Night Train to Munich (1941): Carol Reed WWII Thriller Starring Rex Harrison

The tense WWII thriller, Night Train to Munich (aka Night Train), directed by Carol Reed in 1941, concerns a Czech inventor who along with his daughter escape from the Nazis, but he is kidnapped and returned to Germany.

Screenwriters Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliatt, who adapted Wellesley’s book, Report on Fugitive, interpolated two characters they had introduced in Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes in 1938, Charters and Caldicott (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne).

Incidentlly, Charters and Caldicott appeared in six more British comedies.

Rex Harrison plays a British agent who poses as a German general in order to rescue him.

The superb supporting cast includes Margaret Lockwood as the daughter and Paul Henreid (still billed as Von Henreid) as the man who helps her escape from a concentration camp, but turns out to be a Nazi agent.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Original Story: Gordon Wellesley

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The winner was Harry Segall for the comedy Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

About Carol Reed

Carol Reed was born on December 30, 1906, and died in London in 1976.

Between 1948 and 1950, he made three of the best films in world cinema: “Odd Man Out,” “The Fall Idol,” and “The Third Man.” Reed’s masterpieces, all in the noir-thriller genre, are male-driven.  As such, they boasted great performances from James Mason in the first, Ralph Richardson in the second, and Orson Welles in the third.

Reed was intended to become a farmer and after graduating from King’s School at Canterbury was sent by his family to the U.S. for on‑the‑job training at a large chicken farm. But his love of the theater prevailed and after six months he retained home to begin a career as an actor.

He made his London debut in 1924 with Dame Sybil Thorndike’s troupe. After a long succession of mainly minor roles, he began working for Edgar Wallace in 1927 as an. advisor on the adaptation of the writer’s mystery novels to the stage and as an actor and stage manager in the resultant productions.

Turning to films in the early 1930s, Reed began as a dialogue director and assistant to producer‑director Basil Dean and graduated to director in 1935. His early features were mainly modest‑budget ventures for local consumption, but his reputation grew steadily thanks to such films as Bank Holi­day/Three on a Week‑End (1938), The Stars Look Down (1939), Night Train to Munich/Night Train (1940), Kipps/The Remark­able Mr. Kipps (1941), and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942).

 

During WW II, Reed was assigned to the British army’s film unit, for which he directed propaganda short, A Letter from Home (1941), and training short for new recruits, The New Lot (1942). As a result of the success of the latter film, he was com­missioned to direct a feature‑length documentary along a simi­lar theme, The Way Ahead (1944). It remains one of the most memorable nonfiction films of the war years. In 1945 he co-­directed, with Garson Kanin, “The True Glory,” an Oscar‑winning compilation documentary recording the progress of the war in Europe from D Day to VE Day.

 

Reed’s reputation reached its peak in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when he directed five of his finest films: “Odd Man Out” (1947), a meticulously conceived and richly executed chase melodrama about the final hours in the life of an Irish revolu­tionary. (See Review).

 

This was followed by “The Fallen Idol” (1948), a keenly observed and intelli­gently told drama of the adult world as seen through the eyes of a child.

 

Reed’s masterpiece, “The Third Man” (1949), his best‑known film, a fascinat­ing thriller set against the seedy background of postwar Vienna.

 

“Outcast of the Islands (1952)” is a fine adaptation of the Joseph Conrad story about moral corruption in the South Seas, and “The Man Between” (1953) is an intriguing drama set in post­war Berlin. The second and third of these five films, based on mate­rial by Graham Greene, were particularly successful, receiving unanimous critical praise.

 

Reed’s best work was characterized by a keen sense of locale and atmosphere, a sharp eye for small but revealing details, a sympathetic treatment of characters, skillful plot development, and a civilized, warm, but restrained tone. From the mid‑50s, Reed’s reputation went into a steady decline, as his films, some made for Hollywood studios, grew larger in scope and budget, obliterating his gifts for detail and atmosphere and magnifying dramatic and technical flaws.

In 1962, Reed began directing “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Marlon Brando, but he was soon replaced by Lewis Milestone; the film was both an artistic and commercial failure.

In 1968, however, Reed won an Academy Award as Best Director for the musical movie “Oliver!” based on the hit stage play. The film won a Best picture Oscar as well, and became one of his most popular, if not best, films.