Night Train to Munich-1940
Starring-Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison
Scott’s Review #855
Reviewed January 9, 2019
Night Train to Munich (1940) is a taut war thriller unique in the subject matter of World War II made before the war became full-blown and all the horrors not known. The film has a measure of tie-in with The Lady Vanishes (1938), and Alfred Hitchcock projects with familiar crossover characters. The final thirty minutes of the film are spectacular in excitement and chase scenes, but the overly complex plot takes way too long to take-off, leaving me underwhelmed and bored through most of the experience.
In March 1939 a Czechoslovakian scientist, Axel (James Harcourt) is wanted for questioning by the German Gestapo. Residing in Britain, they accost his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) and throw her in a concentration camp. She meets fellow prisoners and assumed ally Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid) who escapes with her to the safety of London. He is revealed to be a Gestapo agent assigned to gain her trust and question her father. Finally, Anna meets undercover British intelligence officer Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison) who poses as a Nazi officer to take Anna and her father to safety.
The first forty-five minutes to an hour of Night Train to Munich is slow-moving with a complicated and rather uninteresting plot. I am all for slow-moving films provided the setup is there and the elements align properly. I felt shammed since the cover art and title of the film suggest a more robust experience and I found myself continuing to ask, “Where is the train?” and “Where is the mountainous terrain and ski lift?” as pictured. These elements finally do arrive, but the wait is longer than necessary.
The fact that Karl and Dickie are similar in physical appearance and are both undercovers makes the average viewer a bit confused. Plus, it takes a while to realize who is playing for whose team and since the film is related to The Lady Vanishes I expected a bit more of the suspense and intrigue commonplace with a Hitchcock telling. The core of the film is mediocre.
Yet the above criticisms can be almost forgiven when events kick into high gear and Night Train to Munich becomes an entirely different film. A riveting train ride brings enormous treats and intrigue as Dickie, Anna, and Axel attempt to outwit Karl and escape before their train arrives in Munich. The fun becomes the cat and mouse game between the group when a secret note is hidden under a doughnut as they sip tea together and feign pleasantries in one of the film’s best scenes.
The ravishing mountaintop finale is breathtaking when Dickie attempts to transport everyone via a ski lift from Germany to the safety of Switzerland over perilously high mountains. The suspense reaches a boiling point when Karl and the Gestapo are hot on his heels. As a wild shootout commences we know not whether those on the lift will be saved. A potboiler reaches a shocking crescendo as the second’s tick by. For 1940 the sets and effects are remarkably impressive and believable rather than silly or staged.
Introduced in the final segment are humorous characters from another film, The Lady Vanishes. A late entry into the story, nonetheless they breathe life into the script making it as suspenseful as much as a yarn. British gentlemen Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Charters (Basil Radford) add humor and sophisticated wit as they aid the group’s successful escape. I wondered if the pair were gay since the men appeared in The Lady Vanishes and the esteemed director is known for slyly adding discreet LGBT characters into his pictures.
Slightly above a middling affair Night Train to Munich (1940) has impressive moments and a startlingly good ending worth the price of admission. The main portion of the film feels tired and overlong with not enough gravy to keep viewers caring for very long. An interesting double feature would be to watch this film side by side with The Lady Vanishes for similar concepts and themes.
Oscar Nominations: Best Original Story