Night Train to Munich

Last night I saw the 1940 British movie Night Train to Munich, directed by Carol Reed. The movie has a somewhat casual, ramshackle quality to it, but that’s part of its charm. It could be described as a thriller with comic elements, and in that sense anticipates later Alfred Hitchcock movies such as North by Northwest. On the eve of the outbreak of war in 1939, the Nazis kidnap a Czech scientist along with his beautiful daughter, played by Margaret Lockwood, and an English agent played by Rex Harrison sets out to rescue them.

The movie begins with Austrian actor Paul von Hernreid, who subsequently changed his screen name to Paul Henreid, playing an idealistic anti-Nazi—identical to the part of Victor Laszlo that he played in Casablanca two years later—who rescues Margaret Lockwood from a German concentration camp. Curiously, Henreid here looks much more than two years younger than he looks in Casablanca.

Impersonation is a major theme of the movie, and Harrison, with his long narrow face and thin physique, convincingly inhabits several roles, from a lightweight English vaudevillian, to a punctilious German army officer, to a charismatic hero.

The comedy is carried especially by two Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott (played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne), archetypal phlegmatic upper middle class Englishmen who are traveling in Germany at the outbreak of the war. Devoted sports fans, they know nothing about politics, nothing about the larger world. Indeed, Charters is reading Mein Kampf, yet has no idea what it’s about, as he picked up the book only because he couldn’t find the English humor magazine Punch in Germany and needed something to read. He says that he hasn’t gotten through Hitler’s boyhood yet, and comments that German brides are given the book, to which Caldicott replies, “Well, I don’t think it’s that kind of book.” So clueless are the pair that through an idiotic blunder Caldicott exposes the Rex Harrison character to mortal danger. But as the real danger of the world slowly dawns on them, they spring into action and save the day. Thus Charters and Caldicott represent both the “England that slept,” and the England that awoke.

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Jason R. writes:

Haven’t you seen Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes with Margaret Lockwood from 1938? It’s mainly set on a train and could be described as a thriller with comic elements. It’s the film where Charters and Caldicott launched their double act.

John W. writes:

I believe Hitch’s The Lady Vanishes (also with Lockwood and the
Charters/Caldicott duo) preceded Night Train to Munich by a couple of years.

LA replies:

I did see The Lady Vanishes some time ago, and I remember the Charters/Caldicott duo in it. In that movie they were dumber, more unconscious of the world beyond England, and more obsessed with sports. In this movie they are more urbane. For example, Charters reads German, and Caldicott indicates that he reads French. Also, Caldicott went to the same university as the Rex Harrison character, Dickie Randall, which I find hard to believe, as Randall is upper class and Caldicott obviously isn’t. I can’t see Caldicott at Oxford or Cambridge.

David H. in Oregon writes:

Leonard Maltin’s “Movie Encyclopedia” says Paul Henreid was born in Trieste as Paul Hernreid Ritter von Wasel-Waldingau. An imposing name, no?—David

LA replies:

I have to confess, I just realized today that all my life I’ve misread, misheard, and mispronounced his name. I didn’t know his name was Paul Henreid. I thought it was Paul Heinreid, which I pronounced HINE-reed. I thought everyone pronounced it that way. I was never conscious of hearing anyone say it as HEN-reed, nor as HEN-ride, which would be the German prounciation. It’s almost as though my subconscious wanted it to be spelled Heinreid, because it sounded better to me that way. I wonder if others have made the same mistake.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 28, 2011 10:00 AM | Send

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