Night Train to Munich: Criterion Collection
June 21, 2010
When Night Train to Munich (1940) was first proposed as a film, it was originally intended to be more serious in tone and had the working title of Gestapo. Despite being based on Report on a Fugitive, a serialized novel by Australian writer Gordon Wellesley, only the first ten minutes of the film used material from the book. When screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, fresh from their success scripting The Lady Vanishes (1938) for Alfred Hitchcock, came on board, the tone of the film shifted to a comedy-thriller. This exciting British thriller, set on a train before World War II began, was made in the tradition of Hitchcock and was a hit both in England and in the United States, but quickly faded into obscurity because it was often deemed a pale imitation of the Master of Suspense.
Director Carol Reed puts things into historical perspective and gives us an idea of what is going on at the time with newsreel footage of Nazi forces occupying various parts of Europe. In Prague, authorities fear that Axel Bomasch’s (Harcourt) armor plating invention will fall into Nazi hands because it could revolutionalize defensive warfare. To avoid the rapidly encroaching Nazi army, Bomasch and his daughter Anna (Lockwood) leave Czechoslovakia immediately so that he can continue his work elsewhere.
However, they are separated and while he escapes by plane, she is captured and placed in a concentration camp. With the help of fellow prisoner Karl Marsen (Henreid), she escapes. They arrive in London where she attempts to contact her father. With the help of undercover agent Gus Bennett (Harrison), the Bomaschs are reunited only to be captured by the Nazis thanks to Marsen, a double agent. Posing a high-ranking Nazi officer, Bennett finds Anna and her father and manages to get them on a train to Munich with Marsen accompanying them.
The first hour of Night Train to Munich introduces the characters and their relationship to one another in relation to the story. The thriller elements on the train don’t actually kick in until the last 40 minutes. It is at this point that the film really picks up as Bennett tries to help the Bomaschs escape while Marsen discovers Bennett’s ruse. Reed handles this all with the consummate skill of a professional. This early film of his would hint at future excellent efforts, chief among them The Third Man (1949).
The lone extra features a conversation between film scholars Bruce Babington and Peter Evans as they talk about the contributions of screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat and director Carol Reed. Babington and Evans point out that the writers wrote The Lady Vanishes previous to this one and also mention how Reed never regarded himself as an auteur. He enjoyed working on all kinds of diverse films. This is a very informative extra that provides plenty of backstory on the two primary creative forces behind Night Train to Munich.