Trains have always loomed large in fiction, film and myth, so it makes sense that the Tel Aviv Cinematheque is presenting a program of movies in which trains are front and center, from February 6-8.
The program is sponsored by Israel Railways, and a short video about the history of railroads at the movies – with a certain twist – will be shown before each feature film is screened.
Now that Israel is finally getting the fast rail lines so many commuters have longed for for years, it’s appropriate to celebrate the history of railway trains in the movies. (For years, taking the train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv usually took considerably longer than the drive would have, but that is all set to change soon.) The series doesn’t include every movie about railway travel – Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Strangers on a Train, Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains, Murder on the Orient Express and Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century are some of the films they can show next year – but they’ve got a great mix of films, and some that are rarely shown on the big screen.
The festival kicks off with Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 film High Noon, which won four Oscars, including Best Actor for Gary Cooper. This tense drama, in which a lone sheriff refuses to flee a town threatened by bad guys, is one of the greatest Westerns of all time, and the arrival of a train is key to the action. While it can be seen simply as a gripping movie, it is also now seen as a metaphor for the McCarthy hearings and the Hollywood blacklist. Screenwriter Carl Foreman was eventually blacklisted and moved to England. It turns up over and over again on lists of the greatest movies of all times.
Next up is the 1995 Richard Linklater film Before Sunrise, the first of the trilogy the director has made with actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (it was followed by Before Sunset in 2004 and Before Midnight last summer).
In Before Sunrise, the couple meet by chance on a train going from Budapest to Vienna. Hawke’s character is set to head back to America the next day, and he convinces Delpy to spend the day and night exploring Vienna with him, and the two fall in love.
Buster Keaton’s The General (1926) tells the story of an engineer during the Civil War who is utterly devoted to his locomotive. When union spies steal it, he goes behind enemy lines to get it back in this comedy classic.
Night Train to Lisbon (2013) was directed by Billie August and stars Jeremy Irons as a quiet professor who stops a young woman (Melanie Laurent) from committing suicide. He ends up with her coat, and in the pocket he discovers, among other things, a train ticket to Lisbon. Impulsively, he boards the train, and finds that his whole life changes in one magical night.
The 1987 comedy Throw Momma From the Train was directed by Danny DeVito and stars DeVito and Billy Crystal as respectively a bitter ex-husband and a long-suffering momma’s boy who want desperately to get rid of one hateful woman. Anne Ramsey, Kate Mulgrew and Rob Reiner co-star in this black comedy.
The 1973 caper film The Train Robbers was directed by Burt Kennedy and stars John Wayne, Ben Johnson and Rod Taylor as three gunmen hired by Civil War widow (Ann Margaret) to find the gold her husband hid before he was killed.
Anyone planning to take a train to Tel Aviv to see these films will want to check out the Israel Railways website at www.rail.co.il