In his essay included in the liner notes for the DVD, film scholar
Philip Kemp (who wrote an excellent book on the Apu trilogy)
notes that while the film was warmly received upon its release, it
seemed to have subsequently disappeared from view, even "dismissed as an
imitation of Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes"
-- partially because it shared the same screenwriting team (Frank Launder
and Sidney Gilliat),
and two characters (the comic, oh-so-British, duo of Basil Radford and
who figure prominently in the plot). While Night Train to Munich
also shares with Lady Vanishes a knack for expertly weaving
comedy and thrills, and a lengthy bit of time spent on a train, it
stands quite well on its own.
But that war had already broken out by 1940 gave Reed and his scribes
an opportunity to give the film a more specific villain. While, as Kemp
notes, the full horrors of Nazism weren't yet apparent when the film
was made, there was certainly enough known to give the film more timely
weight -- something Lady Vanishes, out two years earlier, did not
In fact, Night Train to Munich was based initially on a book
called "Report on a Fugitive," which was set in a fictitious nation
though clearly based on Hitler's Germany, and the film was originally to
be given the not quite as exciting or cheery title of "Gestapo."
According to notes from Kemp, only the first ten minutes of the film as
we see it here reflect any connection to that original material. From
then on out it's purely Carol Reed, and his screenwriting team, who have
made it their own brand of witty entertainment.
The story follows Margaret Lockwood's Anna, daughter of a Czech
scientist (British character actor James Harcourt) who the Gestapo would
like to convince join their side -- or else. They escape to England and
then back to the continent, all the while aided by a debonair British
secret agent (slash crooner, played by the debonair actor Rex Harrison),
and trying to elude a craft Nazi spy (Paul Henreid, two
years before he'd reverse the field by playing escaped Czech Resistance
Laszlo)... And to reveal more would be to give away many of the
delights found in the gripping plot.
Some of the film's humorous asides may seem goofy to modern audiences
but still captured my fancy, such as a background bit where two British
passengers (Radford and Wayne) on a German train, unaware that England
declared war the same day, naively try to find an English magazine only
to see copies of "Mein Kampf" placed on the newstand - while Margaret
Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is allowed to remain. Hey, America
wasn't the enemy yet!
Reed had a knack for swift pacing -- aided here by R.E. Dearing's
expert editing (yet another member of the Lady Vanishes crew) --
while letting the film breathe with moments of pleasure and humanity.
It's clearly a product of the era and yet does not feel as dated. The
film's climax, set in the Swiss Alps, is simple in concept yet
absolutely riveting. It ends, shall we say, on a high note.
Munich may not have the Great Film luster that Reed's The Third Man
has, but along with that, Odd Man Out
Fallen Idol, sees fit to give the auteur a glorious quartet from
the 1940s that is arguably unsurpassed by any other filmmaker of the
era. Launder and Gilliat had a most successful careers for screenwriting
teams, one that spanned four decades, though arguably this may have
been the creative peak.
As an interesting aside, two years after the film's release, Harrison
would take a break from acting to serve during WWII in the Royal Air
Force, where he eventually became a flight lieutenant.
Criterion's restored print looks sharp and beautiful, as hoped, with
the expected occasional pop and crackle, but it's a treat -- for anyone
who'd only seen it on VHS years ago, or, like most people, never seen it
at all. The one other extra on the disc
is a good one for those who want to dig a little deeper - a new video
conversation between film scholars Peter Evans and Bruce Babington,
though I would've liked a bit more in the way of bonuses (perhaps a
trailer unearthed?) But why carp -- the film is a delight and we are
gifted with its presence on DVD at last.
I find Splice maddening, provocative, erratic, brave enough to suggest something greater, hard to dismiss, but frustrating. It's an intriguing film that touches on hot-button issues involving bioethics and corporate science, things that not only "could happen" but are happening. The early Cronenberg influence in the new film by Cube director Vincenzo Natali is clear, and that's both a compliment and a burden.
I say this not just because it's a Canadian production, but because the film manages to weave in the gross out with the cold and clinical, with a distinctly wry Canadian sense of humor that is sometimes overlooked in Cronenberg's best work.
Essentially a modernized take on the age old mad scientist creating a
monster tale, as well as cautionary tale on genetic engineering, Splice has its effectively scary moments, but it is not quite The Fly.
Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody aren't just fine, empathetic actors; they have the right kind of incredibly expressive faces for the film, Brody always looks like he's swallowed a mug of sadness and Polley has a sweet, nurturing quality that fits her maternal-minded role. The give their characters more weight than they might have, but that also spotlights frustration I have in the script that has their scientist couple behaving so often so conveniently idiotic. And that's the heart of Splice's problem -- the script. Natali is excellent with atmosphere, and in making a fantastical set up feel all too real. But his script with Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor is full of bad dialogue (again, some of the dialogue is intentionally dryly witty, but there are some clunkers here, hoo boy) and maddeningly dumb behavior. One of the better films about differing parenting methods, Splice works
better as a dark analogy of child -rearing than as a film about science
gone awry. Partially because the two main scientists do so many stupid
things. I found myself forgiving of Sarah Polley's Elsa in part because
I like Polley so much, but still felt the urge to shake her violently.
You do want Brody to say, "This is an awful lot to go through to avoid having to give birth!"
Or Polley to say "Nobody puts my genetically modified baby in the corner!" Okay, it isn't that overt a comedy.
The film is riddled with those moments, in which you either go with it
and then think later are quite scientifically stupid, or think are quite
stupid right at the moment they occur -- Dren sprouts wings out of the
blue? Okay, we are to buy this because of all the genetic soup they
cooked her with, but it still seemed a sudden convenience. And there are
many opportunities to skewer corporate science, how capitalistic greed
can trump the ethics of science, but with a caricatured company liaison
(played by David Hewlett) a rather weak villain -- Simona Maicanescu's
company boss Joan fares a bit better as a more unique character --
there's not much in the way of complexity there.
There are indeed moments of black humor, slyly funny, and most certainly intentionally so -- while there are just as many moments where it's all, as the General on Monty Python's Flying Circus would come on and say, gotten a bit silly. Still, the humor that's there, as is typically Canadian, is so deadpan that I think some audiences may not even see it. A perfect example: truly unforgettable scene, maybe the film's best, a key moment when the scientists reveal their breakthrough creatures (dubbed "Fred" and "Ginger") and everything, let's just say, goes horribly awry, was hilariously disturbing.
The 18 year old guys in front of me, who tittered uncomfortably through most of the film, were particularly weirded out and giggly during the soon to be famous sex scene, but I found it appropriately creepy, a little sexy and sure, a bit awkwardly humorous. Their reaction reminded me of my own as a teenager when a friend and I snuck into see Cronenberg's The Fly in theaters and ran the similar gamut of reactions: appalled, fascinated, grossed out, and then tittering during a disturbing-yet-sexy sex scene. But Cronenberg's film is far superior to this in its depiction of science run amok.
Still, Ultimately, Splice does what a horror film should, gets under your skin, sticks with you in unsettling ways even after the lights go back up. It's just a shame, it's so full of missed opportunities, and not quite able to settle on a tone. It feels trapped in a netherworld between purposely goofy B movie horror and smarter than average science-horror, and doesn't quite work itself into either arena.
The movie also leaves one with nagging questions (and some spoilers within): - And why does the actor playing Brody's brother look like a spliced hybrid of Jack White and Martin Starr? - Why would a genius scientist (and a clever screenwriter) not be able to come up with a better name for the spliced animal-girl than NERD spelled backwards? - When will poor cats stop being used as cruel fodder for horror shock? I'm starting to see it coming, folks.
Filmmaker Alejandro Adams: "Splice inverts horror tropes to posit that a being created through scientific perversity (a la Frankenstein) is not as Other as a...woman."