I love cartoons. When this big budget movie collaboration between Lucasfilm and Disney came out back in the 1980’s, I was first in line to see it in the theatre. Looking back now, I realize a major plot point was the demise of Los Angeles’ legendary Pacific Electric railroad system. At the time, many thought the disappearance of the “Red Cars” was a conspiracy by General Motors and the bus companies. The truth was much simpler. People preferred the convenience of their own private cars.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a perfect fit for my obscure train movie blog as the train part is mostly in the background, but comes to the front as the film reaches its climax. The more I researched this movie from a Pacific Electric Red Car standpoint, the more I understood what really happened…and how well filmmakers did reproducing the environment for the time period (late 1940’s).
Replica PE #721 rolls along with some non-paying passengers riding the rear bumper. #721 represents a “Hollywood Car” (600 class, #600-759). Notice its trolley pole is reaching for overhead wires that are not there.
At least one Hollywood Car (PE #655) was saved from the scrap heap and is in the collection of the Southern California Railway Museum.
Our first “Red Car” scene occurs about 10 minutes into the picture. Outside the Maroon Cartoons Studios, down-on-his-luck gumshoe, Eddie Valiant (played by Bob Hoskins) approaches Pacific Electric #721 with destination sign set for Sunset Boulevard.
Lots of details in just these two images: #1: Filmmakers used silver strips of tape to represent the rails and the trucks disguise the actual wheels. #2 A 1941 Plymouth Special De Luxe with a rusty hood passes #721 and Eddie. From THIS LINK is a treasure trove of information about the vehicles used in the movie along with the following comments about the replica streetcar:
“The 1930s replica streetcar was made for the movie by Dean Jeffries. It’s based on a GMC bus chassis and was stretched to 65 feet. It’s aluminum skin on a steel framework, simulated rivets are wood dowels sanded to shape and glued on before painting. Fiberglass covers in the shape of streetcar trucks cover the bus’s real wheels. It was built in one month at a cost of $200,000.”
With no funds other than a small paycheck, the conductor barks at Eddie, “What do I look like, a bank?” and slams the door in his face.
I dig that metal coin changer on the conductor’s belt line!
Denied entry, Eddie hitches a ride on the back bumper along with some local street urchins. “Hey Mister, ain’t ya got a car?” “Who needs a car in L.A. We got the finest public transportation system in the world.”
The above link goes to a very well done conspiracy debunk and history of the PE System. Notice the rear destination board says Subway Terminal; and oh those sweet rides on the left — I spy a 1939 Buick Special and a 1940 Ford V8 De Luxe.
Another tidbit. That flashy orange & red paint scheme was lifted directly from Pacific Electric parent company Southern Pacific Railroad’s “Daylight” passenger trains.
The conspiracy angle is pursued further as the Pacific Electric sign is replaced by a Cloverleaf Industry board. Filmmakers did a great job whomping up a Terminal Station with a couple false front Red Cars #652 and #731.
Approaching Eddie’s stop, #721 comes to a halt as a 1937 Dodge Touring Sedan passes. In the second image, you can see a SECOND street car crossing behind #721. Eddie’s so broke, he even bums a couple of Lucky Strikes off the oldest kid.
Where do you go when you’re down to your last few bucks? The Terminal Station Bar, of course (with only the word TERMINAL illuminated)! Hmmm…sounds ominous.
Wow! How about that Pacific Electric illuminated sign? (I reversed the image so it is readable.); Behind Eddie’s long-suffering girlfriend/waitress is all sorts of PE goodness: A system map admonishing the viewer to “Ride The Big Red Cars”, a model of a streetcar, and yet another PE sign.
Rowf! It’s the impossibly-voluptuous Jessica Rabbit (voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner) doing her burlesque number and coming on to the clientele. That hussy!
“I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
Comparison shots showing how Bob Hoskins used a 4 wheel motorized buggy to film the Red Car live action with the animation added in later.
Sequence of a visit to ToonTown, where the “Toonzoomer #1” streamlined express train barrels past, followed by a vulture and pig-powered handcar. Looks like a 2-6-4 steam locomotive on the point.
Back to “reality”, Jessica frees Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer). “C’mon Roger, let’s go home.” “What do you see in him?” “He makes me laugh.”
Now to wrap things up, two more images of Pacific Electric #721 — which I couldn’t fit in elsewhere.
That’s all folks!
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Who Framed Roger Rabbit:
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!