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Dear Reader #67

Dear Reader,

This week, my writing takes me to the Spanish Civil War with Branches, book two in The Olive Tree. This story actually starts in Paris during the International Exposition of 1937. Pictured, The Soviet pavilion and the German pavilion near the Eiffel Tower.

Enjoying dinner aboard a Zeppelin, Berlin to Paris, 1928.

The proof copy of Looking for Rosanna Mee has arrived from the printer. Also, I’m delighted that a Spanish version of this book, my latest Sam Smith Mystery, is now in production.

In Spain, Vice-President Pablo Iglesias announced that descendants of those who fought in the International Brigades will be able to apply for Spanish citizenship. In 2007 a law granted members of the International Brigades citizenship.

Los descendientes de los brigadistas internacionales que combatieron por la libertad y contra el fascismo en España, podrán acceder a la nacionalidad española. Ya era hora de decir desde el Gobierno a estos héroes y heroínas de la democracia: gracias por venir.

Translation:
“The descendants of the international brigade members who fought for freedom and against fascism in Spain, will be able to access Spanish nationality. It was time to say from the Government to these heroes and heroines of democracy: thank you for coming.”

Commemorating the Battle of Britain, an international team effort.

A worker at the B.T.H. factory in Neasden Lane, Willesden writing messages on a Covenanter tank of British Guards Armoured Division, 22 September 1942.

A post World War Two silk dress made from ‘escape and evade’ maps. The maps were given to RAF pilots and SOE agents to aid their escape should they be trapped behind enemy lines.

Maps were printed on silk during the war because the material is durable, rustle free, easy to conceal and doesn’t degrade in water. The maps, along with secret messages, were often sewn into an agent’s clothing.

This weekend’s sweet treat in our house is a Teisan Lap, a moist cake that was very popular with coalminers.

The Train, a 1964 Second World War movie, is based on an interesting premise: are great works of art more valuable than human life?

Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, The Train is an ‘industrial’ movie in that sweat and coal dust are never far from the actors’ faces. It’s also a stirring action movie with a number of dramatic, explosive scenes.

It’s August 1944 and with the Allies closing in on Paris, the Nazis decided to transport, by train, the great art treasures of France to Germany. In the movie, the main protagonists are Paul Labiche, a railwayman and Resistance member, played by Burt Lancaster, and art lover Colonel Franz von Waldheim, played by Paul Scofield.

Given that the Allies are approaching, the Resistance only need to delay the train by a few days, while protecting its priceless cargo. Although initially reluctant to participate in the plan, Labiche devises an elaborate plan where, instead of travelling in a straight line to Germany, the train travels in a circle. In all aspects, the movie is gritty and realistic. However, this concept does require a suspension of disbelief because the Nazis never suspect that the train is taking a circuitous route.

Paul Scofield and Burt Lancaster

One of the most dramatic scenes in the movie is a train crash. This was filmed for real. However, the stuntman pulled the throttle back too far and the train travelled too fast, demolishing a dozen cameras en route. This left just one camera, buried in the ground, to capture the action, which it did to stunning effect, the wrecked train coming to rest above its all-seeing lens.

Due to a number of complex sequences, the movie overran it’s production schedule. Many of the French character actors in the film were committed to other projects. Therefore, director John Frankenheimer came up with a simple solution. As Resistance fighters, they were placed against a wall and shot by the Nazis. Historically correct, this explained their absence from the closing scenes of the film.

An agile performer, Burt Lancaster performed his own stunts. These included jumping on to a fast moving train and, later, being pushed off a fast moving train. He escaped without injury. However, on a rest day he played golf and badly damaged his knee. John Frankenheimer needed a reason to explain Lancaster’s limp, so he included a new scene in which the Nazis shoot Lancaster in the knee as he makes his escape thus allowing the production to continue without further delay.

Jeanne Moreau

With filming complete, John Frankenheimer showed The Train to the production company, United Artists. They realised that the movie required another action scene. Therefore, Frankenheimer reassembled the cast for a dramatic Spitfire attack scene, a highlight of the movie. 

At Lancaster’s suggestion, Frankenheimer also added a philosophical/romantic scene, which Lancaster largely wrote. This scene featured Lancaster and Jeanne Moreau, and is another highlight of the movie.

Throughout the film, John Frankenheimer juxtaposed the value of art with the value of human life. A brief montage at the close of the movie intercuts the crates full of paintings with the bloodied bodies of the hostages, shot by the Nazis, before a final scene shows Lancaster as Labiche limping away.

As ever, thank you for your interest and support.

Hannah xxx

3 replies on “Dear Reader #67”

What a fantastic read, as always. Loved the photo inside the Zeppelin, especially when knowing what happened to the Hindenburg. Fantastic!

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