This 108 year old movie was a lot of fun to research and learn about. Just 13 minutes in length, Race for a Life tells the tale of a fair maiden chained to the railroad tracks by a spurned villain and cad in the best melodramatic, indeed, over-the-top fashion.
The star of the show was AT&SF #492, a 4-6-0 oil-burning, passenger steam engine built by the Rhode Island Locomotive Works in 1900.
Filmed along the Santa Fe Railway in and around Inglewood, California, I was actually able to obtain a picture of the depot used in filming and AT&SF #492 in more contemporary times.
There’s even an early scene of what became known as the “Keystone Kops” pedaling along furiously to the rescue on a railroad handcar. C’mon, let’s take a closer look at this ancient, silent flicker.
Damsel-in-distress Mabel Normand breaks the fourth wall and stares into the camera as she remains firmly affixed to the right-of-way. Poor Mabel. Will no one save her?
In happier times, the beautiful and pure Mabel flashes a dimple at…
Her bashful beau (played by Mack Sennett). Have a flower, Mabel!
Stealing the entire picture is jealous villain (played by Ford Sterling) whose mustache-twirling antics lead to darker, more sinister and unwanted advances towards Mabel. Boo! Hiss!
Curses! Standing next to an AT&SF hand car, the spurned cad and his two henchmen stake a horrified Mabel to the roadbed. I love that huge mallet!
Despite her predicament (in this wonderful posed, publicity photo), Mabel still manages to bash the villain on the foot with a hammer. Nonetheless, Ford and his minions make their escape via handcar.
Our first peek at AT&SF #492 with which the cad plans to run over our heroine. In the background is the Santa Fe Railway Inglewood depot. In a gag shot, Ford appears to uncouple, then PUSH the locomotive forward.
Found on Pinterest and Flickr respectively are better views of our locomotive and depot. No photographer indicated on either image.
Now on the sunny side of #492, Ford and his henches overpower the engine crew. For some reason, the bounder also knocks down one of his gang — who promises revenge!
Great shot of a Santa Fe refrigerator (ice) car in the background with it’s side door open. Also notice the three-forked posts on the depot, which match the above 1969 view.
Riding high and still twirling the old soup-strainer, the “mad cad” has the 10-wheeler rocketing down the tracks towards the helpless Mabel.
Looking for Mabel all this time, who should our hero Mack bump into, but famous race car driver, Barney Oldfield! Soon they are barreling along dirt roads in hot pursuit.
Back at Inglewood depot, the spurned henchman spills the beans to the Keystone Kops. Now THEY are bumbling along on a handcar…
The race is on! The steam engine is fast, but not as fast as Barney. As Mabel continues to struggle with her chains, Mack and Barney pull ahead of #492.
Our two heroes finally manage to unchain Mabel. #492 is coming up quickly and the boys pull her out of harm’s way in the nick of time. Curses! Foiled again!
Getting the locomotive stopped, villain Ford is (literally) hopping mad, shooting the late-to-the-party Keystone Kops one by one.
Overcome by remorse, or maybe just completely bonkers, our murderous bully then offs himself with self-strangulation (huh?) culminating in an outrageously drawn-out death scene as the credits roll.
Wow, what a finish! I’d also like to point to an interesting review of this movie by Fritzi Kramer from the Movies Silently blog which further explored the “heroine-tied-to-the-tracks” genre.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Race for a Life:
If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment. Thanks and enjoy the blog!