NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH (1941)


Directed by Carol Reed, it was released two years after Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Lady Vanishes and is often called a kind of, sort of, but not really sequel. And one can see why. Like …Vanishes, it opens with hokey miniatures for sets; much of it takes place on a train; it’s an espionage thriller with Nazis as the bad guys; it has the same writers (the ever witty Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder—real British treasures); and both star Margaret Lockwood in a role in which she clashes with the person she eventually falls in love with (Michael Redgrave in …Vanishes, Rex Harrison here, though it feels a bit more forced with Harrison). But perhaps the most enjoyable comparison is the reappearance of the have to be seen to be believed Charters and Caldicott, one of the earliest embodiments of the British upper class twit mixed with hobbits; they’re the sort of Englishmen who have a hard time realizing there’s anything more important going on in the world than cricket (at least in The Lady Vanishes; in Night Train to Munich it’s a worry that they might not be able to retrieve a set of golf clubs now that Germany has invaded Poland); but have no fear, when it finally, finally dons on them what is really going on, they’re as game as any man, proving that there will always be an England. These two characters were so popular, they reappeared in many films, as well as spawned a television series; in addition, the two actors portraying them (Basil Radford, Charters; Naunton Wayne, Caldicott) would often pop up in movies together as well, like Dead of Night and Quartet. In Night Train to Munich, Lockwood is a daughter who got left behind after her father, a Czechoslovakian scientist, escaped to Britain (don’t you just hate when that happens to you). Lockwood is then smuggled out with the help of Paul Lukas, but finds out it’s all a trap and it’s up to Rex Harrison, super agent, to go to Germany and rescue her. The plot is rather ridiculous the closer it gets to the climax. Hitchcock was always able to disguise the somewhat absurd parts of his stories, but Reed here can do little about any of it except keep things going and try to have as much fun as possible. Perhaps the oddest twist is that Lockwood is sent to find Harrison in order to meet up with her father; he sings songs at a pier in order to sell sheet music and is described as someone everyone knows, he’s that much a part of the area. But why the British intelligence would bury as brilliant an espionage agent as Harrison at some out of the way pier is never really explained. It’s fun if you’re not expecting The Lady Vanishes, but then nobody expects The Lady Vanishes.

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