NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (Carol Reed, 1940)

Carol Reed, whose impersonations included Georg Wilhelm Pabst in the underground scenes of The Stars Look Down (1939) and Orson Welles in everything in The Third Man (1949), tried his hand at Hitchcock in between, in Night Train to Munich, a film that borrowed scenarists Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, star Margaret Lockwood, and the comical team of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne—here interested in golf rather than cricket—from Hitchcock’s sparkling mix of comedy and suspense, The Lady Vanishes (1938), the one film by Hitchcock that everybody loves, even the Hitchcock-haters. Some of Reed’s action also unfolds on a train, again with Nazis onboard, but this time a British agent who is impersonating a Nazi is trying to deliver to safety Czech scientist Axel Bomasch and his daughter, Anna, whom the agent, Gus Bennett, is wooing on the side.
     The Oscar-nominated story by Gordon Wellesley is ridiculous, and the adventures relies for its believability wholly on a conventional convenience: everyone, whether Czech, German or British, speaks English all the time, probably even in their dreams. It doesn’t help, either, that Rex Harrison, who plays Gus, apparently mistakenly believed he was acting in a farce. As for the leading lady, who plays Anna, well, Lockwood didn’t much help even The Lady Vanishes—or, for that matter, The Stars Look Down.
     The intrigue deepens a bit once the night train is boarded, but that seems to take forever. Prior to that, a more plodding film would be hard to imagine. Radford and Wayne appear as a godsend, and one or the other—I’ve never figured out which is which—perfectly delivers an hilarious line, involving Punch, that reflects a lack of British understanding that the whole world doesn’t necessarily think in British terms.

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