Night Train Murders Review

The Film

Great cinema can change the way we see things by providing a compelling alternative vision of the world we inhabit. Quite often film makers have set out to change the audience's worldview by setting up a nice model of the world they believe they live in, only to have it crash around them. Many have shown that comfortable bourgeois, well adjusted lives can be torn apart by the incursion of the less well-mannered underclass, and this has inspired directors as great as Bergman, but it has also permitted those more given to reactionary motives to make arguably neo-fascist pieces. For the reactionary artist such subject matter allows you to stress the need for special measures to hold society together and for the abandonment of liberal niceties in the war on what ever emotive cause you have identified.

Recent debates between contenders for the Republican nomination for US president involved a bidding war of jingoism and anti-liberal sentiment. Hillary Clinton's latest advert involves the looming spectre of social disaster to scare voters into demanding a strong president, and our British politicians are engaged in one-upmanship to stop immigration, fight crime and guarantee homeland security. The global truth seems to be that in times of danger and chaos, the good people who make up our planet are easy prey to those wanting to preech hate and provoke resentment so that we are won over by their seeming strength because of our fear. The rise of Hitler in Germany, the appointment of Mussolini as prime minster in Italy, and the recent justifications for invasion in the Middle East - all came about because all good people felt afraid and chose a supposed lesser evil over a spiral of social unrest.
So what does my lefty waffle have to do with an Italian exploitation movie? Well, Aldo Lado's film deals with the very process I mention above - the provocation of social unrest to justify militant and extreme forms of social control. Giulio Stradi is a well-to-do doctor preparing for the return of his virginal daughter from her studies in Germany. He has brought his daughter up well and he and his wife anxiously await her return on the night train from Innsbruck. They don't know that their daughter and her friend have flirted with the wrong boys and found themselves stalked by these petty criminals egged on by a seemingly proper lady. As the good doctor proposes team sport and good education as the solutions to society's violence at a dinner party, his daughter is raped and her friend sadistically killed by the drugged up yobs and their perverse companion. The next day the train comes and goes and the girls don't arrive, but a reckoning is coming.

The train that carries the girls away from Munich is filled with metaphor and microcosm. A compartment is filled with former German soldiers celebrating a re-union and unable to stifle a "Heil Hitler" when taunted by the yobs. Priests, young and old, have their own seats with an older monsignor winking at his young companions. A family man stalks the train indulging his voyeurism, and the elegant lady gets scientists and bourgeois companions to listen to her ideas for discipline in society and authoritarian control.
Back in the doctor's beautiful home, Christmas is given all the trimmings and their professional friends join a dinner party of polite conversation. Lado positions the camera at first outside the beautiful home looking in, and this objectivity continues as we hear Stradi's opinions on society's ills - opinions that he will abandon later on along with his objectivity, again at the fascist lady's provocation. Similarly the nice young girls will have their efforts to stay pure destroyed, the yobs will go from vandals and petty thieves to murderers and rapists, and voyeurs will become part of cruelty rather than a good samaritan. These transformations are wrought by fascism, and bit by bit the world becomes crueller, emptier and more depraved because of it.

As a thesis and a description of these kind of dialectics, Night Train Murders is extremely successful. Given the desire in the seventies for similar films inspired from the reactionary perspective, Lado's work is a crucial antidote and reminder of where those neo-fascist ideas lead. Where a film like Deathwish may seem to re-affirm a patriarch's right to seek revenge, it also inspires the very vigilanteeism that leads to the dialectics described above. Night Train Murders is brutal and unrelenting, but its political analysis is subtle and well conceived, and in the difficult times we live it serves an important cautionary purpose for those seduced by "special measures".
So when you find yourself agreeing with the imprisonment without charge of terrorist suspects, or the use of military action against "evil do-ers" consider who the "Lady on the train" really is. Is she really the protector of the majority, or is she delighting under her veil at the mayhem and murder she causes? Ask yourself who has caused you to ignore human rights, and, like Dr Stradi here, to use the very methods you abhor against the people you merely think are your foe. Hopefully, those who watch Night Train Murders will think twice about many things, both old and new, as it is a startling work of rare intelligence and very suited to our times.

The Disc

There is an existing fine release of this film available from Blue Underground which Michael reviewed here some time ago and this Shameless release boasts far less extras than that disc. This is a single layer release, and again Shameless have provided a reversible sleeve which allows you the jokey and misplaced "Whore aboard" art or a much more sober cover concentrating on Enrico Maria Salerno. The six Shameless trailers include the forthcoming Frightened Woman and My Dear Killer.

I have merged a frame of the BU disc with this latest release for comparison below, the BU image is on the left with the new release on the right hand side of the frame.
The differences between the two discs are subtle but I think that the BU disc transfer shows that the original print has been tidied up, sharpened and made more vibrant than is the case with the very acceptable image that Shameless provide. Comparing both transfers in motion the BU disc does possess more confident colours and greater detail and those who already own that release will find little reason to purchase this disc as well. The audio on the new disc is an English dub which is occasionally chaotic in terms of synching and poorly subsituted in terms of English dialogue, it is the same track as the BU disc but sounds less well defined and clear here. Again the Shameless disc is a goodish presentation that is aced by the existing release.


Summary

A real gem of transgressive film making is now available to subvert the UK public and that is a great thing. The Shameless disc can't compare with the BU release but for anyone new to the film this is a very cheap and worthwhile trip to take.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
3 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

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