If the two British twits on the titular train in Carol Reed’s overlooked, entertaining Night Train to Munich seem to have wandered in from another movie, it’s because they have.
More a follow-up than a sequel to Hitchcock’s 1938 The Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich shares with the earlier film (a) the same screenwriting team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, (b) a barely pre-WWII European milieu, (c) a setting on a train and efforts to spirit away a lady on the train, (d) similar male and female protagonists, and (e) Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as a pair of cricket-loving Englishmen named Charters and Caldicott (roles the actors repeatedly reprised in later years).
Margaret Lockwood is the female lead in both films, but she’s not the same character (and in Hitch’s film she isn’t the vanishing lady). Night Train to Munich stars Lockwood as Anna Bomasch, the daughter of an important Czech scientist (James Harcourt) whose latest discovery is of great military interest both to the Germans and the Allies. When the Nazis invade Czechoslovakia, Dr. Bomasch flees for England, but the Nazis plot to get at him through his daughter.
Playing against nascent type, a young Rex Harrison takes a hand as a British agent who goes by Gus Bennett, embarking on a daring undercover rescue. Harrison’s rather detached, narcissistic screen persona makes for an unconventional romantic hero; as Lockwood snarks when he’s congratulating himself after a close call with a German officer, “If a woman ever loved you the way you love yourself, it would be one of the great romances of history.”
Night Train to Munich isn’t one of the great romances of history, and Reed, not yet the master who would produce The Third Man, provides low-key direction takes awhile to catch fire. It’s always engaging, though, and builds by stages to a riveting climax at the Swiss border that would have done the Master of Suspense proud.
The dialogue is full of political barbs — “Freedom in Germany is far superior to other countries,” declares a character in a German uniform with deliberate irony; “it’s carefully controlled and regulated by the state” — without the heavy-handed propaganda of later WWII films. Paul Henreid (here credited as Paul von Hernreid) has a startling role that contrasts ironically with the role he would become best known for, Victor Lazlo in Casablanca.
Newly available from the Criterion Collection, Night Train to Munich comes with one notable extra, a video dialogue between film historians Bruce Babington and Peter Evans on the film and its makers.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.