|“||The paintings are mine. They always will be. Beauty belongs to the man who can appreciate it. They will always belong to me, or a man like me.||„|
|~ Franz von Waldheim|
Colonel Franz von Waldheim (simply known as Franz von Waldheim) is the main antagonist of the 1964 war film The Train.
He was portrayed by the late Paul Scofield.
Franz von Waldheim was an art-loving Heer officer in occupied France. When the Germans were retreating from Paris, von Waldheim arranged for a number of paintings to be taken from a French museum and put onto a train bound for Germany. He faced some initial difficulties from his superior General von Lubitz, who initially refused to let him have a train. However, he was able to convince von Lubitz of the paintings' value, and von Lubitz agreed.
Just as the train was loaded and about to depart from Paris, however, von Lubitz rescinded the order, needing the train for troops. Von Waldheim disobeyed, and sent the train ahead anyway with his second in command Captain Schmidt aboard to oversee its safe journey out of France.
The French Resistance made numerous efforts to stop the train and recover the paintings. First, elderly engineer Papa Boule sabotaged the locomotive, and for this he was executed despite train switchman Paul Labiche's pleas to von Waldheim to spare him. Von Waldheim then made Labiche the engineer to replace Boule, placing him and fireman Didont under the supervision of Sergeant Schwartz. Instead of going to Germany, they instead doubled back to the station at Rive-Reine. They threw Schwartz off of the train and then crashed both the detached locomotive and the train itself into the station. As a result, Schmidt was killed and Schwartz wounded, while Labiche and Didont escaped.
Von Waldheim vengefully had the stationmaster executed. He ordered his men to find and kill Labiche, then with Major Herren's assistance he cleared the wreckage. Eventually the French Resistance succeeded in stopping the train despite the Germans taking several French prisoners. Von Waldheim attempted to commandeer a passing retreating German convoy to transport the paintings, but the officer in charge refused. Enraged, von Waldheim ordered Herren to execute the officer. Herren refused, prompting von Waldheim to attempt to draw his sidearm and kill him, but he was stopped by Herren who told him that it was over. Calming down, a disillusioned von Waldheim finally saw the truth in this, and backed down.
Herren opted to accompany the retreating convoy, while Sergeant Schwartz ordered a machine gunner to kill the French hostages. They then joined the other German troops in escaping, leaving von Waldheim alone at the train since he refused to join them despite Herren's urging that he do so. He stayed behind with the train as they drove off. Labiche soon arrived and confronted von Waldheim who accused him of not actually appreciating the paintings. On seeing the dead hostages, Labiche angrily shot and killed von Waldheim.
Von Waldheim was a cold and distant man who rarely showed emotion. Even in his deep and abiding love for art, he seemed to find no real joy. Even when angry and raising his voice, his facial expression remained eerily serene. A ruthless and cruel taskmaster, he always pushed his subordinates to their limit, and sometimes well beyond it, demanding perfection and success at any cost. He demanded the same of everyone around him, as well, and if a task was not met to his satisfaction then von Waldheim was quick to threaten (and sometimes actually carry out) punishment. Everyone went in fear of him and his bizarrely serene temper as a result. It is possible that his dissonant serentiy was due to some undiagnosed mental disorder such as PTSD, given that he was also apparently wounded and partially crippled (see below).
His appreciation of art was such that he valued it more than the lives of others, even his own men, and, in the end, apparently even his own, as he chose to remain with his beloved paintings rather than leave them behind and evacuate with Herren and the others following the loss of the train, fully realizing he would have to face Labiche alone. It is also possible that he even wanted Labiche to kill him. If he could not own the paintings, then he would rather be dead, and so one interpretation of his death is that he intentionally goaded Labiche into shooting him.
His harsh treatment and unreasoning, obsessive attitude towards the paintings earned him no love from his men. Only Captain Schmidt seemed completely loyal to him and understood his superior officer, and when he was killed, von Waldheim was left without any subordinates he could on to obey him out of friendship instead of simple duty. And when it became clear that the war was lost and that von Waldheim expected them to die what they saw as pointless deaths for a bunch of paintings, they abandoned their commanding officer and fled, leaving von Waldheim to face his enemy alone.
Von Waldheim wore a Wound Badge, indicating he'd been wounded in action at some point in the past. Indeed, in addition to his apparent PTSD, he had one arm that he constantly carried crooked at an odd angle as though he did not have full use of it, and he also had a very stiff gait. In one scene, when attempting to flag down the treating convoy so he could use the trucks to transport the paintings, he had difficulty making it up the short hill to the road to get their attention, slipping, falling, and having to partially crawl the rest of the way up before getting to his feet.