Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Favorite Film: NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1940) starring Rex Harrison and Margaret Lockwood

I simply can't remember who recommended NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (directed by Carol Reed) to me, but it was sometime last month on one of the book/film blogs. Whoever it was: I thank you from the bottom of my heart. (If you know who you are, make yourself known!) This is now one of my favorite 1940's films. As you may have guessed, I love films in which the good guys are up against the bad guys, especially when the bad guys are Nazis. This is one of those. Amazingly, I don't think I've ever seen it before. Never heard of it either.

I'm wondering if this isn't Paul Henreid's film debut, too. Since he's in most of the film and does not have co-star billing at all. In fact, he's billed as Paul Von Henreid. The two co-stars are definitely Rex Harrison and Margaret Lockwood.

I don't like Paul Henreid, but he's not the romantic lead in this, so I tolerated him. The story takes place just as the Nazis march, unopposed, into Czechoslovakia in 1938 - while the rest of Europe hid it's shame-faced self, by the way.

Anyway, Margaret Lockwood plays a young Czech woman who's father is a scientist working on some terribly important thing that the Nazis can't be allowed to have. Just as he's being spirited out of the country, Lockwood is captured by the Gestapo and sent to a concentration camp.

There she comes in contact with Paul Henreid who is also an inmate of the camp - men and women are side-by-side separated by a barbed wire fence. Both talk of finding a way out but decide it's futile until one of the guards turns out to be an old friend of Henreid from earlier days. One night, the search light goes out for a few minutes, and Lockwood and Henreid make their escape.

They find their way to England and once there Lockwood must re-connect with her scientist father who is now working for the Brits. (Why she just doesn't march into the British Embassy is never made clear. Maybe it's because she doesn't have papers and she's a Czech.)

This all takes up a good third of the film and the first time I saw it, I began to think that maybe Rex Harrison wasn't in it after all. (I missed the opening credits the first time around.) So it'sone of those films in which the star doesn't make his debut until quite a ways in. Interesting.

In the meantime, it turns out that the Paul Henreid character is a wolf in sheep's clothing: he is in fact, a Nazi. He was planted at the concentration camp to earn Lockwood's trust and their escape was organized in order for them to get to England and find Lockwood's father. But Lockwood suspects nothing.

I was never a huge fan of Margaret Lockwood either, not even in one of my other favorite films, Hitchcock's THE LADY VANISHES. She's an okay actress and beautiful and all, but there was always something detached-seeming about her. She never quite forgot that the camera was there. And by the way, THE LADY VANISHES and NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH share something else: the same screenwriters, Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. (From an original story by Gordon Wellesley.)

After Lockwood puts an item in the Brit. newspapers' personal pages, she is contacted and told to go to Bournemouth (?) or one of those touristy seaside English towns and contact a man named Gus Bennett. Enter Rex Harrison. He plays a huckster selling sheet-music on the boardwalk. At first, Lockwood thinks she's gotten the wrong Gus Bennett, but after a few minutes it becomes clear that Harrison is something other than a seaside boardwalk huckster.

From then on, by sheer force of personality, Harrison takes over the movie. He is simply wonderful as an undercover agent whose daring and impromptu genius will save the day even when things look their bleakest. He looks wonderful too, I'd never realized how attractive the early Harrison could be.

Well, once Lockwood and her father are re-captured, with the help of Paul Henreid's vile character, they are spirited by submarine back to Germany.

What does Harrison's character do? Why, he impersonates a German Army Major (looking great in a spiffy uniform), whisks into Germany and insinuates himself into the party travelling to Munich with Lockwood and her father under guard. Night train to Munich - get it?

And who should also be traveling by train that same night? None other than Caldicott and Charters - those two cricket-mad Englishmen who first appeared to lend a hand (belatedly, it's true) in THE LADY VANISHES. Played delightfully by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne again, of course. War has not yet been declared with England, so they are free to travel within Germany still.

Turns out that Charters recognizes Rex Harrison's character as someone he went to school with. And in their usual hesitant, leery of getting involved way, the best laid plans of mice and Englishmen go awry. Charters slips up and gives the game away in front of Henreid's character.

A new plot is hatched spontaneously on the train. There's a daring escape by car into the mountains. Harrison, Lockwood, Charters and Caldicott and Lockwood's father must try and escape by cable car across the pass into Switzerland while chased by a team of Nazis. A gun battle ensues as Rex Harrison is left behind to fight off the Nazis with a hand gun. Lots of bullets in these guns by the way.

Will he make a daring escape?

What do you think?

Terrific movie.


  1. Looks like I'm going to have to add yet another film to my Netflix queue...! :)

  2. This sounds like an intriguing movie, Yvette. Thank goodness for Netflix as we can easily order all these wonderful old films.

  3. Oh gosh, another fantastic sounding classic movie. I don't watch movies about WWII, due to the horrific Nazi past, which I try not to think about.
    However, this sounds like a good one.
    I now have at the library on reserve a Jane Russell/Robert Mitchum noir, and have 20th Century and Deja Vu in hand.
    What will I come to? A classic movie fanatic!
    I hope you don't take down the posters from the web site's right side. I just looked at it again to be reminded of movies I want to see or rewatch.
    I recently saw again "The Lady Vanishes," which I adored--especially the woman herself and the two British guys. I could see this every few years.
    I'll have to see which Margaret Lockwood and Rex Harrison movies are at the library.
    I like Paul Henreid (I know you do not prefer him), although I think he was hard to get along with. I liked him in Casablanca and one of my mother's favorites, Watch on the Rhine.

  4. I also recently saw this for the first time, and also throughly enjoyed it! Can I also recommend 'Hobson's Choice' my favourite 1940s film.

  5. Coffee and a book chick: Yes! Add this to your queue! If you like films from that era, you will love this one.

  6. Pat: I'm reading all about your wonderful trip, Pat. Welcome back! And yes, thank goodness for Netflix! These older films are just too good to forget about that's for sure.

  7. Kathy: No, I won't take the posters down. The only thing I might do is switch one or two around as I discover new/old films I like. I don't want the 'sides' to become static.

    THE LADY VANISHES is one of my favorites, too. I love early Hitchcock even more than his later stuff. The same two Brit-twits (who turn out to be heroic in the end) are in NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH. I can't believe I never saw this film before.

    Don't forget to let me know how you like DEJA VU.

  8. Michelle: I know! I can't believe I'd never even heard of NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH until recently. Just a super film!

    I've added HOBSON'S CHOICE to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the tip. And HOLIDAY with Cary Grant, which someone else recommended. Another two films I don't think I've ever seen. :)

  9. I find you can't go wrong if the movie's got a train in it.

    Nice review. By the way, where did you find that "a favorite film" graphic? I love it.

  10. Jacqueline: I so agree. Intrigue on a train will capture my interest every time. :)

    Ahem...the graphic. Well I found an old poster on google, trimmed it and added the type myself. I'll probably get in trouble one of these days.

    I'm glad you like it. Thanks.

  11. I love all the images on your blog, and the design. You've got a great eye.

  12. Thanks, Jacqueline. I truly appreciate the kind words. I did have some design training many years ago - it comes in handy. :)

  13. I second and third Jacqueline's keen insights.

  14. Thanks, m'dear. Much appreciated. :)

  15. I think I read that post too because I remember commenting on C&C. How I love those characters. I thought both TLV and this one were fantastic, and I am very fond of Margaret Lockwood. I'd like to see her in more movies.

  16. Nan: If only I could remember where we chatted about them...But at least I got to see the film. I think this is one I might have to add to my permanent dvd collection. :)

  17. Yvette -


    Yep, it was me. Back on one of the discussions about another Rex Harrison movie called Escape at Mystery*File.

    So glad you liked it. I completly forgot about the two guys from THE LADY VANISHES. Glad you were surprised by that. Wasn't that cable car chase nifty? Great flick!

  18. John: Well, this was a great recommendation, John. THANKS AGAIN! I'm going to check out some more of Rex Harrison's early films. I mean, he was simply dashing. As I said, I think I'm going to add this one to my permanent collection. :)

  19. I've heard of this movie but had never seen it. I think I'm going to have to get ahold of it and see it as soon as I can. Thanks for the reccomendation.

  20. Ryan: You have to see this, it is wonderful! Luckily, Netflix has it. :)

  21. Learn much more about the Charters and Caldicott characters at their own website


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