Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Twilight Time - THE TRAIN (Encore Edition) and RUNAWAY TRAIN on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Twilight Time - THE TRAIN (Encore Edition) and RUNAWAY TRAIN on Blu-ray

THE TRAIN (1964; John Frankenheimer)

THE TRAIN is very much up there among the upper echelon of my absolute favorite films of all-time. I was relatively unaware of the "guys-on-a-mission" genre as it were until Quentin Tarantino started to emphasize his fondness for it in the late 1990s ( with particular regards to films like WHERE EAGLES DARE and DARK OF THE SUN). Once I became aware of them I began to seek as many of them out as I could. That impetus in combination with my "discovery" of John Frankenheimer around the same time (via my first coming across THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SECONDS) brought about a lovely intersection of both things in THE TRAIN. The guys on missions in the best of these films were often on missions based on wartime activity. Men following orders seems a perfect setup as to the why aspect of what makes them driven to do what it is they need to do. The phrase 'tour-de-force' is perhaps bandied about a bit more often than it should be (and I am guilty of this myself). When you look at Lancaster's performance in THE TRAIN you can see just exactly what that phrase should quantify. Not only is it a fantastically nuanced piece of acting, but on top of that, it is a remarkably physical performance which Lancaster carries off with utmost tenacity and just plain guts as to be exemplary on an all-time scale. Lancaster is an actor I came to early in my life (via FIELD OF DREAMS and TOUGH GUYS). I must say I didn't "get" him and found his acting to be kind of hokey or something. I couldn't put my finger on it but it seemed off to me somehow. Years later I started to see movies like THE TRAIN, THE SWIMMER and SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and it all started to make sense. Lancaster is one of the greats.
Frankenheimer is one of the greats too. He's just one of those no-nonsense directors that brings a fierce energy and dynamism to just about every scene he put to celluloid. THE TRAIN is a perfect example of this in that as much as it has some action to it, there is a lot of groundwork to be laid at the front half of the movie that is frankly very talky and yet so perfectly and subtly frenetic in not so obvious ways as to really keep things moving. It's an amazing example of this outstanding slow-burn tension that ramps up in the most calculatedly exquisite way as to make it truly one of the best films of this type ever made. This is the kind of movie that just gives me chills when I watch it. It is so much an outstanding example of cinematic storytelling and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Buy this Blu-ray. Now.

Special Features:
A very solid commentary track from Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and also Paul Seydor. This track gets right into the nuts and bolts of the production and how Frankenheimer replaced Arthur Penn after 10 days partially because of Lancaster's wishes for the film to have a bit more action to it. Also they make it known that the film is based on the memoir of a woman who catalogued and made note of all the artwork that the Germans stole (putting herself in a good amount of personal jeopardy). It's a wonderfully affectionate track overall, packed with detail and astute observations galore. Great discussions of Frankenheimer, Lancaster and all the other principals as well find their way into this very lovely discussion. Like Frankenheimer's film itself, the commentary has a energy to it and that can only be brought across by three people talking excitedly about a fantastic film that they love. This track is one of my favorite Twilight Time commentaries.
Also included here is an older commentary from Frankenheimer itself which is not surprisingly a treasure in and of itself. Frankenheimer is very screen - specific and his comments are somewhat spare. Normally this bothers me as it smacks of a director not knowing what to say and leaving dead air. Frankenheimer is clearly watching the film as he comments and lets certain scenes play whilst waiting till the end of them to comment. What he has to say is fascinating on a thematic level as well as in regards to the technical details. You can get some sense of his skills as a director based on how he speaks about the process. He has this confidence about him that is not off-putting, but rather gives the sense of a seasoned professional talking about his craft. Good stuff.

Buy THE TRAIN from Twilight Time here:
or Amazon:
Amazon Button (via

RUNAWAY TRAIN(1985; Andrey Konchalovskly)

RUNAWAY TRAIN is rare animal in 80s action-thriller cinema in that Akira Kurosawa himself was part of the writing process. The script (by Eddie Bunker, Paul Zindel & Djorde Milicevic) was based on a screenplay by Kurosawa. So you've got some Kurosawa origins and a film released by the legendary Cannon Films group. That's an interesting combination for sure. Cannon is known (by many of us who grew up watching their films) for their gritty exploitation action movie output out of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris films in the 1980s. RUNAWAY TRAIN definitely has some grit to it for sure. From the opening bits in a desolate, isolated Alaskan prison, I feel like you can feel the Cannon-ness of this movie creeping in. Early on their is a scene with the evil warden of the prison(played perfectly by John P. Ryan) confronting his most notorious prisoner(Jon Voight) in solitary confinement. In a lot of ways it's a very white hat/black hat kind of scene. John P. Ryan is clearly a dastardly fella and Jon Voight is only somewhat less-so. That's the Cannon-thing about it. Jon Voight is a ruthless criminal(a bankrobber) but he is not only a hero to his fellow inmates, he's also our hero too. I feel like Cannon films are littered with archetypal villains(often played by solid character actors) and lots of anti-hero type heroes. Voight's Oscar "Manny" Mannheim character seems to line up well with other Cannon anti-heroes like Paul Kersey or Col. James Braddock. I gotta say, I can see to some degree why these films and characters appealed to me as a kid. They were often very anti-authoritarian which is something I responded to a lot as a teenager. Also these guys were always up against some seriously bad people. Cannon films were never to subtle about showing how malicious and malevolent their baddies were. It always makes me think about a George Lucas quote I once heard where he was talking about turning an audience against a particular character. He said "Show them strangling a puppy" or something to that effect. I can really pretty easily picture any Cannon films villain strangling a small animal with some amount of glee. John P. Ryan's Warden Ranken character is no exception.
Let's talk about this movie's cast for a second. So there's John P. Ryan as I said. An unquestionably great character actor. Great menacing authoritative dude. He'll always be the principal of Jerry Mitchell's school in THREE O'CLOCK HIGH for me as that's what i first saw him in. "Don't fuck this up Mitchell!" is one of the great lines of 1980s cinema for my money. Anyway, so after Ryan you've got Voight and Eric Roberts. A good duo. Then there's Eddie Bunker who I love(writer of No Beast So Fierce which STRAIGHT TIME is based on). Being that he was an ex-con in real life, he always makes a good convict in movies. Then there's a rather frumpized Rebecca De Mornay. On backup vocals you've got a couple more classic character actors in T.K. Carter and Kenneth McMillan. I am a huge fan of both these guys as well. And if that weren't enough this film also features the debuts(I believe) of both Danny Trejo AND Tiny 'Zeus' Lister! Great stuff.
So if you were of a movie-going age in the 1990s, you probably saw SPEED at some point. I still think that movie is pretty fun for what it is. Out of control vehicle movies are entertaining to me in a similar fashion to 'animals attack' movies. Just built in suspense and tension that keeps things interesting. RUNAWAY TRAIN is a great example of this type of movie. Very simple premise, it's all right there in the title. It's a good, well-paced, exciting thriller. Worth your time if you've not seen it.

Special Features:
-Commentary with Actor Eric Roberts, and Film Historians David Del Valle and C. Courtney Joyner
-Isolated Score Track 
-Original Theatrical Trailer
Buy RUNAWAY TRAIN from Twilight Time here:
or Amazon:
Amazon Button (via

No comments: