Never heard of this movie? The plot might have something to do with that. A group of French Resistance fighters in the waning days of World War II tries to keep an art-loving Nazi Colonel from stealing a train-load of French Impressionist paintings.
This is not a joke. How this movie ever got a green light is amazing. Anyone who loves a well-made movie should be grateful.
Though starring a bankable Hollywood star, Burt Lancaster, the film has an independent feel. Every war movie cliché is overturned. The Nazi is the art-lover. The Hero thinks the mission is a waste of time and lives. Innocents are killed. Because they love art? No, just at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The movie creates suspense from knowledge. Details of the mission are intricately shown, making the viewer feel like a participant. In one scene, the camera stays fixed on a spot of ground, we see hands wiring explosives (a time consuming process). In the background we hear the whistle of a train in the distance. Suspense builds as the whistle gets louder, the camera stays on one spot, and the hands continue to work. We want to reach out and give the character some help. But all we can do is watch and wring our hands.
While it would have been nice to have Burt Lancaster use a French accent, that is forgotten as his weariness with war and death permeates his scenes.
Paul Schofield makes us watch and wonder at a man who cares not for his career, his fellow soldiers, or the enemy – but only for Renoir, Degas, and Monet.
Director John Frankenheimer has taken a strange story and made it suspenseful by slowing it down. I’m reminded of a time I had the flu and was lying in a tub of hot water trying to sweat it out. The apartment was empty, and silent. In the silence, the sound of the clock becomes louder. With nothing else to distract me, I notice that clicking noise of each second. As I focus more on that detail, I notice the slight difference in volume of the clicks. Less as the hand goes with gravity away from the 12, and increasing as the mechanism strains past the 6 going against gravity. The sound surrounds me.
Frankenheimer makes you focus on the details. The suspense surrounds you.