Sudden Fear 1952

RKO Radio Pictures

A cross country train trip on a through sleeping car is the highlight of today’s feature. Believe it or not, back in the 1950’s, you could ride from New York City to Chicago, then on to San Francisco (Oakland) in the same sleeping car. Other railroads also offered similar coast to coast service.

What we see on screen (and out the window) is a wonderful mish-mosh of various railroads — some that would definitely NOT be on our movie’s NYCBurlingtonD&RGWWP routing.

Myra Hudson (played by Joan Crawford) is a successful playwright whose smash hit is running on Broadway. Whilst riding the train out of New York, she spots Lester Blaine (played by Jack Palance) boarding at an intermediate stop. Myra had rather abruptly dismissed Lester from her play. Well. This might be a touch uncomfortable.

Palance turned in a wonderfully-creepy performance in this picture and Crawford… oh, those scary eyebrows. No wonder she wound up portrayed in the campy horror classic, Mommie Dearest. “Tina!! Bring me the axe!”

Anyway. It’s film noir on a train and that’s always a winner. Remember The Narrow Margin, anyone?

Can’t have a noir flick without smoke. Through the haze we see the studio’s recreation of Grand Central Terminal.

Note in the background, Track 25: Commodore Vanderbilt (Train 67) and Track 24: State of Maine Express. Myra would have taken Train 67 which carried the through 10-6 sleeper.

Clutching her Whitman’s Sampler box, Myra is given a big send off from the car vestibule as the Porter prepares to close the dutch door.

Taking NYC tracks out of Grand Central segues improbably to a Gyralite-flashing GS class Southern Pacific 4-8-4! Train 74 in the number boards indicates this is the Oakland Lark, an overnight sleeper train to Los Angeles. Maybe no one will notice.

Myra catches up on her reading in a studio set, heavyweight Pullman compartment. As the train makes a stop, she raises the shade and looks outside. Holy Moley, is that Lester — the actor she canned a few weeks ago?

Yup, it’s Creepy Lester and he’s heading down the corridor. Gah! He’s made a beeline right for Myra!

Saved by the Porter. Just to show there’s no hard feelings, Myra invites Les in for a drink. Good view of the porter’s uniform — which appears to have a “California Zephyr” patch on his left sleeve. I thought they were still on the New York Central.

Myra is still a bit leery of all the attention she’s getting from Lester. Nonetheless, as the drink takes hold and Lester deals the cards, she loosens up. Good detail shots of the sleeper compartment made up for daytime configuration.

Continuity shots. First is a short heavyweight passenger train in early morning dusk. LA&SL (UP) #3175 was a P-4 class 4-6-2 “light Pacific” constructed late 1928, builder unknown.

Second is, well, there’s no mistaking that skyline casing on the roof of another GS class 4-8-4 pulling a Daylight train somewhere in California.

Comes the dawn, the unlikely couple are seated in the diner for a little breakfast. Check out all that railroad silver and glassware and china on the table. Oh, to travel like THAT once more…

Myra’s looking faaaaabulous and engages in some heavy hand-holding with Creepy Les. As the train comes into Chicago, Lester makes arrangements to travel on to Oakland with the Pullman conductor. C.L.’s a frikken stalker!

More Continuity shots. A trio of DRGW Alco PA diesel locomotives in A-B-A configuration glides the California Zephyr past a snow-lined lake somewhere in Colorado. Check those 4 dome coaches up front! This would be the second day out of Chicago after Train #17 had left Denver, climbed the Front Range and passed through the Moffat Tunnel.

Having a smoke back in Myra’s compartment. Whoa! Creepy Les is getting a little fresh! C’mon baby, light my fire (when in doubt, have another smoke). Zephyrette! Your table for 2 in the diner is ready Mr. Blaine.

Note the above is the exact same studio set used on the NYC part of the trip, just with the table removed. I did a little research in my August 1955 Official Guide and discovered the through NYC-OAK sleeper was CZ11, a Budd-built stainless steel lightweight car from the California Zephyr pool.

Wait a minute. How did Myra and old Les wind up spooning in a Santa Fe Super Chief Pleasure Dome?

Compare with a scene from “3 for Bedroom C” also filmed in 1952 over at Warner Brothers. They’re sitting in the same car, but with the Santa Fe antimacassars removed.

Beautiful shot of the California Zephyr in Feather River Canyon — now with Western Pacific diesels on the point. Reaching the final stop at the Oakland Mole (shared with Southern Pacific), WP #805-D, an EMD FP7A leads an A-B-B trio of diesels.

Is that lead engine smiling? ;p Western Pacific’s passenger diesels get my vote for the splashiest nose art and logo, EVAH.

Walking past the locomotives, the happy couple is greeted by Myra’s associates. Check out all the SP advertising below the “To San Francisco” sign. All sorts of Daylight trains left Oakland Mole for Los Angeles (via Coast Line or San Joaquin valley) and Portland, Oregon.

One last look at #805-D peeking out over Myra’s shoulder.

Huge chunk of movie left off HERE

Our final “train” scene in the movie is a venerable San Francisco Cable Car (Hyde line) passing a 1952 Packard Patrician 400, which then turns down onto Lombard Street with famous Coit Tower in the distance.

Thanks for the Packard ID, Mark! Big brothers are the greatest.

This ends the railroad scenes in today’s feature. I also want to take a moment and thank for his wonderful review of Sudden Fear – Train Ride West, which inspired me to take a look at this movie and dig deeper into the railroad details galore.

Here’s what IMDb has to say about Sudden Fear:

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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