the movie is well crafted and staged ,it is a fictional account and it raises some intersting questions about viability of art and value of human life. the german colonel wants a trainload of stolen modern french art transported to berlin as the allies advance to paris ,he chooses only french painters like cezanne,renoir,picasso,lautrec,manet,van gogh ,matisse ,dufy ,braque and others for reasons known to himself alone ,his excuse to authorities is it is worth billions ,but he is secretly an art lover who worships these as a connoisseur. london gives french resistaance orders to save the train and stop the art installment from being taken to germany . the fact that most art stolen or destroyed in WW2 was from germany itself is not relevant here,so the plot shows holes right at start and then becomes a one man superhero chase as burt lancaster as the french rail man turned superhero stops the third reich from staging this offence, the argument that germany was obviously defeated and could have done little with looted art or why had they not done it earlier is of np consequence here ,as what we have is an atmospheric thriller with french heroics and patriotism where french art symbolising french vision of life and national heritage has to be saved . it is at times a ridiculous premise but continuously entertaining and the action is great on the trains and off the trains as well .paul scoffield is great as the ambiguous german art lover .worth seeing for the action and acting .
Time Out saysDiscount some self-conscious talk about Art as a national heritage, as well as clumsy dubbing of the supporting cast, and you have a rattling good thriller about a World War II German general (Scofield) determined to flee Paris just before the liberation with a trainload of Impressionist paintings. One obsession runs headlong into another as a French railway inspector (Lancaster), once unwillingly started out in opposition, finds he cannot stop, and must go on finding new ways and means of delaying the train for an hour here, a day there. In Frankenheimer's hands, the whole paraphernalia of trains, tracks and shunting yards acquires an almost hypnotic fascination as the screen becomes a giant chessboard on which huge metallic pawns are manoeuvred, probing for some fatal weakness but seemingly engaged in some deadly primeval struggle.