my receiver's Neural:X function on the 2.0 mono track achieved a similar goal.
On the bonus features front, KLSC largely recycles the bonus features from their last Blu-ray. The two audio commentaries are still great, but it would have been nice to see the old Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo commentary return. But not content to rest on what they've already done, Kino also includes the short vintage Making-Of from 1964 as well as Brian Trenchard-Smith's Trailers from Hell segment. Couple that with a reprinting of Julie Kirgo's essay, and you still have an excellent assortment of bonus features to dig through.
4K UHD Disc
John Frankenheimer sharpened his eye for thrills and action with The Train. He may have been brought in as a last-minute replacement because Lancaster couldn't work with Penn and make the film he wanted to make, but through that chaos rides one hell of a dramatically-charged action film. Digging into the dramatic themes, the film never loses focus on thrilling action setpieces and tightly wound suspense scenes leading to one of the best final scenes of any action movie ever. Now KLSC has managed to work some kind of miracle delivering this exceptional film to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray looking better than ever. I honestly didn't believe it could get better than what we had with past releases but one new 4K scan and Dolby Vision HDR application later and here we are - another reason to own this film on disc. It might be a tough sell to others out there like me who have gone through three Blu-ray releases already, I was hesitant to purchase myself, but I do not regret it in the least. I'm celebrating it. Highly Recommended.