Mostly filmed on the MGM lot in Culver City, Grand Central Murder is the tale of a Broadway stage actress who uses and discards people like Kleenex — until someone snaps and bumps her off. But who dunnit? And how? There’s not a mark on her. There IS a list of suspects a mile long.
And oh, what a set. MGM spared no expense using actual railroad passenger cars and a passable recreation of Grand Central Terminal’s underground high-level platforms and third-rail infrastructure. Southern Pacific Railroad’s subsidiary Pacific Electric served Culver City and you can briefly see SP EMD NW2 switcher #1315 shuffling cars around during a couple scenes.
As always, I’ll concentrate on the train bits, but the movie itself is well worth an evening’s viewing. All Aboard!
Van Heflin (as “Rocky” Custer) checks out the heavyweight Pullman named, “Thanatopsis” for this picture. If you clink the link in the previous sentence, you’ll see it’s a not-so-subtle reference to what takes place on board.
The film opens with a view of Times Square, then what appears to be a quick shot inside the actual Grand Central Terminal with passengers and red caps passing the camera.
The movie’s only view of an actual New York Central train is brief, but it’s a dandy. A trio of red caps wait on the high-level platform as a NYC electric T-Motor #1171 pulls into Grand Central.
“Turk” (played by Stephen McNally) escapes the cops by climbing out the window of the john. Don’t get close to the third rail like that, Turk. It’s unhealthy.
The chase is on. Lots of back-lit, Noir-ish lighting. Turk races between Pullmans with the police in hot pursuit. As Turk hides, we get a quick glimpse of SP switcher #1315. Very interesting window configuration on the coach the switcher is pulling.
After receiving a threatening phone call from Turk, diva Mida King (played by Patricia Dane) hurries down to G.C.T. to hide in her current paramour’s private car. Unfortunately, the heavyweight observation car is no sanctuary, with Mida being carted off the rear platform to the morgue.
Fortunately, private detective Rocky Custer is on the job. Along with his wife Sue (played by Virginia Grey), we get some great train scenes trackside as they high-step across all that electric current. Hey watch out guys, here comes the diesel switcher! Yaaaahhhh!!
Dig this futuristic railroad office! The “New York, Chicago & Western Railroad” control room is just chock-full of lights, dials and CTC track panels. The cops are there to pick up yet another suspect in Mida’s murder. Two, count ’em two dispatchers wearing eyeshades are aghast as their co-worker is led away.
Most of the movie is told in flashback. Here we see Mida talking to a switchman (complete with cool railroad lantern) and we get some good, interior views of the Pullman car set.
Dang, Virginia Grey makes great arm candy for Van Heflin as he questions suspects at the murder scene.
World War 2 was raging at the time this picture was made which is why I include these two close-ups of the markers on the rear of the observation car. Note the metal hoods on the markers to prevent any light being seen from above (by enemy bombers).
Under Pullman lettering, Rocky enlists gal pal Sue’s assistance in showing the assembled police and suspects how the murder was done.
Love those rivets! No wonder old Pullman heavyweight cars were sometimes referred to as “Battleships”.
Recreating the crime has flushed out the killer with the police in foot pursuit as the cast ensemble watches from the observation platform.
He’s getting away! The killer nimbly leaps over the 3rd rail and boards a departing train. But, that Espee switcher is approaching on the next track. GAHHH! A shocking conclusion with the killer getting his comeuppance as the credits roll.
Aaaaaand, just for fun (no trains in shot), I close with a couple nipple peek-a-boos. Slipped right by the censors, they were. MGM, we salute you!
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Grand Central Murder:
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