Night Train to Munich (1940)
December 29, 2019 7:25 PM - Subscribe
It's 1939, and an unlikely seaside crooner must rescue a aged scientist and his vivacious daughter from the Nazis, before they steal his secret technology for war. It's not Top Secret, it's Night Train to Munich, a 1940 British spy thriller comedy starring Paul Henreid (Casablanca) and Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady). From The Lady Vanishes return top-billed Margaret Lockwood, the screenwriters Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, and — most importantly — cricket-brained comic duo Charters and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford), thus establishing a Charters and Caldicott Cinematic Universe.
Night Train to Munich’s chief weakness is the blatantly bargain-basement model work, especially the cliff-hanging finale involving cable cars in the Swiss Alps. [Director Carol Reed] himself was embarrassed by it: “I remember at the time thinking that the mountains looked like ice cream. But the war was on, Gainsborough had a very small stage—and it was a very bad model.” Still, this perhaps adds to the film’s period charm, and certainly doesn’t detract from one’s enjoyment of Night Train to Munich as a pacy, lively comedy-thriller, as well as an intriguing glimpse into the British psyche in the opening months of World War II.
-- Philip Kemp, Criterion
The tone, coming early in the war, is curiously of its time, cheeky and slapdash in a way the Nazis would rarely be treated once the true extent of Hitler’s regime became apparent. Here the Germans are bumbling aristocratic fools in the traditional English style; charmless and largely incompetent overlords who look as silly as they do sinister in their neatly pressed Gestapo uniforms. Jokes fly thick and references to concentration camps are tossed around with the kind of casual ease that would be swiftly dropped in later years.Getting a Raffles reference was a bit of a Baadeer-Meinhof after this Twitter thread. I also caught the reference to Bulldog Drummond, a kind of rough and tumble gentleman-detective-cum-proto-James-Bond who hates Germans and likes to punch things.
No other tone would have worked for such a rambunctious country-crossing adventure. It’s fun and frothy, fast paced entertainment by the standards of the time. Even today it still flies past, jumping from Prague to London, the English seaside, Berlin, Munich, and a daring cable car escape across the mountainous Swiss border.
-- Stephen Mayne, PopMatters