Author Archives: filmrailfan

The Sting 1973

Universal Pictures

New York Central Railroad’s famed 20th Century Limited is the setting for a key portion of today’s movie review. Leaving New York City at 4:15pm and arriving Chicago at 9:00am, Westbound train #25 was a Pullman-only heavyweight train when the movie takes place (September 1936).

Train scenes were filmed in Chicago at Union Station, LaSalle Street Station, and the 43rd Street “L” station. There were also a few, brief railroad shots filmed in the Los Angeles area.

The onboard sequence appears to have utilized a heavyweight “section” sleeper made up for daytime configuration. They could have been using studio-owned passenger cars or even a set for this.

Let’s take a ride on the Century!

A view inside Henry Gondorff’s (played by Paul Newman) bedroom. Painted apple green, I really dig the fixtures and Pullman washcloths, but that huge liquid soap dispenser looks out of place somehow.  Exterior of LaSalle Street Station in Chicago.  It seems mighty dark for the train to be arriving at 9:00am!

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Race for a Life 1913

Keystone Film Company

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?

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A Ticket to Tomahawk 1950

20th Century Fox

I actually reviewed Tomahawk back in the early days of Obscure Train Movies — It just wasn’t much of a review. Today, I hope to do a better job revisiting A Ticket To Tomahawk in all its Technicolor glory. This is the movie that put the Durango and Silverton D&RGW narrow gauge line on the map. Not only did people come to ride the little train in Southwestern Colorado, moviemakers returned to film other pictures too numerous to list here.

The star of the show is Rio Grande Southern #20, 4-6-0 3-foot narrow gauge steam locomotive. #20 was originally built for the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad in 1899 by Schenectady Locomotive Works (Alco). For its movie appearance, RGS #20 was decorated in a colorful paint scheme and named “Emma Sweeny” as Tomahawk & Western Railroad #1.

Just look at all that detail! Red and gold paint accentuates the green Emma Sweeny signboard. Antlers on the headlight box and white “extra train” flags flapping in the breeze. In another view, Emma poses in good light near Silverton.

Apologies for the fuzzy screen caps. AFAIK, Fox never released Tomahawk on DVD, so I had to make do with an aftermarket product.

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Empire on Parade 1957

Empire Photosound, Inc.

We sing the song of a railroad! Narrator Roger Krupp waxes poetic during this 40 minute film extolling the history and present day operations (circa 1957) of the Great Northern Railway.

Empire on Parade features the westward journey of freight train #401 from Minneapolis to Seattle and the industries and agriculture it serves along the way. We also get many views of the GN’s flagship Empire Builder passenger train.

It’s a festival of first-generation diesel locomotives including representatives from EMD, Alco and Baldwin.  In color.  So let’s take a journey during the hey-day of the post-war Big G.

The Empire Builder is about to drop a semaphore signal somewhere in the Montana Rockies. Note the 3 short Great Dome coaches and 1 large Great Dome lounge car which helps date the film after late 1955.

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The Polar Express 2004

Warner Brothers

Ah, Polar Express.  A 21st Century classic Yuletide movie and the fund-raising savior of tourist railroads everywhere.  The soft-focus animated film featuring a magic train and steam locomotive on its way to the North Pole, Christmas Eve.

And WHAT a locomotive! Can you get any more Christmassy than Pere Marquette #1225, a “Superpower” 2-8-4 Berkshire built in October 1941 by the Lima Locomotive Works? Filmmakers used actual blueprints of this steam engine to assist animators along with recorded sounds made by PM #1225.

Hey, Christmas (12-25-2020) is coming up soon, so climb aboard with a bunch of other lucky kids and ride with conductor Tom Hanks to (maybe) see Santa away up North. All Abooooooard!!

How would you like to see this pull up your street? I love the rounded-end heavyweight observation car with Mars light and P.E. drumhead. Better hold onto that golden round-trip ticket real tight, son…

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Case of the 12th Wildcat 1965

CBS Television Network

Oh, this one should make both my brother and my wife go, “Gah!!…NOOOOoooo!!” (neither can STAND Perry Mason for various reasons, best not discussed here).

But…it’s my blog and there’s trains in it, so a-posting I will go. Three different railroads are seen in stock footage, but more about that later.

Originally broadcast on Halloween night 1965, “12th Wildcat” featured a Southern Pacific passenger train from San Francisco to Los Angeles on SP’s Coast Line. The action takes place in the dark of early morning onboard a lounge car and a couple sleepers in the first 12 minutes of the feature.

Come along and watch with amusement as I search for clues to the identity of some poorly-lit railroad equipment. Objection! Counsel is assuming a fact not in evidence and is leading the witness!

I include this interior shot of the lounge car purely for this guy’s wonderful, leering smirk.

It’s probably just a set, but includes a well-stocked bar — which fuels a drunken souse leading to murder!

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Superman 1978

Warner Brothers

“More powerful than a locomotive!” I remember watching Superman in the theatre when it first came out. Great, fun film and quite a few train scenes to boot. It was a pleasure to get a copy on DVD then go back and research all the locomotive and train sets seen.

The movie would feature a GMD FP7, an EMD FL9 and 3 EMD SPD40F locomotives as well as a studio mockup of villain Lex Luthor’s (played by Gene Hackman) underground lair — done up as a flooded section of Grand Central Terminal in New York! It’s the late 1970’s, so there is plenty of pre-Superliner, “heritage” equipment to be seen.

Let’s take a trip on the Canadian Pacific, the New Haven and Santa Fe railroads, shall we? All Aboard!

The Kansas Star hurtles past the camera under a magnificent sky. This FP7-led passenger train would soon encounter a young Clark Kent racing alongside.

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Union Pacific 1939

Paramount Pictures

Cecil B. DeMille’s “epic” (translation: well over two hours long) film about the building of the first transcontinental railroad did everything in a big way. Big stars, train wrecks, Indian attacks and a messy love triangle for starters. Union Pacific utilized FIVE different steam locomotives — so many trains, in fact, Paramount had to obtain a railroad operating license from the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Doesn’t sound very obscure, does it? But…1939 was a long time ago and black and white turns many people off, so let’s just imagine obscurity and review it anyway. It really was a fascinating railroad movie to study.

Many many thanks to Larry Jensen and his book, “Hollywood’s Railroads, Volume One” for helping me identify the locomotives and passenger/freight cars used — most of which originally came from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad in Nevada.

As is my wont, I will concentrate on scenes where trains are involved. Camera…ACTION!

The movie premiered in Omaha, Nebraska over several days in April 1939. The recreation of the May 10, 1869 golden spike ceremony at Promontory, Utah was actually filmed near Canoga Park, California partially as a media event to promote the film.

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Support Your Local Gunfighter 1971



United Artists

James Garner is riding the narrow gauge rails of the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) Railroad in this Western spoof follow-up to 1969’s Support Your Local Sheriff!

Train scenes in this film were brief, but feature 4 different steam locomotives, one of which I’ve not been able to positively identify. A big shout out to Larry Jensen whose “Hollywood’s Railroads, Volume 3” book helped me identify one engine used on the CBS Studio City (CA) lot.

As usual, I’ll concentrate on the railroad scenes in my review, even though the movie itself is great fun to watch — back when Tinseltown knew how to make an enjoyable, entertaining picture.

Let’s take a trip on the 3-feet-between-the-rails Rio Grande railroad. Highball!!

 

D&RGW #478, a narrow gauge K-28 class 2-8-2 Alco class of 1924, leads a short train of “Grande Gold” and silver coaches along the Animas River on the Silverton Line.

Helicopter shots of this train were used at the beginning and ending of today’s reviewed movie.
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The Train 1964

United Artists

While not particularly OBSCURE, (Trains Magazine rated it the #1 greatest railroad film, evah), this black & white MOVIE is chock full of TRAINS from start to finish. So, two out of three ain’t bad.

Mind you, it’s a foreign film, which I usually don’t review, but The Train features so many explosions, spectacular derailments and is steam locomotive-propelled throughout, I just couldn’t pass it up.

Burt Lancaster, American accent intact, stars as the engine driver Labiche (pronounced Labeesh) — more about his funny last name later.

So come on, all you World War 2 buffs, let’s check out how the railway workers of the French Resistance take on the Germans in this gritty, over-exposed iron horse opera.

Colonel Franz Von Waldheim (played by Paul Scofield) is the art connoisseur who has looted a trainload of paintings from the Musee du Jeu de Paume and intends to take it back to Germany for ransom (“enough to equip 10 panzer divisions”).

How come English stage actors seem to make the most sinister and convincing stiff-arm saluting German officers?

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