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Train Wrecks

February 1, 2010

by John Farr

No, John’s not recommending terrible films; these films all feature horrific train wrecks.


The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), a spit-and-polish British officer, endures a humiliating confinement in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War, and is forced to lead the building of a bridge for the movement of Japanese materiel, a task which slowly begins to consume him, blurring his sense of allegiance. All the while we watch the relationship between him and the formal but civilized camp commandant (Sessue Hayakawa) evolve from outright hostility to something close to mutual respect. Ultimately, an American officer (William Holden) who knew Nicholson in the camp but has since escaped, is assigned to return and blow up the bridge.

WHY I LOVE IT:

Based on a true story, this riveting war film, shot in Sri Lanka, represented a new career peak for director David Lean, who’d go on to shoot the monumental “Lawrence Of Arabia”. Top-notch acting (Guinness won an Oscar after initially turning down the role), authentic atmosphere and a brilliant script add up to grand adventure and powerful human drama. The whole ensemble cast is superb, notably Holden, Hayakawa, and the late, great Jack Hawkins.


The Train (1964)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Cold-blooded Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) wants to remove a a cache of priceless art from France by train in the waning days of the Nazi occupation. With the help of some gallant friends in the Resistance, railroad worker Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) takes on the dangerous task of derailing this mission.

WHY I LOVE IT:

John Frankenheimer’s pulse-pounding war film is lean and riveting, as Lancaster’s character works intrepidly to foil Von Waldheim’s exacting plans. Lancaster is restrained and no-nonsense as Labiche- thankfully he doesn’t even attempt a French accent, while Scofield is icy perfection as the ruthless Von Waldheim. This is one of my personal favorites from the sixties and ranks among the talented Frankenheimer’s best work.


The Fugitive (1993)

WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

Andrew Davis’s adaptation of the 60′s TV series involves Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a prominent Chicago doctor accused of murdering his wife. The jury doesn’t buy Kimble’s story about confronting a one-armed man in his apartment the night his wife was killed, and he is convicted. When Kimble escapes custody, he hunts the real culprit, and ace U.S Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) gets assigned to track him down. Will Gerard get to Kimble before the doctor can clear himself?

WHY I LOVE IT:

A textbook example of a first-rate thriller, buoyed by Davis’s breathless pacing and a picture-stealing performance from Jones, who won an Oscar. Drawing from his Indiana Jones days, Ford is just right as the besieged hero always one step ahead of disaster, but Jones’s Gerard, whose drive is offset by a wry, folksy humor, is intensely charismatic as the intrepid hound-dog on Kimble’s trail. Over ten years after its initial release, it’s worth another peek if you haven’t seen it since. First-timers should definitely plunge.


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  • comments (0)
  • Nikki

    “Silver Streak” with the wonderful crash at the end into the Chicago terminal, and the train wreck in “The Greatest Show On Earth” when Jimmy Stewart reveals that’s he really a doctor on-the-run as he cares for the wounded.

  • Nikki

    Sorry for the typos – blame it on frozen fingers. I just came in from the cold.

  • rayban

    What train wreck could top David Lean’s train wreck in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”?

  • Roy

    Come on now. How can the bloggers here overlook Sergio Leone’s excellent Duck You Sucker aka A Fistful of Dynamite (1972) containing an excellent two train collision wreck, complete with exploding dynamite, just before the climatic battle scene.
    When it comes to great train wrecks, there is also a good one in the Charles Bronson starring vehicle Breakheart Pass from 1975

  • Nikki

    YES! “Duck You Sucker” is a great choice! I forgot about that film.