Wednesday 18 March 2020

Movie Review: Night Train To Munich (1940)

A spy adventure, Night Train To Munich creates the fundamentals of a good thriller but mixes in an excess of unfortunate frivolity.

It's 1939, and the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia. Unwilling to work for the Germans, Czech armour-plating scientist Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt) escapes to England, but his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood) is caught and imprisoned in a concentration camp. The Nazis believe she will lead them to Axel's whereabouts, and Gestapo Captain Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid) dupes her into a staged escape and lands with Anna in Britain.

With the help of British Intelligence Officer Dickie Randall (Rex Harrison) Anna indeed locates her dad in the small seaside community of Brightbourne. Karl pounces and captures both Axel and Anna, returning them to Germany via U-Boat. Randall has a narrow window of opportunity to extract the scientist and his daughter before they are transferred to Munich. He pretends to be Major Ulrich Herzog of the Corps of Engineers and infiltrates the Nazi bureaucracy to attempt a dangerous rescue.

Approximately half of a very good film, Night Train To Munich is Hitchcock light. The spy versus spy adventure includes a lukewarm romance, some humour and plenty of subterfuge, but the story becomes more absurd with every passing scene, straining credibility even by jovial genre standards.

Director Carol Reed keeps the action moving briskly, leading to the reasonably engaging set-piece journey on an overnight train between Berlin and Munich. England declares war on Germany that night, and Randall's mission is suddenly much more dangerous, with his ruse of pretending to be a German officer already fraying at the edges.

But here Reed stumbles. The marginal characters of English travelers Charters and Caldicott crash the story quite late into the film and suddenly start to burn many minutes of screen time with their lighthearted but irritable Englishmen abroad banter. Their side-character intervention deflates all the built-up tension and momentum, and Night Train To Munich never recovers.

Reed makes an attempt at amends with a final 15 minutes featuring an almost literal cliffhanger, placing the doofus sidekicks back into a box and delivering a well-executed climax straight out of the Hitchcockian playbook.

The performances are adequate, with Paul Henreid (billed as Paul von Hernried to amplify his German credentials) overshadowing Rex Harrison. Lockwood is more prominent than Harcourt, but both are primarily victims of swirling events around them and barely leave an impression.

Clever, improbable and uneven, Night Train To Munich offers mixed scenery.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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