To B or not to B? That is the question Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wrestled over as he weighed the fate of this B-movie starring Leslie Nielsen.
"Excuse me, I shall have to check your compartment."
"Why? We haven't had time to do anything yet."
What could be better than spending New Year's Eve on a train to Paris with three models and a swinging party? If you're making a movie then spies, killers, and cops concerned about the dead body back at the flat would fit the bill nicely. Not to mention a guy in a bear suit.
A guy in a bear suit? Yes, if you watch the trailer first, as I did, you'll be wondering, "What's with the guy in the bear suit?" Rest assured he plays an important role in Night Train to Paris. He also just seems to fit somehow in a movie starring Leslie Nielsen, even though the 1964 adventure comes years before Nielsen's Airplane! and Police Squad rebirth as a comic talent. Here, Nielsen plays Alan Holiday, airline PR guy and secret agent. How's that again? Read on …
Facts of the Case
After a package changes hands, we see the frightened courier being trailed past a wall with "Kilroy" written on it. When he's caught in an alleyway, the courier reveals that he's given the package to Jules Lemoine (Hugh Latimer, The Strange World of Planet X).
After turning down a friend who wants plane tickets, airline PR guy Alan Holiday turns to see a woman approach his desk and put down a coin.
"Well!" he says. At first he tries to tell the woman there are no spaces on planes to Paris, since it's New Year's Eve, but then he takes a look at the coin. It's the one he gave to his friend Jules "Top Secret" Lemoine when both were secret agents. Alan has retired, but his friend's still in the field.
Since Lemoine and the lady, Catherine Carrel (Alizia Gur, From Russia With Love), absolutely positively have to get there by tomorrow morning, Alan puts his thinking cap on and concocts a plan. They'll travel by train along with a fashion photographer and his models.
Lemoine tells Alan that he's carrying a tape with the defense program for Western Europe on it. When Lemoine and the photographer meet their demises, Alan decides he must deliver the tape himself. It's especially important since Lemoine's body is lying on the floor of his flat and the police think he's responsible.
Can Alan dodge the police, the real killer, two models, and that swinging party to complete Jules's mission? Yes, with a little help from the man in the bear suit.
The DVD case for Night Train to Paris would make you think this one's a serious, high-stakes espionage thriller. True, the black-and-white picture does have a cool jazz score, an opening scene with an air of menace, and a vital MacGuffin that'd make Alfred Hitchcock proud. The off-camera murder shown in the shadows also adds a noirish touch.
However, the movie actually falls more into the Swinging Sixties Spy Caper genre, leavening its formula thriller plot with mild dollops of titillation, surrealism, and offbeat humor. Thus, you have beautiful women dancing at a party, the aforementioned guy in a bear suit running around (he's the mascot of a ski club), and Leslie Nielsen running around with a Groucho nose, mustache, and glasses and kissing a woman to stop her from screaming. At times, the mish-mash of Sixties cool and Forties noir just seems goofy, but the movie wraps up with a chase that manages to be both silly and tense.
For the most part, the resulting movie plays a lot like the British adventure shows on TV from around the same time, such as The Saint; it serves up the same sort of stock-footage-and-cheap-sets approximation of international adventure. It was filmed at England's Shepperton Studios, but it could have been made anywhere.
Though Night Train to Paris doles out its humor in small doses rather than being an all-out farce, Nielsen adds a touch of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness that hints of his future comedy career. You'll see Nielsen's style in his delivery of corny lines like, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a business like this?" (Never say this to a female spy at a party; she just might use that poisoned dagger concealed in her umbrella) or "I'm a Christmas man myself—that is, until now." His take on Sixties suave comes across as a genial put-on. Still, he looks like he's enjoying himself and that makes the movie work, even when it shouldn't.
Nielsen is backed up by the typical beauties, most notably the aforementioned Alizia Gur, and a decent supporting cast. He's also backed up by the production; it's cheap, using only a few sets, but they take care with the lighting and camera angles to keep the seams from showing. The attentive filming, combined with bits of comic business that cover up the plot holes, results in a decent B-movie. You can find out more about Lippert Films Ltd.—which was involved in quite a few low-budget pictures, including The Quatermass Xperiment and The Fly—at the MST3K Info Club site.
The transfer has the occasional minor glitch, but it's a good job. I'm still puzzled about why Fox chose to release this one with a double-sided disc (widescreen on one side, full-frame TV print on the other) since at 65 minutes, both versions of the film could have easily fit on one side. The Dolby Digital isn't specified on the package, but sounds like a good 2.0 job.
Extras here include the theatrical trailer, which takes the film seriously even as it shows a guy in a bear suit running around, and a poster gallery.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While it's a good B-movie, Night Train to Paris is still a B-movie, in the old-fashioned sense of being a second feature. You might like it, but it's not a must-see movie. Even with a guy in a bear suit running around, it never has the kind of derailment that makes for MST3K-style Nirvana, so you don't get to rubberneck at a cinematic train wreck, either.
Night Train to Paris is a quirky little adventure movie that probably would be forgotten by now if it hadn't starred Leslie Nielsen. It was made with modest expectations. If you watch it with the same expectations, you'll find it exceeds them a little bit.
Not guilty, even though I'm a National Carbonated Beverage with Caffeine Day man myself—that is, until now.
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Scales of Justice
• Original Theatrical Trailer
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