Monday, January 18, 2021

TECHNICOLOR NOIR: The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, 1952


The man who watched trains go by, particularly the Paris Express is Kees Popinga. Kees has a comfortable life in Groningen, the Netherlands. Set in his ways, he is a reliable bookkeeper and a reliable husband and father. It is the trains that spark the romance in his soul. He imagines the places they go and the things the passengers will do. Claude Rains who plays Kees Popinga shows us the extent of the pleasure these contemplations provide in his open and happy face when we first meet him watching the trains go by.

Kees assumes the respect of his employer Julius de Koster played by Herbert Lom, but we see the boss treat Kees with subtle ridicule. Kees assumes the love and devotion of his family, but we see his children giggle at his pomposity, and his wife Maria played by Lucie Mannheim deride his passion for "silly trains."

Claude Rains

The arrival at the de Koster factory of Inspector Lucas of Paris played by Marius Goring sparks Kees imagination. Inspector Lucas is following a trail of black market Dutch currency to this town and this factory. Why should he end up here? That Kees's books are in order is beyond question. 

Kees is so intrigued by the Inspector that he breaks a long-standing habit and attends the local chess club, not on his regular night, but on the night his boss will be there with the Inspector. Kees watches the two men's conversation with interest as they say one thing but seem to mean another. On his way to the club, Kees witnessed an indiscreet kiss between de Koster and a beautiful girl leaving on the Paris Express. Kees covered for his boss, unhesitatingly lying about the indiscretion to the Inspector.

Nonetheless, the loyal Kees is disturbed and returns to the factory late at night to find de Koster burning the books over which Kees has laboured for 18 years. Everything the bookkeeper owns is in the business and he knows now that the boss has looted the firm, robbing him personally. In a struggle, de Koster falls into the river and drowns. Kees decides to no longer watch the trains pass by, taking the case of money de Koster had stolen to start a new life.

Marius Goring

Kees is joined on the train to Paris by the seemingly all-seeing and all-knowing Inspector Lucas and they begin their own cat and mouse game. Subtly, as is his way, the Inspector leaves an opening for Kees to clear his mind and conscious but Kees is a passenger at last and he must ride the train wherever it takes him.

Inspector Lucas: "Mr. Popinga, I hope you appreciate that my questioning of you last night was merely an attempt to be of some service to you."

Kees Popinga: "Was it?"

Inspector Lucas: "But when we arrive in Paris my position may become an official one."

Freeing himself from the Inspector, Kees's first act in Paris is to locate de Koster's girlfriend and confederate, the beautiful Michele Rozier played by Marta Toren. Kees tries to act the sophisticate, to take the place of de Koster in the scheme and in Michele's affection. He does not fool the woman, who believes the money is now out of her grasp. She throws him out but their relationship is just beginning.

Marta Toren

Kees next becomes fleetingly involved with a prostitute played by Anouk Aimee. She gets money out of him but little else. The money proves to be the clue needed by Inspector Lucas and by Michele to Kees's whereabouts. Learning from the Inspector that Kees has de Koster's money, Michele brings him into her orbit and that of her lover Louis played by Ferdy Mayne. 

Michele: "Maybe I feel sorry for him. He's got no future. He doesn't seem to have had much of a past."

Louis: "Well, as long as he's got the money."

Kees is now involved in a much more dangerous game of cat and mouse than that offered by the Inspector. Like the chess he loved to play, Kees tries to stay one step ahead of Michele and Louis but his infatuation with the woman may overwhelm his best intentions.

Inspector Lucas understands the psychology of his little mouse and his goal is to save Kees Popinga from himself.

Inspector Lucas: "He's a hunted man. He's taken a large sum of money. Unless I catch him quickly he is going to do something desperate."

We follow Kees on his downward spiral in this, the adventure he always dreamed of and the unimagined things of which he is capable when his fantasies clash with his realities.

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By is based on a 1938 novel by Georges Simenon and adapted for the screen by its director Harold French (Quiet Weekend) and Paul Jarrico (All Night Long). Otto Heller (The Ladykillers) filmed the story in glorious Technicolor on location in Amsterdam and Paris, and in-studio in England. 

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By aka The Paris Express provided Claude Rains with one of his more exquisite later career performances. Swedish actress Marta Toren is beautiful and dangerous as the scheming Michele. Marius Goring as the sympathetic and quirky Inspector grounds us in this well-paced thriller with its focus on the psychology of its main character. You will add Kees Popinga to your list of lost souls of film noir (in Technicolor).







34 comments:

  1. Paddy Lee, I hope you are doing well. Another fine write-up that I really enjoyed. I'm a long time fan of Claude Rains, but I have never viewed THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS GO BY(1952). Did you view the restored version? Because of your write-up I will seek this Technicolor Noir right away.

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    1. It is so nice to hear from you, Walter.

      Also known as The Paris Express, it appeared to be a restored copy which aired locally (Silver Screen Classics) for the first time a few weeks ago. I had never seen it nor heard of it previously and was enthralled with the unique setting. The melancholy work of Georges Simenon appeals to me. I hope you find much to appreciate, beyond Rains, the performance of Marius Goring keeps coming to mind.

      We are doing well. No illness has come into the family and I have moved up the list as a possible kidney transplant recipient. I hope you are keeping safe and sane during this crazy time.

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  2. I didn't want to finish reading your post because I, too, am intrigued enough by the opening paragraphs to want to see the film -- and read the book! I had never heard of "The Man Who Watched Trains Go By," which makes it all the more intriguing. I'll have to come back and finish reading.

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    1. I'm glad you held back. I tried not to spoil things but you never know what someone will pick up on, and this "new" movie is a treasure to discover.

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  3. Speaking of trains that makes me think of the TV series THE FUGITIVE starring DAVID JANSSEN. I am a big fan of the show and of Janssen as DR. RICHARD KIMBLE. I want to mention the passing of one of the guest stars. PETER MARK RICHMAN has died at the age of 93. He and his wife were married for 67 years! His wife's name is HELEN(like the name of KIMBLE'S late wife). I always remember Peter from his ep as a lawman. It was the first color ep of THE FUGITIVE and also had guest star HOPE LANGE. He also did an ep with JANIS PAIGE, PAUL FIX and ANNE HELM. Some other things I know him from are THE LOVE BOAT as the husband to FLORENCE HENDERSON and the stepfather to TRACY NELSON and a HOTEL ep as the husband to TIPPI HEDREN. He was on DYNASTY as BLAKE's lawyer and he did some eps of BEVERLY HILLS, 90210. He guest starred on THREE'S COMPANY three times as REV. SNOW, Chrissy's dad. PLUS he did eps of BONANZA and THE VIRGINIAN. PLUS he was one of the men that played C.C. CAPWELL on SANTA BARBARA. He did an early ep of DALLAS as MAYNARD ANDERSON, a married man with a mistress(MORGAN FAIRCHILD in her only appearance as JENNA WADE). P.S. Peter Mark had his own unique look and captivating eyes.

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    1. Peter Mark Richman always brought his A game to whatever role he played. I'm particularly fond of his work in the movie Friendly Persuasion.

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  4. I want to mention that in I'LL BE SEEING YOU starring one of our favorite actresses-GINGER ROGERS-that Ginger's character MARY met JOSEPH COTTEN'S character on a train. JOHN DEREK had a part in that movie as the young guy that was the date to SHIRLEY TEMPLE. John was once married to LINDA EVANS(AUDRA BARKLEY!). I read that Linda is one of the nicest and most liked stars in HOLLYWOOD. That also goes for BARBARA STANWYCK who, of course, played Audra's mom VICTORIA BARKLEY on THE BIG VALLEY.

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    1. John Derek was a good looking young fellow and he appeared in such interesting movies like Knock on Any Door, All the King's Men, and The Ten Commandments.

      Directors are as drawn to trains as are audiences.

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  5. LINDA EVANS was on DYNASTY as BLAKE CARRINGTON's second wife KRYSTLE. I mentioned that PETER MARK RICHMAN played Blake's lawyer. It goes around!

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  6. I spent my entire childhood watching trains go by. So much so I belonged to a railroad museum for 40 years. And yet I've never seen this film...

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    1. We life a few blocks from a major commuter line. Our son grew up loving to watch and ride on the train. Deep down, it makes me feel connected.

      When this movie came into my life a little while ago, I was pleased to know there were still more new/old movies to discover.

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  7. What a fine review of this odd, quirky film about a sad little man, drawn into circumstances he can never understand. Claude Rains is so fine here, he really brings out unexpected facets, of both the character and himself. You can't help but feel for the poor fellow, who seems unable to take control of his life, just when he thinks he's starting to live it.

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    1. You described it so perfectly. Watching this movie was an experience of the character's humanity.

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  8. Speaking of GINGER ROGERS she and JIMMY STEWART came in on a train in the movie VIVACIOUS LADY. Their characters had met and gotten married in a few days. Plus VERA MILES and Jimmy were on a train(I believe) in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE(which also starred JOHN WAYNE). Jimmy was in HOW THE WEST WAS WON but he wasn't on a train. It was GEORGE PEPPARD and ELI WALLACH.

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    1. We can put Jimmy Stewart on a train in the western The Rare Breed, 1966, transporting a bull.

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  9. I mentioned SANTA BARBARA earlier. As I stated PETER MARK RICHMAN played C.C. CAPWELL. He was the first actor in that part. Then PAUL BURKE. Neither actor played the part very long. Then CHARLES BATEMAN played the part. Then JED ALLAN who is most associated with the role. Bateman is the only one still living. You have probably seen him a lot. He guest starred on many shows including CANNON, BARNABY JONES and MANNIX. He was on HAZEL the final season. I remember that you said you only have vague memories of that show. Charles played FRED WILLIAMS, the husband of MONA(MALA POWERS). Mona was a friend of BARBARA BAXTER(LYNN BORDEN). By the way, Charles Bateman is 90. According to imdb his mother's passing was in 2015-at the age of 110!

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    1. Charles Bateman has always reminded me of Robert Webber. It is nice to hear he is still with us.

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  10. LLOYD BOCHNER was the first choice to play C.C. CAPWELL but ill health prevented him from playing the role. He had a heart attack. Bochner recovered and resumed acting. Like PETER MARK RICHMAN, Bochner was on DYNASTY. By the way, both of these actors guest starred on MURDER, SHE WROTE as did PAUL BURKE. CHARLES BATEMAN didn't but MALA POWERS(his TV wife from HAZEL) was on a memorable ep as the wife to BRADFORD DILLMAN. VAN JOHNSON was also a guest star. P.S. Back to trains-I don't remember any daytime soap operas having any stories on trains. Maybe some of the ones I didn't watch had some train stories.

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    1. Lloyd Bochner is a fellow Canadian, born here in Toronto. He was an announcer early in his career on radio, TV, and for the National Film Board of Canada.

      Train 48 was a Canadian "soap" that ran 2003-2005. It was set on a commuter train compartment and followed the characters lives. Storylines were scripted but most of the dialogue was improvised by the actors. One of the actors in the show was Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, one of the stars of the popular sitcom Kim's Convenience which other country's can see on Netflix.

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  11. Like another commenter, I stopped reading your post midway only because I didn't want to know more about this intriguing movie. I love Claude Rains, but have never seen it. Now, I have something to read forward to...and I thank you!

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    1. You are very welcome. You have shared many great titles for the years. It is fun to give something back.

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  12. Paddy Lee, I viewed THE MAN WHO WATCHED TRAINS GO BY(1952) and I enjoyed it. So, I also recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I'm not going to spoil it for new viewers, but the movie has a lot going for it. First of all the story comes from a good source. The acting is top notch and I got a kick out of seeing Claude Rains in the lead role of a meek clerk in way over his head. Marius Goring as the relentless, but caring policeman, is really good. Herbert Lom is a bad one in the Herbert Lom way. Marta Toren is an eye-catching femme fatale and more. Watch her eyes in technicolor. It was fun too see a young Anouk Aimee. Also, Eric Pohlmann in a small, but poignant role. The Technicolor cinematography on location, adds so much. This movie is well worth watching.

    Paddy Lee, I'm glad that you have moved up on the list for a kidney transplant and that your family is well. We just got back from a medical visit to Washington University Physicians in St. Louis, Missouri. My wife is still in remission from her leukemia and hopefully she won't have to have vascular surgery, either. We have avoided the coronavirus, so far. Take care and stay safe.


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    1. Walter, thank you for sharing the good health news. No one likes surgery so we will pray for your wife's continued remission. Blessings.

      I hope any visitors to this page scroll down to your recommendation. It will certainly move anyone on the fence about this movie.

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  13. This sounds terrific. I had never heard of this movie, and I can just imagine Claude Rains as you describe his character. I'll be on the lookout. Thanks for another treasure to hunt down.

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    1. The only thing better than finding a "new" movie, is sharing that movie. I know you will be impressed.

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  14. BILL BIXBY and HELEN HAYES were on a train in the TV-Movie AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MURDER IS EASY. Bill was born on this date in 1934-87 years ago. Sadly his passing was in Nov. 1993 at the age of 59. I remember that you like MY FAVORITE MARTIAN. I first saw Bill in THE INCREDIBLE HULK. He was great as DR. DAVID BANNER. Later I saw THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG(a DISNEY MOVIE) with DON KNOTTS, TIM CONWAY and SUSAN CLARK. Bill had earlier done a black and white ep of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. So he got to work with Don in two acting projects. Bill was also a prolific director especially for the sitcom BLOSSOM.

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    1. Bill's early passing was a great tragedy. He entertained us for many years.

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  15. I think MARTA is a pretty name. It makes me think of actress MARTA KRISTEN. I saw her as the mermaid in BEACH BLANKET BINGO. The movie also had the adorable DEBORAH WALLEY(that perky redhead). It had some pretty blondes including LINDA EVANS and, of course, Marta. I saw the movie in 1987 or 88. Marta played the neighbor girl in SAVAGE SAM, the sequel to OLD YELLER. In Old Yeller the part was played by BEVERLY WASHBURN. I didn't watch LOST IN SPACE with Marta, ANGELA CARTWRIGHT and JUNE LOCKHART. But like you I am a fan of MISS LOCKHART. I also have seen her dad GENE LOCKHART and June's daughter ANNE LOCKHART. Anne was once a busy TV actress. I remember that you like the entire LOCKHART family.

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    1. I enjoy watching a lot of the shows and movies I enjoyed as a kid in the 1960s. It isn't purely nostalgia because I can appreciate them on different levels at my advanced age (!). I do admit that seeing some of these actors and actresses is like seeing old friends.

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  16. GREGORY SIERRA died on Jan. 4 at the age of 83. Today was his birthday. I know him best from SANFORD AND SON where he played FRED's neighbor JULIO (who had a goat). He was friends with LAMONT. Gregory also was known for BARNEY MILLER and SOAP. He guest starred on two eps of GUNSMOKE including the two-part ep "WOMEN FOR SALE" where he played an Indian. It had JAMES WHITMORE as the main guest star. Gregory was in a very memorable ep of ALL IN THE FAMILY titled "ARCHIE IS BRANDED" where a swatstika is mistakenly painted on Archie's house. Gregory Sierra was a tall fellow and a good actor with an impressive career.

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    1. I was sad to learn of Mr. Sierra's passing. I am a huge fan of his work on Barney Miller, Soap, and Murder, She Wrote.

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  17. By the way, the goat on SANFORD AND SON was named CHICO. I also want to mention that GREGORY SIERRA was on six episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE. He played the same character in the last three eps. I have seen three of his eps. I really remember the one titled "THE PETRIFIED FLORIST" with SALLY KELLERMAN, PENNY FULLER and DENISE MILLER. Like Gregory, Denise got to work with CARROLL O'CONNOR as ARCHIE BUNKER. She was on ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE the final two seasons(1981-83). She played his niece BILLIE BUNKER.

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    1. I generally treat myself to a Classic TV marathon on Super Bowl Sunday. Perhaps this year it will be Murder, She Wrote episodes featuring Gregory Sierra.

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