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  • [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Railway movies

    There have been many films made over the years which are either based around, or feature a high proportion of "railway content". The aim of this page is to identify which of these movies are worth watching on purely "railway grounds".

    Films made for enthusiasts (such as cab rides, or run-bys) will not be included, the list will only contain "movies". Each film is given a star rating on a scale of 1 to 5, for each of the following categories: The movie as entertainment, The percentage of railway content, The quality of the railway content.
    If you have your own personal favourite "railway movie", please send me an EMail outlining the film in the format listed below. Additionally, if you know if any of these films are available on tape in your own area, please let me know. Many thanks, John Oxlade (EMail: )
    Read reviews of:
    La Bataille Du Rail
    La Bête Humaine
    C'era una volta il west
    Emperor of the North
    Europa
    The First Great Train Robbery
    The General
    Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse
    The Ghost Train
    The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
    The Great St. Trinians Train Robbery
    The Harvey Girls
    Heldentum nach Ladenschluß
    The Lady Killers
    The Lady Vanishes
    Murder On The Orient Express
    Murder, she said
    Night Train to Munich
    North by Northwest
    Northwest Frontier
    Oh! Mr. Porter
    Once upon a time in the west
    The Railrodder
    The Railway Children
    Runaway Train
    The Sting
    Strangers on a Train
    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
    A Ticket to Tomahawk
    The Titfield Thunderbolt
    The Train
    Union Pacific
    Von Ryan's Express
    The Wrong Trousers

    La Bataille Du Rail
    Cast: Jean Clarieux, Jean Daurand, Tony Laurent, Lucien Desagneaux, Robert Leray (all non-professional)
    Director: René Clément
    Studio, year: SNCF, 1945
    Story outline: Dramatised account showing the involvement of French railway workers in the resistance movement mainly during 1944. Much of the story is concerned with sabotaging a German army armoured train which finally derails and falls down an embankment.
    Railway content: Filmed in 1945 with full co-operation of the SNCF. Consequently all the railway scenes are 100 % realistic, both rolling stock and infrastructure were unchanged from how they were in 1944. There are a lot of steam trains in action, and the armoured train used was a real armoured train which really went down the embankment, no trick photography and nothing filmed in a studio. It is basically a documentary with a story line.
    Format: French, black and white, pseudo-documentary
    Available on video: VHS SECAM in France (SECAM will play in black and white on VHS PAL video players)
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: ) with additional material by Pierre Birge

    La Bête Humaine
    Cast: Jean Gabin, Simone Simon
    Director: Jean Renoir
    Studio, year: Paris Film, 1938
    Story outline: Train driver Jacques Lantier (Jean Gabine) becomes involved with the attractive and deceptively innocent Sévérine (Simone Simon) when he lies to protect from implication in a murder, in this adaptaion of Emile Zola's novel about violence, passion and trains.
    Railway content: Peter Galway reviewed La Bête Humaine in the 29th April 1939 edition of the New Satesman: "The railway sequences in La Bête Humaine are a knock-out. The camera is mounted in front of the engine, the sound, instead of being dubbed in afterwards, recorded on the spot. On the wide screen of London's Continental Cinema the result is a superlatively exciting and beautiful spectacle..."
    It was filmed between Le Havre and Paris St. Lazare and vice-versa on the western region of the SNCF, formerly the Etat. In fact some of the coaches seen in the film still have Etat markings. The locomotive picking up water from the tracks is a former Etat locomotive (same method as once used by British Railways).
    Format: French, black and white, thriller
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1997 in French with English sub-titles
    Ratings: Movie: helps greatly if you speak French StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: ) with additional material by Pierre Birge

    C'era una volta il west ("Once upon a time in the west", "Spiel mir das Lied vom Tod")
    Cast: Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Keenan Wynn and many others.
    Director: Sergio Leone (story: Bertolucci, Leone, Argento and others)
    Studio, year: Prigge (?) 1969
    Story outline: Film begins with a scene at a lonely small station where a handful of killers wait for a man coming with the train. Allthough this last for about 10 minutes every second is absolutely gripping. The train arrives and 10 seconds later the kilers are dead, shot by the mysterious harmonica player (Charles Bronson) who arrived with the train. - Hard cut, evil is breaking into an idyll: A farmer and his children were brutally shot by a gang, leaded by unscrupulous and uncredibly cold villain Frank who shoots personally the little son (Henry Fonda playing an evil character for the very first time). Later we learn that Frank is in service of a railroad company which intends by all means to build a line through the farm land. When the farmers new wife, the former prostitute Jill (Claudia Cardinale), arrives at the farm she realizes that she is also menaced because of her heritage. Now a fascinating story with many ups and downs and complicated involvements begins. In principle, the stranger "Harmonica" (we do never hear his name) and Chayenne, chief of a gang of "respectable" outlaws (who at least do not shoot children), become allies and help Jill against Frank. Chayenne helps Jill because he is suspected by the sherrif (Keenan Wynn) of the massacre and because he fells in love with Jill who herself seems to fall in love (a little bit?) with "Harmonica".But one does not know who "Harmonica" is, why he is there, and what he wants until the last dazzling duel with Frank. The film is absolutely fascinating, thrilling and in many scenes (sometimes maybe unintended?) homorous.
    Railway content: The whole film is - on one level - about building a railway line in the wild west. You can see stations (filmed partly in Calahorra, Spain), trains, simple and luxurious salon waggons (where the chief of the railway company lives), water towers (with thrilling dropping of water), station clarks, workers who lay sleepers and rails and so on. But of course, maybe three quarter or more of the film do not play in trains or stations.
    Format: Italian, Italo western, Technicolor, Mono sound (most famous and intensive music by Ennio Morricone), 165 Minutes (do not see any chopped version!)
    Available on video: VHS, probably other systems (one of the top films of the world), but for the first time, try by all means to see the film in cinema.
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar (for me the best Western ever made, one of the world top films) Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: ??? (no idea, I m not familiar with non-German railways, but it's nice to see)
    Reviewed, recommended by: Dr. Christoph Perleth

    Emperor of the North
    Cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Bognine, Keith Carradine
    Director: Robert Aldrich
    Studio, year: Warner, 1973
    Story outline: The story takes place in the West, during the depression time (ca. 1933). Borgnine is the hard-nosed freight train conductor "Shack", who uses all brutal means to keep hoboes from his train. Marvin is the king of the hoboes, "A-Number-One" who tries to ride the train of Shack. He is accompanied by Cigaret (K. Carradine), a newbie hoboe. The whole story is about the duel between Shack and A-Number-One, while the later one tries to get rid of Cigaret. Getting on the train, try to survive Shack's attacks (using hammer and chains), being thrown from the train and getting back there again takes most of the time with a very extreme final showdown between Shack and A-Number-One on a running flat car.
    Railway content: Almost all the story is happening onboard of the freight train. Inside a box car, on top of a flat car or trying to hide underneath a car (between the brake rigging). The off-train scenes are shot in close proximity (station or yard area). The equipment is very convincing and seems historical correct. The great scenery of Oregon with grades and trestles gives a very nice setting and is also used for the plot.
    Format: English, colour, thriller
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Frank Forsten (EMail: Forsten@TIC.Thyssen.com)

    Europa (aka Zentropa)
    Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Eddie Constantine, Max von Sydow (Narrator)
    Director: Lars von Trier
    Studio, year: Denmark/Germany/Sweden/France, 1991
    Story outline: The young American Leopold Kessler comes to defeated Germany in late 1945 to work as a sleeping-car conductor. There a very black nightmare begins for him, as he struggles in a Kafka-like style with the absurd bureaucracy of the Zentropa company, and with a partisan terror organisation "Werwolf" his lady-love and daughter of the company chief sympathizes with. The ending is tragic.
    The style and surrealistic atmosphere of the film is very unusual and disquieting: A suggestive and hypnotizing narrator, drastic changes of pigment and colour of the film, continuous changes between German and English language, and weird perspective and cut by excessive use of back-projection in a "Laterna Magica"-style.
    Railway content: Although most of the film is located in Kessler's sleeping car, there is not much railway visible: The entire film plays at night, and due to the back-projection its stylistic means resemble more theatre than movie.
    Apart from the sordid interior of the sleeping car there are only a few short night shots of a class 52 war-type locomotive. And one scene of love being made on top of a huge Maerklin model layout.
    Format: German (with sub-titles) and English, b/w mixed with colour
    Available on video: PAL (GB) and NTSC (US)
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Moritz Gretzschel (EMail: Moritz.Gretzschel@dlr.de)

    The First Great Train Robbery
    Cast: Sean Connery, Lesley-Anne Down, Donald Sutherland
    Director: Michael Crichton
    Studio, year: United Artists, 1978
    Story outline: Set in 1855, Connery is an elegant but ruthless crook who plans to steal gold bullion from the Folkstone Express. There's an interesting twist in to the end, so I won't give away all of the story line, but he does get caught. During the trial, the judge asks, why, being a gentlemen, he stole the gold? Connery replies, very matter-of-factly "Because I wanted the money". It is actually rather a good story, and as a plus, its got trains in it.
    Railway content: Shot entirely in Ireland, Dublin station was used for some of the night locations. Virtually, all of the Irish Republic's preserved rolling stock was pressed in to service, and the on-train scenes were filmed either on freight only lines or on a few passenger lines which had no service on a Sunday. Even though it was filmed in Ireland, the feel of the old South Eastern Railway is quite convincing, and the disguises of the steam locomotives are remarkably good.
    Format: English, colour, adventure
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The General
    Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mark
    Director: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman
    Studio, year: Joseph M Schenk, 1927
    Story outline: Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) is an engineer on the Western & Atlantic Railroad (his locomotive being the "General" of the title). He tries to enlist in the army during the American Civil War. The recruiting officer decides he is more useful as an engineer and won't accept him. His sweet-heart's family thinks he is a coward for not joining up and disowns him. Some time later when spies steal his train, he gets the chance to redeem himself in their eyes, and in the end they live happily ever after.
    Railway content: The vast majority of the film is based around the railroad. An enormous amount of effort went in to making the film as authentic and believable as possible. Everything in the film is real, the special effects are real too - it is a real locomotive that crashes off of a burning bridge. The film company bought 46 miles of railroad in Oregon, 6 locomotives (2 of which were wrecked), and a collection of rolling stock. Although in many respects it could be considered a comedy, this is no ordinary Buster Keaton movie, and is considered (by non-railroad enthusiasts) to be one of his finest films.
    Format: English, black and white, silent, based on a real life raid during the American Civil War in 1862
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in the early 1990's
    VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    Die Gentlemen bitten zur Kasse
    Cast: Horst Tappert
    Director: unknown
    Studio, year: unknown, 1960's
    Story outline: A film about the English great train robbery.
    Railway content: Only very little railways in it, even though it is about the train robbery. A German V200 (camouflaged as a Warship class loco) is pulling the post train.
    Format: German, black and white
    Available on video: uknown, but has been broadcast in Germany several times, and also dubbed in to English in England
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Martin Silz (EMail: MSilz@Zuendel.de)

    The Ghost Train - one of several films with the same title
    Cast: Arthur Askey
    Director: Walter Forde
    Studio, year: Gainsborough, 1941
    Story outline: A group of travellers get stuck at a country junction station when they miss their connection. Having missed the last train, they must wait at the station for the first train next morning. The station master tells them the story of the ghost train which is sometimes seen going out over the bridge. Story has it that it is the ghost of a train that was lost in the river 43 years earlier when the swing bridge wasn't closed. This is actually all a cover for some gun runners, and the intervention of the passengers ruins the plans of the criminals.
    Railway content: Although a "railway" movie, there is not much railway in it. Most of the film was shot in the Lime Grove studios in London's Shepherd's Bush, the only "real" railway is the opening 10 minutes of the film which has serious continuity errors - the train manages to change locomotives 4 times before arriving at the junction station where the story revolves.
    Format: English, black and white, thriller
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStar Percentage of railway: Star Quality of railway: Star
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Good Guys and the Bad Guys
    Cast: Robert Mitchum, George Kennedy
    Director: Burt Kennedy
    Studio, year: Warner Brothers, 19??
    Story outline: Marshall Flagg (Mitchum) and Big John McKay (Kennedy) are a US Marshall and an outlaw respectively who belong to an earlier age. McKay is tagging along with a gang of criminals to undertake one more train robbery. The Marshall captures McKay and finds out about the plot. McKay changes sides when one of the gang kills an old friend of Flagg's (McKay doesn't believe in unnecessary killing), and the two set out to thwart the gang's plans.
    Railway content: All of the rail scenes are set on either the Durango and Silverton (maybe the Cumbres and Toltec) and apart from a repainted locomotive, are fairly realistic. The only faked scene is the crash towards the end when an obvious model falls through the trestle.
    Its a good story, humerous in places, but not an out-and-out comedy, just good entertainment.
    Format: English, colour, comedy-western
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Great St. Trinians Train Robbery
    Cast: Frankie Howard, Dora Bryan
    Director: Frank Lauder
    Studio, year: British Lion, 1966
    Story outline: Crooks steal £2.5m from a train and hide the money in an old, abandoned house. The staff and pupils of St. Trinians girls school then move in to the house, not knowing the money is hidden there, until the robbers try to get it back. The climax of the film is a totally ridiculous train chase.
    Railway content: The film was shot exclusively on the Longmoor Military Railway (which closed in 1969). A variety of steam locomotives (some in disguise), an early Southern diesel multiple unit, an 0-6-0 diesel shunter (switcher) and a track inspection trolley all feature. Its good fun, the trains are real trains, and it is totally ridiculous. You'll probably love it. On several points it is rather politically INcorrect, but being a British comedy from the 1960's, not offensively so.
    Format: English, colour, comedy
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Harvey Girls
    Cast: Judy Garland, John Hodiak, Ray Bolger
    Director: George Sidney
    Studio, year: MGM, 1945
    Story outline: Judy Garland is a mail-order bride riding a Santa Fe train to Sand Rock, New Mexico. Also on the train is a contingent of Harvey Girls, waitresses in the Fred Harvey restaurants that operated at meal stops on the Santa Fe. When Judy arrives at Sand Rock and discovers her husband-to-be is not the articulate, romantic man she envisioned in their correspondence, they break the engagement, and Judy becomes a Harvey girl as well. She discovers, however, that the letters she received had been ghostwritten by the proprietor of the local gambling hall and bordello. Judy sets her sights on him, while the working girls in the bordello try to drive the Harvey House out of town, fearing the competition from the wholesome Harvey girls. In the end, the Harvey girls win out, the bordello moves down the line, and Judy gets her man.
    Railway content: Scenes of fairly well restored 1870s equipment, apparently from the Virginia and Truckee, on the line and arriving at the station. Very nice closeups of authentic paint and woodwork. However, the show's centerpiece is the rendition of the Johnny Mercer song "Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe", which was written for this film, won an Oscar, and, as performed here, verges on the sublime.
    Format: English, color, musical
    Available on video: US NTSC 1990
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Bruce (EMail: j.bruce@gte.net)

    Heldentum nach Ladenschluß
    Cast: Josef Sieber, Horst Uhse, Herbert Weissbach, Johannes Buzalski
    Director: Wolfgang Schleif et al
    Studio, year: Omega Film, 1955
    Story outline: This West German post-WWII production consists of four tragicomic episodic segments situated in the chaotic days at the end of the war when fighting just had seized and when the only desire of the scattered german soldiers was to get home to their families without getting caught. The fourth episode is about a troop of soldiers trying to get home by breaking through the russian lines in Carinthia (Austria) by means of a steam train which they had found abandoned by its crew. As nobody has any knowledge about locomotives, the main emphasis is on their clumsy and amateurish attempts to get the machine moving by virtually trying all possible levers, handles and valves. After succeeding, the rest is a hazardous train rush through the Carinthian alps.
    Railway content: The real star of this fourth segment is the steam locomotive 54 1607, a bavarian G3/4H, shown in great detail shoots. Nearly the complete episode is situated in its cabin showing the soldiers struggling with the various levers and valves. These scenes are of high authenticity and technically mainly correct. The film can therefore be regarded as a unique and pretious curiosity showing a rare locomotive (of a type disappeared today) in operation.
    Format: German, black and white, comedy
    Available on video: Probably not, but shown from time to time on German television
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStarStar (only in the fourth segment) Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Moritz Gretzschel (EMail: Moritz.Gretzschel@dlr.de)

    The Lady Killers
    Cast: Alec Guinness, Cecil Parker
    Director: Alexander Mackendrick
    Studio, year: Ealing Studios, 1955
    Story outline: Alec Guinness rents a room in a house owned by an old lady. There, he and 4 associates, mascarading as musicians, plan a train robbery. An integral part of the plan is that the landlady should (unwittingly) collect the luggage trunk full of money from King's Cross station's luggage office. All goes well until as they are leaving the house, a cello case bursts, and money spills out on the street in front of her. They then decide she "must go", and draw straws as to who will do the deed. They all fail miserably, and in the end, the old lady gets to keep the money. By modern standards the film could be classed as "slow", as there are no special effects and no violence (well, not really), the whole story relying on the characters.
    Railway content: Although not a railway film as such, the railways around King's Cross station in London play an integral role in the story. The house is built above a tunnel mouth, and this is the cause of the disappearance of all 5 robbers. This is the actual south entrance to Copenhagen Tunnel, which is just outside of King's Cross station. If you know your London geography, this proves that the often seen view from the house looking up to the road to St. Pancras station is not possible, but it makes for a nice effect. There are several shots of period British trains, and street scenes around London in the 1950s which are all of interest.
    Format: English, colour, comedy
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: Star Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Lady Vanishes
    Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Dame May Whitty
    Director: Alfred Hitchcock
    Studio, year: Gaumont-British/Gainsborough, 1938 (there was also another [inferior] version of the film produced in 1978 starring Elliott Gould)
    Story outline: The story begins in the 1930's in an unnamed central European country. A number of people are staying in the local hotel intent on taking a train home to England. Mrs. Froy (Dame May Whitty), an English governess is befriended on the train by young lady (Margaret Lockwood). Unfortunately Mrs. Froy disappears during the journey due to some kind of conspiracy, and the heroine (Margaret Lockwood) enlists the help of a young man (Michael Redgrave) to help her save Mrs. Froy. They succeed but loose track of Mrs. Froy during a shoot out with the local authorities. In the end young man and young lady fall in love, and are finally reunited with Mrs. Froy in London.
    Railway content: Although all the railway scenes are filmed in a studio in England, the general atmosphere is an excellent portrayal of a generic "Orient Express" in the 1930's.
    Format: English, black and white, thriller
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: difficult to say as it is all "faked".
    Reviewed, recommended by: Pierre Birge

    Murder On The Orient Express
    Cast: Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman
    Director: Sidney Lumet
    Studio, year: EMI, 1974
    Story outline: Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) finds himself snowbound on a train with a dead body. Whilst waiting for another train to arrive to dig them out of the snow, Poirot solves the case of who murdered the man. Not a particularly good adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel, but the railway scenes are pretty good.
    Railway content: It was not possible to use the real Istanbul station as there have been far too many changes since the 1930's the film is set in. Landy depot (which was the night stabling point for the "Night Ferry" and "Nord Express") was used as a substitute, which explains why a French loco was starting the train from "Istanbul" station. There were numerous small errors in the film, including innapropriate rolling stock (no Pullman cars ever ran in the Orient Express in the 1930's), but the railway sequences are reasonably convincing. All of the Wagon-Lits coaches are originals, although all of the interior shots were done in a studio with the "carriages" made up with authentic panelling from some abandoned CIWL coaches found in Belgium. This was done so well, that until I read about it, I would have sworn the interior shots were real. The exterior shots were filmed in the Jura mountains on an SNCF freight-only line. To start with the weather was not very obliging, and the film company had to have truck loads of snow brought in to fill the cutting. Shortly after they did this it started to snow, and the film crew themselves actually got cut off for a while.
    Film critics seem to agree that the best part of the film is up to the point the train gets stuck in the snow, then the plot too seems to grind to a hault.
    Format: English, colour, thriller
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in early 1990's
    VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    VHS PAL in Germany (in German as "Mord im Orient-Express")
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    Murder, she said - (German title: 16.50 ab Paddington)
    Cast: Margaret Rutherford, Stringer Davis
    Director: unknown
    Studio, year: unknown
    Story outline: Starting at Paddington Station Miss Marple enters the train to Milchester. She sits down in the compartment and falls asleep. She is woken up by the wistle of a passing express train. She can observe how a murder is commited in the other train. She tells the conductor about her observation, but no dead body can be found.
    Soon it becomes clear that the body must be hidden somewhere at Ekenthorp Hall (spelling ? By the way: in the remake the film the house is called "Rutherford Hall" :-) ). Miss Marple starts working as a maid at the house, in order to start her investigations.
    During the investigations it becomes clear, that the murderer must be connected to the Ekenthorp family. I will not tell here who is it, in order not to take away the tension.
    Railway content: In the beginning nice view at Paddington station with all those steaming locos. The film then starts with nice scenes of the train running through the country side. And of course the murder scene: Miss Marple sitting in her compartment, watching the passing train and finally observing the murder. As Ekenthorp Hall is situated next to the railway line there is now and then an express train, hauled by a steamer (I think there might be one situation with a Diesel loco).
    Of course my personal view. I hope, one can read from these lines, that this film is one of my favourite, especially Margaret Rutherford as the "old lady detective" and Stringer Davis as her "warning" friend.
    Format: English, thriller
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Martin Silz

    Night Train to Munich
    Cast: Rex Harrison, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Henreid, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Felix Aylmer, Roland Culver
    Director: Carol Reed
    Studio, year: Twentieth Century, 1940
    Story outline: This thriller opens with the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939. Rex Harrison is a British secret agent trying to rescue a Czech scientist who escaped from the Gestapo to London only to be kidnapped back to Berlin. The drama from then on is intense and polished, with a nice touch of humour and character, despite the political commentary necessary for the times.
    Railway content: Despite the title, not too much. The opening scene shows a large gun barrel leaving its factory in Prague on a railway wagon; then we don't see a train for an hour. Once our hero boards the title train in Berlin, there are a few exteriors but most of the action happens in a compartment coach and at a station supposed to be an hour north of Munich. Since the film was made in 1940, it's most unlikely that there was any location shooting! So there may be limited interest for railfans, except to comment on the accuracy with which DR logos and decor (including a wonderful antimacassar) were reproduced in wartime Britain. As a bonus, the climax comes on a cable car over a mountain valley. Not a great railway movie, but an excellent period suspense film partly set on a train.
    Format: English, black and white, thriller
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: unknown
    Reviewed, recommended by: Charles Spencer (EMail: cspencer@bank-banque-canada.ca)

    North by Northwest
    Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason
    Director: Alfred Hitchcock
    Studio, year: MGM, 1959
    Story outline: Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, a suave New York ad man who nevertheless is somewhat naive and a mama's boy. Thornhill is mistaken for a US counterintelligence agent by James Mason and other Soviet-bloc spies, who frame him for the murder of a United Nations dignitary. Escaping from the police and the communists, Thornhill is assisted by US agent Eva Marie Saint, who hides him in her bedroom on the Twentieth Century Limited. The search for Thornhill and the chase after the spies continues through a spectacular sequence in the middle of an Illinois cornfield, culminating on top of Mount Rushmore. By the end of the film, Eva Marie Saint has succeeded in cutting Mom's apron strings.
    Railway content: The extensive interior shots of dining and sleeping cars on the Twentieth Century may look authentic, but they were in fact very precise copies made in a studio. The Hudson Valley scenery viewed from the windows is however real, and a great sound track of train at speed on jointed rail, very authentic ambience of travel in the mid to late US streamliner era. Some shots in Chicago's La Salle Street station.
    Format: English, Color, Suspense
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Bruce (EMail: j.bruce@gte.net)

    Northwest Frontier
    Cast: Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, Herbert Lom
    Director: J Lee Thompson
    Studio, year: Rank, 1959
    Story outline: Cut off from the outside world, a British garrison has a young Hindu prince to look after. Captain Scott (Kenneth More) is tasked with taking the boy to safety and a train is used to run the blockade.
    Railway content: Filmed in India, authentic rolling stock is used throughout. The only poor scene is where they drive the locomotive across a partially blown-up bridge. This is totally impossible, the unsupported rails would never withstand the weight of the locomotive.
    Format: English, colour, suspense
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1997
    Ratings: Movie: StarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    Oh! Mr. Porter
    Cast: Will Hay, Moore Marriott, Graham Moffat
    Director: Marcel Varnel
    Studio, year: Gainsborough, 1937
    Story outline: Set in 1930's Ireland, Will Hay plays an incompetent relative of a railway official who is assigned as Station Master to a remote Irish station, basically to get him out of the way where he can't do any harm. Eventually (after a lot of fooling around - it is a comedy after all), he uncovers a plot to smuggle guns across the border, and the climax of the film is a high-speed run with the smugglers on board the train to a mainline station where the police are waiting.
    Railway content: It was filmed on the abandoned Basingstoke to Alton line just before the track was removed. "Gladstone", their engine, was built in 1899, and belongs to the preserved Kent & East Sussex Railway.
    Format: English, black and white, comedy.
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Railrodder - this is the correct name it is not a spelling mistake
    Cast: Buster Keaton
    Director: Gerald Potterton
    Studio, year: National Film Board Of Canada, 1965
    Story outline: As this short film opens, Buster Keaton is reading a newspaper on Westminster Bridge in London. Inspired by an advertisement headlined "See Canada Now!", Keaton jumps off the bridge and is next seen striding out of the Atlantic Ocean on the Nova Scotia shore. He immediately comes across a Canadian National Railways "jigger", an open powered maintenance vehicle in which he promptly makes off, to the bemusement of its inattentive crew. The rest of the film is an improbable but utterly charming romp across the country, through the great cities of the east, across the Laurentian Shield and the prairies and then through the mountains to the western port city of Vancouver. I won't spoil the ironic ending, but the understated mime slapstick throughout the film is classic Keaton at the end of his career and the wordless musical soundtrack by Eldon Rathburn is a perfect accompaniment.
    Railway content: The entire film is set on the rails. We see a number of interesting features, including a swing bridge over the old Lachine Canal (I think) at Montreal and a run up the now disappeared Union Station approaches beside the Rideau Canal in the heart of Ottawa (whose downtown station was misguidedly moved to the suburbs shortly after the film was made). An out-of-control Keaton also chases another crew in their jiggers off a trestle bridge, narrowly misses collision with a contemporary train and covers tracks of the CNR, the Canadian Pacific, the Great Northern and the Pacific Great Eastern (now BCRail).
    Format: English, colour, comedy/documentary
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998 (available from www.amazon.com amongst others)
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Charles Spencer (EMail: cspencer@bank-banque-canada.ca)

    The Railway Children
    Cast: Dinah Sheridan, Jenny Agutter, Bernard Cribbins
    Director: Lionel Jeffries
    Studio, year: EMI, 1970
    Story outline: Set in Edwardian England, a family are forced to move to the country from their London home when the Father is wrongly imprisoned. The three children make friends with the local Station Master (Bernard Cribbins), and eventually their Father is released and they remain in the country. The film is a fairly mild-mannered, family film, with no major action or disasters to frighten young children.
    Railway content: Shot exclusively on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (a preserved line in central England), EMI practically took over the entire railway for 5 weeks during filming. Railway items of interest seen in the film include an 1887 Lancashire & Yorkshire 0-6-0, and a Great Western 0-6-0. The lovely inspection saloon is still referred to as "the old gentleman's coach". It was built in 1871 by the Stockton & Darlington railway as a 3rd class coach, and has been much modified over the years.
    Format: English, colour, family entertainment
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in early 1990's
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    Runaway Train
    Cast: John Voight, John P. Ryan, Eric Roberts, Rebecca DeMornay
    Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
    Studio, year: Golan-Globus, 19??
    Story outline: Voight and Roberts are inmates in Stonehaven Maximum Security Prison in Alaska, Ryan being the governor. There is a personal feud between Voight and Ryan - basically either would be happy to see the other dead. Voight and Roberts break out of prison, and stowaway in the cab of a locomotive. The engineer starts the locomotives moving, then dies of a heart attack. The 4 locomotives with Voight and Roberts onboard then run out of control. DeMornay has been taking a nap in one of the other locomotive cabs and the 3 of them then try to stop the train. In the end, Roberts and DeMornay are left on the rear 3 locomotives whilst Voight and Ryan sail off in to oblivion on the lead locomotive.
    The film is rather violent, and filled with strong language, certainly not "light entertainment". On the whole, it is a rather oppressive (i.e. heavy going) story, and some of the scenes are rather unlikely.
    Railway content: Filmed mostly on the 4 locomotives (all Alaska railroad as far as I could make out - a GP40, F7A and two GP7s) some of the scenes are not too convincing from a railway-perfectionists viewpoint. What I am trying to get over here is that this is not one of my favourite railway films, but there is a high railway content.
    Format: English, colour
    Available on video: unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Sting
    Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Robert Shaw. Charles Durning, Eileen Brennan, Harold Gould
    Director: George Roy Hill
    Studio, year: Universal (Richard D. Zanuck), 1973
    Story outline: Robert Redford is a small-time grifter (a con man) in Joliet, Illinois in 1936. He gets in over his head when he inadvertently rolls a courier from a major New York gang. When his mentor gets killed off in retaliation, Redford recruits a former big-time con artist (Paul Newman) to set up a major sting against the head of the New York gang. The sting involves gaining the trust of the gang and suckering its head into a major bet. The "hook", the stage at which the mark, the target of the sting, is hooked by embarrassing him in a smaller bet, takes place on a train, on which Newman bribes the conductor to get him into a rolling pocker game which the mark runs on the train. The plot twists repeatedly before the final surprising ending. An excellent movie in its own right.
    Railway content: Forty minutes into the film, Newman and Redford meet in the cavernous main hall of the station, complete with rows of wooden benches and echoing, unintelligible announcements, and board the "Century" from New York to Chicago. In the twenty-five minute train sequence, there are extensive interiors of period sleeping and parlour cars as well as the diner, filmed with the meticulous detail possible on a Hollywood budget, closing with an exterior representing Chicago's LaSalle St. station. There are only two brief exterior long shots of the train, which looks like a model. The interiors show well the trains which were the major form of long distance communication in America of the period, alas a lost epoch.
    Format: English, colour
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: Star Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Charles Spencer (EMail: cspencer@bank-banque-canada.ca)

    Strangers on a Train
    Cast: Farley Granger, Robert Walker
    Director: Alfred Hitchcock
    Studio, year: Warner Brothers, 1951
    Story outline: Farley Granger plays Guy Haines, a tennis star who hates his estranged wife and wants to be free to marry a Senator's daughter. On a train, he meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), one of the most annoying and irritating characters to appear in any film. In the course of the sort of painful conversation that many people experience while traveling, Bruno suggests to Guy Haines that each could murder the person the other most wanted out of the way -- Bruno murdering Haines's wife; Haines murdering Bruno's father. Haines, humoring Bruno simply to end the encounter, is greatly surprised a few days later to find that Bruno has murdered Haines's wife and is now demanding that Haines keep his part of the bargain. The film concludes with Bruno brought to justice on a merry-go-round spinning wildly out of control. Overall, the film is not regarded as one of Hitchcock's successes due to its improbable plot.
    Railway content: Most of the action takes place in sets that only generally suggest railroad coaches, with the camera angles mostly too tight on the characters to take in any larger railroad atmosphere. The "compartment" where Bruno explains his plot to Haines is a mixture of a Pullman drawing room and a Wagons-Lits style compartment, complete with bottled water containers on the wall. Establishing shots at the beginning are in the porte-cochere of Washington Union Station (but the pilot beam shot of the train leaving the terminal is in Los Angeles). Shots in the fictional town of Metcalf are on the New Haven, possibly using the Bridgeport, CT station. The horns blowing for crossings on the sound track are clearly from Pennsylvania Railraod GG1s.
    Format: English, black and white, suspense
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1987
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStar Quality of railway: StarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Bruce (EMail: j.bruce@gte.net)

    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
    Cast: Walther Matthau, Robert Shaw
    Director: Joseph Sargent
    Studio, year: MGM/UA 1974
    Story outline: Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) and three other gang members (Mr. Grenn, Gray and Brown) hijack a N.Y. subway train and demand a ransom of 1 Million Dollar. If the money won't be delivered within an hour, they'll start to shoot a hostage every minute. Lieutenant Garber of the Transit Authority tries to convince the hijackers to give up.
    It is a 70s US crime thriller with a simple but exciting plot. Matthau's cynic Lieutenant Garber and Shaw's cool and cold Mr. Blue make this a dated but still 1st class action movie.
    Railway content: Most action is happening inside the subway train (the enginer is called "motorman") or in the central dispatching and control office. Of course no "real" trains, rather more interesting for traction fans.
    Format: English, colour, thriller
    Available on video: VHS PAL (UK), VHS NTSC (US) in 1998 (available from www.amazon.com amongst others)
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Frank Forsten (EMail: Forsten@TIC.Thyssen.com)

    A Ticket to Tomahawk
    Cast: Anne Baxter, Dan Duryea
    Director: Richard Sale
    Studio, year: TCF, 1950
    Story outline: A stagecoach line tries to delay the coming of the railroad through various means - mostly sinister.
    Railway content: Filmed on the Durango & Silverton, various original items of rolling stock were used, including Rio Grande Southern #20, renumbered #1 and named "The Emma Sweeney" for the film. Good, honest entertainment, although the idea of pulling a dismantled locomotive over the Colorado mountains seems rather far-fetched (OK, down-right impossible), but it makes for a good story.
    Format: English, colour, comedy
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    The Titfield Thunderbolt
    Cast: Stanley Holloway, George Relph, Naunton Wayne, John Gregson
    Director: Charles Crichton
    Studio, year: Ealing Studios, 1952
    Story outline: A local community works together to run their branchline after British Railways decides to close the line. A local bus company hopes their efforts will fail, and resorts to sabotage when it looks as if the amateurs will succeed. Come the day of the inspection by the railways inspector, their locomotive lies wrecked in the river, and they manage to persuade the local councilor to let them borrow the "Thunderbolt" out of the local museum. They succeed, and to add insult to injury, the two saboteurs are taken away on the train.
    Railway content: The line from Limpley Stoke to Camerton was used for the branchline (which had only recently been closed to freight traffic), with Bristol Temple Meads providing the junction station seen at the end. Although most of the early part of the film is shot with fairly conventional rolling stock of the period (except the coach which came from the Kelvedon & Tollesbury Light Railway), the real star of the film was the locomotive used for the final run with the railway inspector. The locomotive chosen was "The Lion", built in 1838 for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway. Rescued by the Liverpool Engineering Society in 1928, she was found to be in good working order and ran under her own steam during the filming.
    The only thing that lets it down (from a perfectionists point of view) is the scene where two of the characters get drunk and steal a locomotive from British Rail. They drive it down the street, and get arrested for drunk driving. No real locomotive, even a small (i.e. light) British one, could do this, and a very convincing mock-up of the locomotive was constructed over a small lorry. It is funny, and adds to the story line, but it is not actually possible in real life.
    Format: English, colour, family entertainment/comedy
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar (except for the train in street scene - see above)
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: ) - its his favourite railway movie

    Union Pacific
    Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea
    Director: Cecil B. DeMille
    Studio, year: Paramount, 1939
    Story outline: Although Abraham Lincoln has signed the authorization to build the transcontinental railroad, political and financial manipulation is under way to thwart the project. One of the bankers has decided to sell Union Pacific stock short in hopes that the Central Pacific will reach Ogden, Utah first and restrict the UP's access to that lucrative market. To ensure the success of his scheme, he enlists Sid Campeau (Brian Donlevy), who runs brothels and gambling houses along the route of UP's construction, to spread dissatisfaction among the workers. In response, Greenville Dodge of the UP hires Jeff Butler (Joel McCrea) to act as "troubleshooter" to stop the schemes of Campeau and his helper, Dick Allen (Robert Preston). Butler and Allen, former Civil War comrades now on opposite sides, also compete for the affections of Mollie Monahan (Barbara Stanwyck), a mail clerk. After buffalo stampedes, Indian raids, train robberies, strikes, riots, and train wrecks, the UP beats the Central Pacific to Ogden, and the rails meet at Promontory Point.
    Railway content: Much of the rail scenes were filmed on the Virginia and Truckee using actual V&T equipment, which had been acquired by the studio and more or less restored, although not with great sensitivity. The "blacksmith car" that became the prototype for Tru-Scale and Walthers HO models was a piece of inauthentic fluff that was created by destroying an authentic V&T boxcar of the 1870s. Nevertheless, the camera sometimes lingers lovingly on the nineteenth-century arch bar trucks and truss rods on the equipment. The production and release of the film were major railfan events of the period. Lucius Beebe, who traveled to Nevada to see the filming, moved west as a result. With the perspective of 60 years, much of the film seems cute and condescending, creating the sort of exagerated "Wild West" atmosphere that later modelers and railfans have left behind.
    Format: English, black and white, Western
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) date unknown
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Bruce (EMail: j.bruce@gte.net)

    The Train
    Cast: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau
    Director: John Frankenheimer
    Studio, year: United Artists, 1964
    Story outline: Paris 1944. As the Germans retreat from the city, they try to take many of France's art treasures with them by train. The Resistance set out to stop the train but without damaging the priceless treasures on board. Burt Lancaster is an SNCF area inspector and has the job of getting the paintings to Germany (officially) and not letting the paintings get to Germany (unofficially - he has "dealings" with the resistance).
    Railway content: Possibly one of the finest railway movies ever made. Great pains were taken to ensure that the railway scenes were accurate, and the train crash (when the resistance try to slow down the following art train) is real.
    Format: English, black and white.
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1997
    VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    Von Ryan's Express
    Cast: Frank Sinatra, Trevor Howard, Raffaella Carra, Brad Dexter, John Leyton, Edward Mulhare, Wolfgang Preiss
    Director: Mark Robson
    Studio, year: Twentieth Century-Fox 1965
    Story outline: Frank Sinatra is an American airman shot down over Italy in 1943, kept out of the hands of the Germans and put in an Italian POW camp. As the invasion of Sicily proceeds, Sinatra disagrees with the British inmates who want to challenge their keepers and keep trying to escape. Sinatra would rather treat with the Italians for needed medical supplies and wait to be liberated safely. They eventually make their peace; after the Italians guards in the face of the Allied move up Italy, the Germans take over and load the prisoners onto a train for the north, passing through Florence on the way to Innsbruck. The prisoners take over the train and a chase ensues, with a troop train following.
    Railway content: The action is centred on the train escape for the second half of the film, which was made with the support of the FS. I don't know Florence well enough to confirm if the station scene was filmed there, but it's definitely Europe and there appears to be period stock around, although I think one can glimpse some definitely more modern electrics briefly in the background from time to time. The concluding chase and shootout between the prisoners' train and an armoured train includes some neckbreaking acceleration and braking as well as some ludicrous tracklaying and the end is typical US war movie cornball. But there are great bridge and tunnel shots in the mountains and good interiors in the coaches too. Unfortunately no American star like Sinatra would allow a train to outstar him in a movie, so the locomotives are shown mostly in long shots.
    Format: English, colour
    Available on video: VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStar Percentage of railway: StarStarStar Quality of railway: StarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: Charles Spencer (EMail: cspencer@bank-banque-canada.ca)

    The Wrong Trousers (Wallace and Grommit)
    Cast: Wallace and Grommit
    Director: Nick Park
    Studio, year: Aardman Animations, 1993
    Story outline: Our plasticine heroes get involved with a bad character who forces them to help with a robbery. Of course it all works out OK in the end.
    Railway content: Possibly one of the best (and funniest) train chases in movie history.
    Format: English, colour, plasticine figure animation.
    Available on video: VHS PAL in England in 1998
    VHS NTSC (US) in 1998
    Ratings: Movie: StarStarStarStarStar Percentage of railway: Star Quality of railway: StarStarStarStarStar
    Reviewed, recommended by: John Oxlade (EMail: )

    [ last updated 1st Jan 2004 ]