Frenchies are always trying to corrupt their guileless provincial European
neighbors. Georges Simenon certainly
would have known. Technically, he was
Belgian, but he was an expert on Parisian fast living. One timid Dutch clerk gets his own crash
course in Harold French’s The Man Who
Watched Trains Go By (a.k.a. Paris
screens during the Anthology Film Archives’ Cine-Simenon
Popinga was born to be a bookkeeper.
Quiet and detail-oriented, he spends his weekly night out at the chess
club, where his boss, Julius de Koster is also a member. His only eccentricity is a passion for
trains, whose timetable he has memorized.
One day, Inspector Lucas visits his firm from Paris as part of a
mysterious investigation. It seems to
involve the beautiful French woman Popinga happened to spy de Koster
affectionately seeing off at the train station.
the haughty de Koster, Popinga learns he has looted the company in order to
abscond with his French lover. An
altercation ensues, spurring the unprepossessing Popinga to take flight. Assuming one Dutchman with a suitcase full of
cash is as good as another, Popinga sets out to find the femme fatale, Michele
Rozier. He is right of course, but not
in a happily-ever-after kind of way.
Better understanding the shady characters conspiring against him, Inspector
Lucas will scramble to find the naïve Popinga before his mad interlude
completely spirals out of control.
Trains might not be the
absolutely best noir ever filmed, but it boasts two Phantoms of the Opera:
Claude Rains (star of Universal’s 1943 color remake) as Popinga and Herbert Lom
(featured in the 1962 Hammer production) as the hypocritical de Koster. Future international movie star Anouk Aimée
also steals all her brief scenes as the alluring Jeanne, a “professional”
colleague of Rozier’s.
is also plenty of Simenon-ness to Trains,
particularly the cat-and-mouse game played by Popinga and the Inspector. Indeed, Lucas is a good copper, balancing
cunning and compassion in the Maigret tradition. The underappreciated Marius Goring is one of Train’s best assets, playing Lucas with
considerable intelligence and flair.
course, Rains is perfectly dependable, if not career-defining, as the
mild-mannered Popinga. His convincingly
slide from respectability to manic self-destruction recalls some of his early
Universal work, like in Edwin Drood. Frankly, despite her greater screen time and stylish
villainy, Märta “the next Ingrid Bergman” Torén’s Rozier is overshadowed by
Anouk (as Train simply billed her).
Man Who Watched Trains Go By is a presentable noir, distinguished by its tragic tone and the decency
of its sleuth. Nicely representing the
themes and motifs of Simenon’s “roman durs,” his psychologically complex,
non-Maigret novels, it makes a good fit for Anthology’s Cine-Simenon series. Recommended
for fans of Rains and noirs in general, it screens tomorrow (8/12) and
Wednesday the 21st at Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Cine-Simenon, Claude Rains, Film Noir, Georges Simenon, Marius Goring