Cast & Crew
In Groningen, Holland, bookkeeper Kees Popinga stops to watch a train pass as he bicycles to work. At his office he is visited by his unemployed friend Merkemans. When Popinga's boss, Julius de Koster, Jr., and his elderly father stop by, Popinga inquires about a position for Merkemans. However, de Koster refuses to hire Merkemans because he had been managing director of a company that closed due to corruption. Later that day, Paris police inspector Lucas introduces himself to de Koster and, after asking to see de Koster's books, explains that he is investigating a recent influx of Dutch money in the Paris black market. Both de Koster and Popinga assure Lucas of their integrity and invite him to inspect their bookkeeping. That night, as Popinga tells his wife Maria about his day, he hears the evening train whistle, which prompts him to dream of traveling to Paris. He then departs for the chess club, where de Koster has invited Lucas to play. Along the way, Popinga observes de Koster kissing an unfamiliar woman at the train station. Later at the club, Lucas shows de Koster a picture of the woman and asks if he knows her. De Koster claims he does not, and Popinga plays along with his boss. That night, Popinga, who has invested all his savings in de Koster's company, fears that his business will go the way of Merkemans' company. Although it is after business hours, Popinga goes to the office and discovers that de Koster is burning the accounting books. De Koster admits that he fell in love Michèle, the woman in the photograph, on a business trip to Paris and that, having embezzled money for her, the company is now ruined. Popinga follows de Koster to the canals where his boss shows him a note that reads "Death before dishonor." Fearing de Koster will commit suicide, Popinga attempts to intervene and accidentally knocks the briefcase out of his hand, which then springs open to reveal a train ticket to Paris and bundles of cash. Infuriated, Popinga attacks de Koster, who falls backwards into the canal, hits his head on a boat and sinks underwater. Popinga cries for help, then scoops up the briefcase and runs for the train to Paris. To his surprise, Lucas joins him in his compartment and probes him for information about his destination and his employer. Popinga claims that de Koster has sent him to Paris to borrow money to save the company. After a stop in Quevy, Lucas, who hopes to trick Popinga into revealing the truth, tells him that de Koster has been shot to death. Popinga insists that de Koster committed suicide and the next morning, jumps off the train before it reaches the station, and seeks out Michèle, whose address is inside the briefcase. After pushing her lover and black market cohort Louis out the back door, Michèle is surprised to greet Popinga rather than de Koster, whom she expected to arrive with the money. Popinga tells her about de Koster's death and warns her that Lucas is investigating her, but when he suggests a romantic liaison, Michèle mocks him and throws him out. Popinga then wanders along the Champs Elysees until he bumps into a woman who helps him find a room to rent. Lucas, meanwhile, questions Michèle and asks for her help in finding Popinga, who he fears will soon be corrupted as he believes he murdered de Koster. After Lucas reveals that Popinga has de Koster's money, Michèle tracks down the bookkeeper and takes him to Louis' apartment overlooking a garage and the train tracks, claiming that Louis will obtain false identification papers for him. A distrustful Popinga secretly stashes the money in an abandoned car outside, and his suspicions are confirmed when Louis searches his room. Although Louis is impatient for the money, Michèle insists on obtaining it in her own manner. Later that night, Michèle admits to Popinga that she is interested only in his money, and then further injures his pride by insulting his capacity for love. Her provocation is successful when the next night, Popinga seeks her out at a nightclub, where she is attempting to seduce an older American businessman. Popinga, desperate for adventure, vows to risk his money if she will join him for an evening of entertainment. Michèle consents and later, drunk on champagne, Popinga telephones Lucas to taunt him. Lucas attempts to warn Popinga that he may be passing bad money, but Michèle hangs up the phone. After a besotted Popinga admits to hiding the money in a car, he falls asleep in Michèle's apartment, and she slips out to find the cash. Lucas, however, has already located it and takes her into custody, insisting that she bring him to Popinga. Popinga awakens as they arrive and overhears Lucas telling Michèle he will drop all charges against her as long as he can apprehend Popinga. Popinga escapes, unaware that Lucas is merely trying to prevent him from further harm. Haunted by visions of a mocking Michèle, Popinga breaks a shop window and steals a knife, then forces Louis to call Michèle and insist that she come over. Popinga then slashes Louis and later murders Michèle. Deranged, Popinga runs onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train, but falls to the side before being struck. When Lucas finds him, Popinga is delusional, and asks Lucas' assurance that nothing was ever wrong with his bookkeeping.
Joan St. Clair
George J. Shaefer
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (aka Paris Express)
The 1952 British thriller The Man Who Watched Trains Go By is based on Simenon's 1938 novel of the same name, the story of a quiet, respectable accountant and family man in a Dutch port city whose well-ordered life is upended when he discovers that his boss has looted the company and left him broke and adrift. The film was retitled The Paris Express for the United States, where Simenon's works were less well known, but the original title is more expressive. Kees Popinga, the loyal accountant of a grand old shipping firm, is enchanted by the promise of adventure that trains represent and the sounds of whistles and engines rumbling by are heard in the background throughout the film.
Claude Rains, one of the greatest screen actors of his generation, takes the lead in the screen adaptation by filmmaker Harold French. Rains was a fine leading man but more often cast in supporting roles, playing heroes and villains and everything in between and earning four Oscar nominations along the way. He could be suave, charming, sinister, timid, witty, sly, calculating, and commanding on screen and his voice was one of the most mesmerizing to echo from a theater speaker. In the novel Kees is a 39-year-old man and Rains was well over 60 at the time. His portrayal plays on that live-in quality, a contented man of routine and simple pleasures whose only real passion is chess, and a trusting man who loses faith when he witnesses his boss betray everything Kees dedicated himself to.
The role of femme fatale Michele, the Paris mistress of his errant boss, is played by Swedish actress Märta Torén, who was promoted as "the next Ingrid Bergman" when she made her Hollywood debut in 1948. After starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in Sirocco (1951) and Dana Andrews in Assignment: Paris (1952), she came to England for The Man Who Watched Trains and remained in Europe until her untimely death in 1957 at the age of 31.
Marius Goring is Lucas, the detective on the trail of Kees, in a part that was expanded from the novel. Goring was a favorite of Michael Powell, who cast him in his two most memorable roles: the flamboyant angel in 18th-century French finery in A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and the intense composer who falls in love with Moira Shearer's ballet star in The Red Shoes (1948). Goring adds an edge of eccentricity to Lucas, who first takes on Kees in a chess match and continues to use chess metaphors in the ongoing battle of wits.
Herbert Lom plays Julius de Koster, Jr., Kees's boss, with an arrogance and a touch of the sinister he so often brought to the screen, and young Anouk Aimée, future star of Lola (1961) and A Man and a Woman (1966), has a small role as Jeanne, a sexy streetwalker who guides Kees to a dive hotel.
British Film Noir Guide, Michael F. Keaney. McFarland & Company, 2010.
Claude Rains: An Actor's Voice, David J. Skal with Jessica Rains. University Press of Kentucky, 2008.
Claude Rains: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference to His Work in Film, Stage, Radio, Television and Recordings, John T. Soister with JoAnna Wioskowski. McFarland & Company, 1999.
Introduction to The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, Luc Sante. New York Review Books, 2005.
By Sean Axmaker
The Man Who Watched Trains Go By (aka Paris Express)
Closing cast credits were listed in order of appearance, although the opening credits list Claude Rains, Marta Toren, Marius Goring and Anouk Aimee above the title. In addition, opening credits of the viewed print mistakenly list Aimee's name as "Aimee Anouk." She is listed only as "Anouk" in closing credits. This film was a joint British-American production and was released in England in December 1952 under the title The Man Who Watched Trains Go By, the title of the viewed print, and in the U.S. as The Paris Express. Although a copyright statement appears on the film, neither title is listed in the Copyright Catalog.
Harold French was given sole screen credit for the screenplay when the picture was initially released; however, the film was co-written by blacklisted writer Paul Jarrico, whose credit was officially restored by the WGA in 2000. According to 1952 news items, the two versions were produced to comply with the differing censor requirements in England and the U.S., and Arthur Nadel worked as a supervising editor on behalf of the American production. As the viewed print was of the British version of the film, Nadel's name did not appear in the credits.
American reviews of the print titled The Paris Express do not indicate if the content significantly differed from the British version. However, the running times for the British version are listed variously as 80, 82 or 86 minutes, whereas reviews for the American version list the running time as 74 minutes. An September 8, 1949 pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter indicated that Cecil Hardwicke was being considered as the director. The film was shot on location in Paris, France and in Amsterdam in The Netherlands.