Sleepers West 1941

20th Century Fox

What could be more fun than a Fox “B” picture mostly taking place on a train? Private dick Michael Shayne (played by Lloyd Nolan) is transporting a surprise witness to a trial in San Francisco. Along the way, Shayne has to sort through plenty of onboard suspects who would like him (and his incognito witness) to not reach the courtroom.

If this plot sounds familiar, it was reused at least twice in 1952’s The Narrow Margin and 1990’s Narrow Margin.

Most of the onboard action takes place on sets, but there’s plenty of live train scenes including use of a Santa Fe Railway locomotive and depot location I could actually identify.

Even a “B” picture can have great, detailed scenes if you’ve got access to 20th Century Fox’s resources. Marble ticket counter, chandeliers, neon signs and arched track gates.

Can you spot the one little error in the train departure board? On most railroads, Denver to San Francisco would be considered westbound and thus the train should have an odd number. As an Amtrak conductor once said, “The odds go to San Francisco”.

Just before train time, Detective Shayne runs into Ace Reporter (and former girlfriend) Kay Bentley (played by Lynn Bari).

By sheerest coincidence, she’s on her way to The City with her boyfriend, a fancy-pants lawyer type, to attend the same trial. She can smell a scoop and will be pestering Shayne throughout the trip for confidential info.

Check out her profile at the above link – she was known as the “Woo Woo Girl”, a favorite pin up poster girl of GI’s during World War 2.

Details. Let’s take another look at the train departure boards. It seems #10, The Comanche will be passing through Laramie, Rawlins (Wyoming) and Ogden (Utah) on it’s way to San Francisco. That’s Union Pacific rails to Ogden and Southern Pacific from there to S.F.

In the second screen cap, we see the next train over is #7, The Sioux via North Platte, Columbus, Omaha (Nebraska), Council Bluffs (Iowa) to Chicago. That would be Union Pacific through Omaha and Chicago and North Western from there to Chicago.

Va-va-Voom! Surprise witness Helen Carlson (played by Mary Beth Hughes) has been brought to her compartment on a stretcher wrapped in swaddling clothes as a brunette. Once she is alone, off comes the wig and blankets. Shayne stops by and reminds her to keep out of sight, lock her door and NO DRINKING on this trip. This does not sit well with the thirsty vixen.

Highball! The engineer and fireman in the cab of #1346 watch for the conductor’s signal to start the train. Oh, that 1346/1346 angled number board is SO Santa Fe, this HAS to be an AT&SF locomotive.

This is the widest dining car I’ve ever seen. Nice fixtures and accoutrements, though. Time for a late supper, Shayne finds himself seated with Kay and her fiancé. Three’s a Crowd! Afterwards, let’s have a coffee and a smoke while reading the San Francisco papers about the Callahan trial. Love the heavy silver teapot.

#10 is making an unscheduled stop at Avondale to pick up a lone passenger. Notice those distinctive pillars. This part of the movie was filmed at Santa Fe’s Inglewood, CA depot previously seen in my review of Race For A Life 1913.

In a classic pose, our hogger blows the whistle to acknowledge the upcoming stop. As the train rolls by, we get our only clear look at the AT&SF #1346. Santa Fe liked BIG numbers on their tenders. The conductor puts down the step box for the mysterious stranger to board.

Kudos to for this image of sister engine #1344 with the accompanying description:

“No date, location or photographer was listed for this photo but it appears that the 1912 Baldwin built 4-6-2 Pacific #1344 may be sitting in a storage line or deadline but still looking good! Specs – class 1337, 73″ drivers, 210 psi boiler pressure, compound cylinders simplified between 1922-27, engine weight of 284,230lb, tractive effort of 30,741 lb. Gone by 1954.”

Date: 6/1/1950. Location: Unknown, KS. Views: 425. Collection/Author: Gary Everhart.

One final look at the Avondale/Inglewood depot (compare with above post card view). But what’s this? A 1939 Buick Yellow Cab is zooming into the parking lot. (Thanks for the taxi ID, Big Brother Mark!).

A heavy-set fellow leaps out of the taxi and manages to grab the railing, pulling himself up to the rear platform of the old observation car. Filmmakers even splurged to whomp up a nice illuminated drumhead for the train.

At first glance, I thought the drumhead graphic was a rat with a long tail in the shape of a “C”. I need to see my Optometrist.

Now for some onboard views of the train:

  1. Rear observation car has a bar at one end;
  2. Back in her bedroom, Kay is typing up some notes on a Remington;
  3. In a Pullman section sleeper, we see both day and night configuration. Note the berth key used to lower the bunk…;
  4. …which Kay “borrows” to lower the upper in her compartment.

Meanwhile, the Man from Avondale strikes up a conversation with the thirsty vixen.

Hey hey! I bought up the entire stock of booze from the lounge car. Well, hello sailor! Afterwards, time for a smoke and to dream their little dreamy dreams. Let’s run away to South America! (I am not making this up.)

The Conductor and trainmen seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in the john. Stick ’em up! Yep, the heavy-set guy has his roscoe pointed right at Shayne!

Most of the train runbys throughout the picture were so dark, identifying the locomotive or train was practically impossible. I can assure you that NONE of them were of AT&SF #1346. ;p

  1. Looks like 2427 or 2423 in the angled number boards;
  2. This is Train #59, Southern Pacific’s “West Coast” which ran from Los Angeles to Sacramento;
  3. Tunnel 12 — could be Sudden/Ellwood Tunnel on Espee’s Coast Line.
  4. Great shots of engine blasting smoke skyward.

At this point, the movie lost my interest with the plot spiraling down into the preposterous. If you’d like to watch Sleepers West 1941 yourself and see what happened anyway, a YouTube link is below:


One more shot of Shayne, Thirsty Vixen and Kay from towards the end of the movie. Look at that outfit on Kay. Why she looks just like a New York Central EMD E8 in the famous lightning stripe paint scheme. Woo Woo!

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Sleepers West:

If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at:, or leave a comment.  Thanks and enjoy the blog!




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