Great Train Movies

I’m looking for some great movies set primarily on trains.

I watched Silver Streak last night, and was pretty disappointed. The setup was great – a Hitchcockian thriller/comedy set aboard the express train from L.A. to Chicago – but things quickly went downhill. Most annoyingly…

Gene Wilder kept getting thrown off the frickin’ train!! This led to endless pointless sidetrips as he tried to get back to the Silver Streak, cutting the action completely dead. Plus, generally it was just too long, and was neither very funny or exciting.

But seeing it did get me psyched to see some good railroad movies. The two classics I can already thing of are “The Lady Vanishes” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” Any others? “Strangers on a Train” doesn’t count, because the train, from what I remember, only appears at the beginning.

Twentieth Century is not only named for a train, but nearly all the action takes place on one.

The Great Train Robbery. The original silent version is interesting from a historical point of view, but I mean the Sean Connery/Donald Sutherland version.

A lot of North by Northwest is set on a train, though I suppose it doesn’t count.

The General – A chase movie with trains. You’d think there wouldn’t be much you could do with two trains on the same track. You’d be wrong.

A few more worth looking at, in my personal order of preference:

The Train, with Burt Lancaster as a railway employee and Resistance fighter tasked with preventing a trainload of looted artworks from being transported out of Paris by the Germans, just before liberation. A great action flick, loosely based on fact; fine direction by John Frankenheimer and includes several spectacular action sequences using real locomotives and equipment donated by the French national railway.

Runaway Train, with John Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca DeMornay; based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa, IIRC. In the dead of an Alaskan winter, two prison escapees and a railroad trackworker (DeMornay) find themselves trapped aboard a set of locomotives that have run off on their own. Not exactly the most realistic scenario, but beautifully filmed and quite gripping in parts. If the whole thing seems rather, er, Russian in mood, maybe it’s because it was directed by Andrei Konchalovsky.

Von Ryan’s Express, another WWII-set flick, with Frank Sinatra and a whole bunch of British actors whose faces you’ll recognize instantly. Ol’ Blue Eyes plays a US fighter pilot shot down over Italy who ends up in a British prison camp and hatches a plot to hijack the train the is supposed to transport the prisoners to Germany. Hokey as all get-out but good fun, with numerous well-filmed rail sequences in alpine settings.

Sorry, should have said “…ends up in a prison camp made up mostly of British POWs…”

Narrow Margin with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer is a decent example of this. At least half the movie takes place on a train; not a bad suspense movie, as I recall.

Union Station, starring William Holden, was shot on location in Los Angeles Union Station.

The Grey Fox, starring Richard Farnsworth, is about a stagecoach robber who becomes a train robber and so has plenty of scenes involving trains.

Here’s an off-beat one for you: The Emperor of the North [Pole]. It basically pits Depression-era hobos against the railroad dicks and goons. How’s that for a winning movie plot?

I actually found it pretty good, but I’m very into American History. I also had read a book about old railroad lore and practices that included sections about the hobo culture. I wanted to see if the movie matched my reading. They seemed to have gotten quite a bit right.

Can’t forget Throw Momma from the Train or The Great Train Robbery.

I second Runaway Train.

Truly an underappreciated film. The best ever performances by all three main actors. I’d like to see it remade with a better cast.

The Taking of Pelham 123 was good.

What better cast? All three actors were fantastic. Roberts and Voigt got Oscar nods. Any remake would pale, no matter who the cast was.

It’s not the main focus, but “The Seven-Per-Cent” solution has Sherlock Holmes and Sigmund Freud (Nicol Williamson and Alan Arkin, respectively) perform assorted heroics on a speeding train.

What book was it? Sounds interesting.

I hadn’t thought of it before, but I did see an interesting documentary called “Riding the Rails” that interviewed the few surviving hobos from the Great Depression and asked them about their experiences.

A Treasury of Railroad Folklore by Botkin & Harlow. It’s an old book, published in the 1950s I think. It’s more of an anthology of RR-related articles, accounts, songs and legends than an original work. Fascinating stuff.

That’s actually a remake of 1952’s The Narrow Margin. I’ve never seen the remake, but the original is a great B film noir (also set on a train, of course).

Horror Express is a pretty good 70’s Hammer style horror film set on a train.

I agree with:

The Taking of Pelham 123. May the great Walter Matthau rest in peace.
Runaway Train. Electrifying performances by all, especially Jon Voigt.
The Narrow Margin, the original with Charles McGraw (terrifying voice could make a man piss himself), is superior to the remake (amiable Gene Hackman just can’t cut it here)

Well, it’s not set primarily on a train, but the action takes place there in Double Indemnity.

And then there’s the slasher flick Terror Train.

How about a train movie where cutting the air line for the brake actually applies the brakes as would happen in real life? Westinghouse is rolling in his grave.

Murder On The Orient Express = just check out the cast! A nice whodunit by Agatha Christie, and some great train interiors of the real way to travel in style.