Sunday, July 31, 2011

The 5 Best Train Movies

Trains in films began with Edwin S. Porter's film, The Great Train Robbery (1903). A few years later, D.W Griffith's film, The Lonedale Operator (1911), was the first to have villains tie up heroine on the railroad tracks, to wait for the speeding oncoming train, then to be saved just in time from their doom. Thankfully, train movies have become more entertaining over the years.

The following titles show some of my favorite five train movies:

Twentieth Century (1934). Comedy. Directed by Howard Hawks. Cast: John Barrymore and Carole Lombard, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns and Edgar Kennedy.

The story begins when, writer Oscar Jaffe meets lingerie model, Mildred Plotka and makes her the star of his latest play, despite how his two assistants, Oliver Webb and Owen O'Malley, feel about her talent. Oscar transforms her into the actress "Lily Garland", and both she and his play are a huge successes. Over the next three years, they have three more huge hits.

Feeling smothered, Lily tries to break off their relationship. Oscar talks her out of it, promising to give her more freedom. He secretly hires a private detective, McGonigle, to follow her. When she finds out, she leaves for Hollywood and becomes a great movie star on her own.

Without Lily, Oscar's plays are huge flops and he disguises himself to avoid creditors aboard the luxurious Twentieth Century Limited train, travelling from Chicago to New York City's Grand Central Station. By chance, Lily Garland also boards the same train at a later stop. Oscar sees a chance to get her to sign a contract with him. However, Lily is on her way to see Max Jacobs, to star in his play. Knowing that Lily maybe his last chance at success, he tells her that he wants her to play Mary Magdalene, in his new play. Oliver thinks he has found someone to finance Oscar's project, not realizing that his new partner Clark is a escapee from a mental hospital. When Oscar is wounded in a fight with Clark, he pretends to be dying...will he trick Lily into signing a contract?

A wonderful pairing of John Barrymore and Carole Lombard and a story which moves almost as fast as the train.

The Palm Beach Story (1942). Romantic comedy. Written and directed by Preston Sturges. Cast: Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee. Victor Young contributed the musical score, along with a variation of the William Tell Overture for the opening scenes.

This is a very cute story about a wife Gerry, who decides to divorce her husband, Tom, and marry a rich man to get the money to finance Tom's invention. While on the train, Gerry meets one of the richest men in the world. When Tom goes to confront the man, Tom is introduced to his man-obsessed sister, who wants Tom to be husband number 6.

Colbert is perfect as Gerry. McCrea is wonderful playing her husband, but Vallee and Astor really steal the show as the eccentric millionaire and his sister. Also enjoyable to watch are the Ale and the Quail club and Dudley the old Wienie King.

The Train Robbers (1973). Western. Cast: John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Rod Taylor, and Ben Johnson. The movie was written and directed by Burt Kennedy. Mrs. Lowe wants the half million U.S. dollars in gold her late husband stole during a train robbery. Lane wants $50,000 reward, so he decides to help her, asking some old friends to help him. The men of the deceased husband of Mrs. Lowe also want the gold and will do anything to take the money from them.

Wayne and the rest of the weather worn cast perform well in this Western. Some of the scenes will remind you of a beautiful western painting.

The Train (1965). Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau. As the Allied Forces are fast approaching Paris, German Colonel Von Waldheim, is taking France's most famous paintings to Germany. He manages to find a train to transport the valuable art. The French resistance wants to stop them from stealing their national treasures, but have received orders from London that they are not to be destroyed. The station master, Labiche, is enlisted to help make it all happen, but he is also part of a small group of resistance fighters trying to keep the train from ever leaving Paris.

The big star of the film is the train, shown in amazing detail, to keep you in suspense.

Strangers on a Train (1951). A psychological thriller produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who was an expert when it came to using trains in his movies. Cast: Farley Granger, Ruth Roman and Robert Walker, and features Leo G. Carroll, Patricia Hitchcock and Laura Elliott.

Bruno Antony, thinks he has come up with the perfect plot to kill his father when he meets tennis pro Guy Haines on a train. His plan is to have Guy kill his father and in trade he would kill Guy's wife Miriam, freeing him to marry Anne Morton. Guy does not think he is serious, but Bruno goes ahead with his half of the 'deal' and gets rid of Miriam. Guy can't believe it and Bruno makes it clear that he will plant evidence to implicate Guy in the murder if he doesn't kill Bruno's father. How will Guy deal with Bruno's madness?

Strangers on a Train, a dark wonderful comedy and is one my favorite Hitchcock's films.


  1. Some excellent choices Rick though I admittedly do not like THE TRAIN ROBBERS. STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is brilliant and like you, it's one of my favorite Hitchcock's, though there are about a dozen of his films I will say that about. TWENTIETH CENTURY is a joy, THE TRAIN is intense.

    Some of my own favorite TRAIN films are...


  2. Correction, my comment should have been addressed to Dawn!

  3. There are so many great train movies! It must be because you can have both motion (the train's) and a space for drama (the train travellers). Other train movies are NORTH BY NORTHWEST (very sexy Eva Marie Saint-Cary Grant train encounter, also Hitchcock) and Buster Keaton's masterpiece, THE GENERAL, which really is ALL about the train. Enjoyed your post!

  4. Dawn, this is a fabulous topic for a "5 Best" list. My list would include NORTH BY NORTHWEST, too, plys: VON RYAN'S EXPRESS, TERROR BY NIGHT, THE NARROW MARGIN, and BERLIN EXPRESS. I also enjoy RUNAWAY TRAIN and HORROR EXPRESS.

  5. Dawn, I commend you for the gargantuan task of limiting favourite train movies to only 5!

    I love the punchline to "The Train Robbers" and the small ensemble cast. It plays like one of those movies Kennedy wrote for Randolph Scott in the 50s.

    I tend to get into knock down drag outs with fellow train movie fans for never considering "Strangers on a Train" because, as great as the movie is, so little of it actually takes place on a train.

    Following your example, my five: "The Lady Vanishes", "The Tall Target", "Murder on the Orient Express", "The Narrow Margin" and "Terror by Night".

    Recommendation for comedy-mystery fans: "Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone" with boisterous Marjorie Main and flippant lawyer/investigator James Whitmore solving a murder on a train.

  6. I loves train movies. You've picked some great ones.

  7. Dawn, what a fun and thought-provoking post about train movies! I love the constraint of a train set picture. I, too, enjoy "Strangers on a Train" as well as "The Lady Vanishes" and "North by Northwest." Hitchcock must have enjoyed the challenges of the train setting, too! As Rick pointed out, there are some excellent moments in "Von Ryan's Express" which really did showcase some of Frank Sinatra's finest cinematic moments. My father-in-law loved all things Carole Lombard. Your list reminds me that it has been too long since I have seen "The Palm Beach Story" and I will need to look out for it. You had a Herculean task choosing great train movies and I enjoyed reading your choices and seeing the excellent photos you included. Great post, Dawn!

  8. Great job, Dawn. I love the train sequences in "The Palm Beach Story" and "Strangers on a Train" - another of my favorites is the one in "Some Like it Hot." A film I love dearly that is entirely set on a train is Sidney Lumet's "Murder on the Orient Express." It's a wonderful star-studded whodunnit, and the train itself was absolutely period-perfect in its opulence.

  9. Great finish to this month's theme of 5 Best, Dawn! Good analogy too, "moving on" from July to August. My favorites of the ones you chose are 20th Century, The Train and Strangers on a Train. I've never seen teh Palm Beach Story, which your post makes me want to correct!

    I love a movie that maybe isn't exactly a train movie, although it takes place in a train station, trains are always arriving and leaving, and one train marks the bittersweet need to part -- Brief Encounter. What a simple, beautifully romantic movie. One of my favorites.

    Good one, Dawn!

  10. twentyfourframes, Thank you, for your list of "Train" movies. The only one that I have seen is, THE LADY VANISHES, which is also a wonderful film. I'm really looking forward to viewing the rest of your list.

    Grand Old Movies, I agree.. the "train" films NORTHWEST and THE GENERAL, should also be on the list of favorites.

    Rick, Thank you.. I will add your list of "Train" films, VON RYAN'S EXPRESS, TERROR BY NIGHT, THE NARROW MARGIN, and BERLIN EXPRESS, RUNAWAY TRAIN and HORROR EXPRESS, to my list of"gotta see" films.

    Caftan Woman, I just wrote a review for the film, "Tall Target" over on N and CF. I agree.. It is a wonderful film. I hope you have time to stop by and check it out. I will also add your "Train" movie picks, "Murder on the Orient Express", "The Narrow Margin" and "Terror by Night", "Mrs. O'Malley and Mr. Malone", to my list of "gotta see" films.

    Jacqueline T Lynch, Thank you for stopping by.

    toto2, Thank you. I agree.. Alfred Hitchcock, was an expert when it came to using trains in his movies.

    The Lady Eve, Thank you.. I also loved the "Train" film, "Some Like it Hot." It was hard not to add it to my list of favs.

    ClassicBecky, Thank you. I also enjoyed your lists of "5 Best" reviews. I have not seen the film, Brief Encounter. Another, wonderul movie for my "gotta see list" of films.

  11. Great post, Dawn. My favorite of your five is TWENTIETH CENTURY which is such a hilarious classic. I love this film!


    I loved this whole 5 Best thing. I think you should do it every month. :)

  12. Ooooh, oooh, NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH. Love it! How could I forget to mention it? And SILVER STREAK...obviously my memory needs some real fine tuning.

  13. Yvette, Thank you. I also love your "5 Best" list picks. I did enjoy doing the "5 Best" lists. I do plan on doing more.. :D