Produced two years earlier, it’s impossible not to think of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes while watching Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you consider that both films were adapted from novels by the screenwriting team of Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Both are set during wartime and some of the thematic elements are similar, although Night Train to Munich deals more with the realities of the Nazi threat to Europe.
Based on Report on a Fugitive by Gordon Wellesley, Night Train to Munich is set largely on September 3, 1939, the day that England declared war on Germany. The story opens in Czechoslovakia, where we are introduced to Axel Bomasch (James Harcourt), a Czech scientist working on a new design fir armour plating that could make a difference in the war. When the Germans invade the country, he is flown to Britain. However, his daughter Anna (Margaret Lockwood), is arrested before she can get to the airport and sent to a concentration camp, where she is interrogated by Nazi’s in search of her father. She refuses to cooperate and eventually escapes to England with the help of another prisoner named Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid). Unfortunately for Anna, Karl is a double agent who promptly turns her and Dr. Bomasch over to Gestapo.
When news of Dr. Bomasch’s capture reaches London, British agent Gus Bennett (Rex Harrison) is charged with helping the Czech’s escape to safety in Switzerland. Posing as a high-ranking SS officer named Ulrich Herzoff (Harrison makes for a surprisingly effective Nazi, apart from a questionable accent on occasion), Bennett is under the constant threat of being exposed, particularly when he runs into Charters (Basil Radford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne), the latter of whom recognizes him from their amateur cricket-playing days. When Bennett is later found out by the film’s chief Nazi villain, it’s left to his former classmate to deliver the news. With that, plans are thrown out the window and everyone is forced to improvise.
Despite being shot almost entirely on soundstages, Night Train to Munich feels expansive. Reed and cinematographer Otto Kanturek create impressive looking tracking shots of large locations, despite using miniatures. The film culminates with a shout-out on the border between Germany and Switzerland as our heroes attempt to make it to safety. While the sequence doesn’t offer up the excitement an on location shoot with stuntman would have, it still gives viewers a good sense of the danger the character’s face.
Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne appear in here as Charters and Caldicott and as they did in The Lady Vanishes. Once again, the actor’s performances are standouts, as their characters provide the perfect comic beats, breaking tension when necessary, they also manage to keep Harrison’s egotistical agent in check. Suspenseful with moments of humor, Night Train to Munich is well worth a look and would make a great double feature with The Lady Vanishes, also available from Criterion.
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.34:1, Criterion’s 1080p transfer is impressive. The depth is significant throughout. The consistent grain texture gives the entire proceeding a true filmic appearance, while the blacks, whites and grays look appropriate without ever seeming over blown. Criterion has done a fine job with this transfer, removing any signs of damage as convincingly as possible.
The LPCM 1.0. Audio track provides minimal depth, but it’s clean and clear. The score by Louis Levy and Charles Williams, also comes through nicely. Given the recording limitations at the time this track was recorded, there are no real complaints to be made.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Interview with Bruce Babington and Peter Evans (HD, 29:22) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2010, Bruce Babington, author of Launder and Gilliat, and Peter Evans, author of Carol Reed, discuss the production history of Night Train to Munich and the political environment in which the film was released in 1940.
- Leaflet: An illustrated Leaflet featuring an essay by film critic Philip Kemp.