Now and then I visit our lovely local library and borrow a few New Yorker magazines. I’m most interested in the film reviews. The reviewers, David Denby and Anthony Lane, are willing to watch the smallest indie foreign film to Hollywood blockbusters. Their reviews, especially Lane’s, are almost always on the mark and, though they occasionally unleash a bit of sarcasm (not nearly as brutally as the late Pauline Kael), they’re usually fair.

Lane reviewed The Monuments Men, George Clooney’s new ensemble piece starring himself and a host of other bankable actors. The true story sounded like something that would interest Tom Robinson and me—during the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II, a Nazi captain seized and protected a collection of the greatest artworks by French artists like Picasso, Degas, Matisse, and so on. On the verge of the Nazi defeat and the expulsion of Nazi troops from Paris, this captain conspired to crate up the artwork and take everything to Berlin on a train. The French resistance was persuaded to take on the impossible mission of seizing the train and directing it back into the safety of France.

The Monuments Men was given quite a push by the Big Media Publicity Machine, but Lane pronounced the film “a dud” and advised his readers instead to see the original, The Train.

That’s exactly what we did. So I can’t tell you what I think of The Monuments Men. I haven’t seen it.

At first I was a bit reluctant to see The Train. The film is in black and white; given a choice, I prefer color, though quality black and white achieves its own pleasures. The Train is now on my list of the 100 greatest films ever made. Director John Frankenheimer is a master at creating tension. (He also directed The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The French Connection, and Grand Prix, among other films.)

The Train is a textbook example of how to create suspense, spin your plot in surprising directions, and ratchet up the hero’s problems until the viewer doesn’t know how he’s going to survive, let alone succeed. From the very first frame to the last, Frankenheimer wrests tension out of every visual detail, from the Nazi captain gradually turning on the lights in the gallery, revealing the masterpieces, to the French Resistance fighter scrambling up a tile rooftop. Even the minute technical details of how to operate and maintain a complex machine like a modern steam train are never less than fascinating.

The ingenious ways the Resistance outwits the Nazis predate the Mission Impossible franchise by decades and that franchise owes a huge debt to Frankenheimer. He’s the original.

Even Frankenheimer’s use of sound creates suspense. The heaving steam of the train at rest is like a mechanical heartbeat. Steven Spielberg uses this same technique, also many decades later, in Saving Private Ryan, in the climatic scenes of the approach of the Nazi tanks. Very effective.

Then there’s Burt Lancaster. Lancaster is one of the few actors, past or present, whose movie I’ll see just because he’s in it. This versatile actor is never less than marvelous in all the diverse roles he’s played, from the swashbuckling buccaneer in the delightful The Crimson Pirate (Lancaster was a professional circus acrobat as a child and he performs all his own stunts, swinging on the ship’s rigging) to the smooth-talking con man in The Rainmaker to the ruthless newspaper columnist in The Sweet Smell of Success to the by-the-book low-ranking military officer in From Here to Eternity. He does a small but delightful acrobatic trick in The Train.

So there you have it, my friends. I’m grateful to Clooney for making The Monuments Men. Otherwise, I may have not seen The Train for a long time—or ever—because I simply wasn’t aware of it. Whether you’re a screenwriter studying your craft, a prose writer studying the art of building suspense, or a viewer who wants to relax with an incredible classic, see The Train. Highly, highly recommended.

From the author of Summer Of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.
Summer of Love, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Gilded Age, A Time Travel on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords.
The Gilded Age, A Time Travel is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords.
The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) includes all four books. On Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony;
Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Strange Ladies: 7 Stories on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Sony.
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

My Charlotte: Patty’s Story on Barnes and Noble, US Kindle, UK Kindle, Canada Kindle, Australia Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo;
My Charlotte: Patty’s Story is also on Amazon.com worldwide in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and Mexico.

Tomorrow’s Child is on BarnesandNoble, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, Apple, Kobo, Sony, and Smashwords.
Tomorrow’s Child is also on Amazon.com in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, and India.

Visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, reviews, interviews, and blogs, adorable pet pictures, forthcoming projects, fine art and bespoke jewelry, worldwide Amazon.com links for Brazil, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and Spain, and more!

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