In this story based on an actual World War II incident, the mandate to save treasured paintings provides a thought-provoking backdrop for exceptional action sequences. Shooting on location in deep focus black-and-white, and surrounding Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield with a French supporting cast (including Jeanne Moreau), director John Frankenheimer grounds the French Resistance’s efforts to stop a stolen art-laden German train from leaving France in a gritty realism that underlines the human cost of a mission that offers only symbolic rewards. Extending that realism to the train exploits, Frankenheimer used actual trains and stations to action scenes that were as suspenseful as possible, particularly when the art train will be too close to a German munitions train targeted by Allied air forces. The depth of characterization renders the action (and its outcome) all the more potent. — Lucia Bozzola

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