Dec. 7, 2007
Closely Watched Trains (1966)
Grade: 58/100

Director: Jiri Menzel
Stars: Vaclav Neckar, Josef Somr, Jitka Bendova

What it's about. Set circa 1944 in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. Man-child Milos (Vaclav Neckar) somehow lands the plum job of assistant train dispatcher at the village train depo. Instead of fighting for the locally-despised Nazis in a losing cause, he gets to sit around all day, rising now and then to pull the occasional lever. Best of all, a young hottie, Conductress Masa (Jitka Bendova), shows up on a nearly daily basis to flirt outrageously with him.

But in typical youthful fashion, Milos finds a way to become truly despondent despite his great luck. It seems he is shy around girls, and no one has taught him the nasty. These leads to attempted suicide and constant furtive inquiries toward acquaintances and near strangers. Will Milos ever be able to show his girlfriend what a big man he is? And will the Nazis ever get theirs?

An allegedly hilarious subplot involves Milos' supervisor Hubicka (Josef Somr). Hubicka is a ladies man, and one of his conquests is the relentlessly flirtatious Zdenka (Jitka Zelenobhorska). Hubicka affixes official train depo stamps to the private parts of Zdenka, to her great pleasure but to to the mortification of her easily offended mother. Mother raises a great stink, but neither Zdenka nor Hubicka seem at all embarrassed by the proceedings. After all, it's just a movie.

A third hottie (and as easy as the other two) is Victoria Freie, apparently another object of pursuit for Hubicka, although one he is generously willing to share.

Admittedly, it is a cheap shot, but the actress playing Conductress Masa, the love interest of our blank-faced protagonist, really does have the surname Bendova. But we must remember, groups of Czechs or Slovakians are probably gathered somewhere right now, laughing at the last names of American actors. And if they can do it, so can we.

How others will see it. Closely Watched Trains won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language in 1967. It remains highly regarded today, at least to the extent that it is known.

It is something of a sex comedy, as well as a semi-patriotic effort since the Nazis get one of their ammo trains blown up. There are audiences for both genres, and although there appears to be little overlap, most folks will enjoy this bold comedy except those who eschew black and white subtitled films. You know who you are, and there's a film for your limited self playing right now on the "Encore" cable cinemaplex.

How I felt about it. As sex comedies go, Closely Watched Trains is more subtle and cerebral than most, which does work in its favor. But alas, the humor doesn't really register. This has much to do with the behavior of the young female characters, who seem overly eager to have sex with any man who shows room temperature interest, whether or not he is particularly attractive. These sexual shenanigans have little consequence, perhaps because since it is widespread, it is condoned, and no one is getting hurt, except for Milos' wrists and a prized antique couch.