Trains And The Cinema

Ever since they started to make films for entertainment, trains have been a popular inclusion. Brief research has shown me that there are 100 or more films with the bulk of the action taking place on a train, and hundreds more where a train features as part of the story. Perhaps the most well-known of these are the various film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Murder On The Orient Express’, so I will not be mentioning that one here.

But I will be featuring some of the others I have seen, and how having characters trapped in the relative confines of a moving train can add tension and mystery, as well as a list of suspects for anything that happens during the journey.

Not all films featuring trains are mysteries though. Some are comedies, others are set during wars, and more recent ‘train films’ have involved futuristic scenarios, and even zombie invasions.

The Lady Vanishes. (1938)

Set in the pre-war European tensions of 1938, this film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and stars Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, alongside May Whitty, as ‘the lady who vanishes’. Travelling through a fictional country in Europe on a train, a young woman realises that her elderly travelling companion has vanished. She enlists the help of a young musicologist to search for the old lady, and what follows is a hugely enjoyable ‘whodunnit’ with drama and comedy combined. Despite being filmed at studios in London, causing the film to feel very ‘set-bound’ at times, that in no way spoils the enjoyment of a great film that got Hitchcock noticed by Hollywood.

The Train. (1964)

This is a WW2 French Resistance thriller, concerning Nazi plans to remove precious artworks from France to Germany, set in August 1944, and based on real events. Burt Lancaster stars as railway inspector Labiche, and gives his usual square-jawed and reliable performance. Other cast members include the excellent Paul Scofield as a German Colonel, and Jeanne Moreau as a hotel owner. Determined to sabotage the train to stop the art being stolen, Labiche uses his Resistance contacts and fellow railway workers to divert the train, much to the annoyance of the Germans. When this delaying tactic is discovered, he eventually manages to derail the train, saving the art for France.

This film has authenticity, and a lot of tension throughout. A convincing cast and a real feel of the period sets it apart too.

Von Ryan’s Express. (1965)

This is a POW escape film, set during WW2. British and American prisoners of war are due to be moved from a camp in Italy, following the Italian surrender. But a plan is hatched to take over the train, and divert it to Switzerland, a neutral country. Ryan is played by Frank Sinatra, who to be honest looks more like a singer than an Air Force officer. British interests are played by Trevor Howard, and John Leyton. Managing to overpower the German guards, the POWs wear their uniforms, and as the train travels through Italy, they work out a way to get the track switched for their train. On the way to Switzerland, they realise a second train is following them, and it becomes a race against time. At the border, it is decided that some men will get off the train and attack the German SS troops about to catch them. This sacrifice ensures the remainder will escape.

Like the previous film, this also manages to keep the tension high, and the viewer is never really sure if the POWs will pull off the escape. Although many of the characters are stereotypes, they all take it seriously, and that ensures it remains exciting right until the end.

Siver Streak. (1976)

This comedy thriller was the first pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, along with a great cast including Ned Beatty and Jill Clayburgh. The setting is the train journey from Los Angeles to Chicago on a train named The Silver Streak. This film has a lot going for it. A snappy script, mistaken identity, wrong suspects, and a great finale on board the train that has now become a runaway, with nobody driving it. To say much more would spoil the fun, but if you have never seen this often madcap comedy, you will not be disappointed.

Snowpiercer. (2013)

More up to date, with a post-apocalyptic story based on a graphic novel that has an element of Steampunk added too. The only people left on Earth after a climate change catastrophe all live on a train that never stops, the Snowpiercer of the title. The train is self-powered by an ingenious device, and makes a constant loop in the wintry conditions that now dominate the planet. Societal and class structures are maintained, with working people living in poor conditions at the back, and the wealthy enjoying luxury at the front. Eventually, the low class passengers stage a revolt, working their way through the train and fighting the guards trying to stop them.

The cast list is impressive. John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, and Chris Evans as the leader of the revolutionaries. With some scenes filmed in specially constructed train carriages, location filming in snowy wastes, and elements of CGI that are not really intrusive, this is a good sci-fi action-adventure that doesn’t try to leave us with too many ends untied.

Train To Busan. (2016)

Last but not least, for my money the best zombie-horror film made so far, and set on a train where nobody can escape the zombies! Made in South Korea, the cast list will not mean much to anyone, but this is a first-rate action-horror, with a relentless pace, incredible set-pieces, and breathtaking action from the start. The story is simple enough, concerning travellers taking a train from Seoul to Busan just as a zombie outbreak begins in the capital. One zombie manages to get on board and infect someone else, and so on. Those not affected have to fight to survive, as the train speeds through the countryside. So much better than it souunds, this film really is outstandingly good.

There you have it. Six examples of films where the train is as much the star as any of the actors. There are many more similar films to discover, but I hope you will take my recommendations and watch these when you can.

Blogger’s Books: Rich Lakin.

Fellow blogger and writer Rich has a new thriller novel out today on Kindle. Free on Kindle Unlimited, or just £1.99 to buy.

Here is the synopsis.

A chance discovery leads to Chrissy Clews investigating the disappearance of schoolfriend Laura, who went missing thirty years ago. The case was shrouded in secrecy with rumours about the involvement of a group of local men, and even Chrissy herself, in Laura’s disappearance.

After her release from care Chrissy is quietly rebuilding her life working at a motorway service station when her former teacher walks in and tries to discreetly buy a porn magazine. He doesn’t recognise her, but when he drops his wallet she hides it and can’t resist looking inside. She’s shocked to find a tatty passport photo of Laura Duggan, a school friend who went missing 30 years ago and was never seen again.
Chrissy decides to investigate but, with a troubled past and history of violence, how will she find Laura and get at the truth of what happened? Laura was a friend of Chrissy’s, but they fell out. Is it possible she had involvement in Laura’s disappearance? If she can find out the truth will anyone believe her?

This is the Amazon UK link.

Here is a link to his blog.

Film Review: Searching (2018)

I was looking for something to watch the other night, and saw this was showing on a film channel, Film 4. I went online and read two reviews, deciding it seemed to be worth watching.

And it was.

**No spoliers**

For one thing, I didn’t really recognise any of the cast. And there was something else. With very few exceptions for some scenes, the whole film is played out on computer screens, smartphone screens, television screens, and over telephone calls. It feels right up to date, with characters communicating by text message, and on other messaging platforms. Switching between screens to check maps, with many different screens often displayed at the same time. Face-time conversations, video calling, and so many other things all too familiar in this modern world.

Please don’t let that put you off. It works, and works very well. All the images and texts are clear, easy to read, and not at all confusing. And it creates a feeling of helplessness and tension that would not have worked nearly so well in a conventional format.

The Kim family is an American/Korean family doing well in California. David and Pamela have good jobs, their daughter Margot is talented, and shows promise as a pianist. But tragedy strikes (early in the film) when Pamela is struck down with terminal cancer, leaving David to bring up his daughter on his own.

He makes the best of it, and is a loving and caring father to Margot. He allows her some freedoms, but also continues to nurture her piano talent, and provide a safe and comfortable home for his daughter. One day, she calls him to say she is staying over with a group of friends at study group, as they need to work on their school project. David tells her to call him the next day.

But she doesn’t. And she doesn’t answer his calls either. He is soon very worried, and contacts the police. Fortunately, the case is assigned to missing persons specialist, Sergeant Rosemary Vick. She is dogged and determined, and promises to find his daughter. Meanwhile, David takes to social media and technology to help. He gets into Margot’s Facebook, Laptop, Messages, bank records, and everything else she has been using.

And in the process, he discovers that he hardly knew anything about his daughter at all.

Leaving it there to avoid spoilers, I will add that this is a great little film, and the small budget is never apparent. Tension is highly wound throughout, and almost nothing is what it seems. In the central role of David Kim, John Cho is simply excellent. I completely believed that he was the father of a missing girl. Everyone else in the cast handles their part well, with special mention for Debra Messing, as Sergeant Vick.

BUT WAIT! There’s a delicious twist, one that I didn’t guess at all!

Highly recommended.

Here’s a trailer.

Some films set At Sea

Another film post, from 2013. I don’t think many of you have ever seen this one.


Perhaps it is because we are an island race, or have a history of seafaring trade, that we have long been fascinated by tales of the sea. Pirates, Buccaneers, and brave sailors of the World’s Navies, have all featured in literature, films, and TV programmes. I cannot swim, and get seasick going across The Channel, but I love films set on the seven seas. And here a few, for you to consider.

A Night to Remember. Long before James Cameron’s fictional account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1997, other films had tried to portray this maritime disaster. Prior to Cameron’s woeful effort, there had been at least ten films made about it, the first one less than one month after the actual sinking, in 1912. This British film, from 1958, is by far the best, and outshines all before, or after. Kenneth More takes the lead…

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Just been watching…(95)

Get Out (2017)
**No plot spoilers**

Courtesy of having Netflix, I got to watch this film tonight.

I want you to imagine you are cooking up something cinematic, according to a recipe.

Let’s start with the ingredients.
In a large bowl,
Splash in a nice slug of ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ (1967).
Add just a pinch of ‘Meet The Parents’ (2000).
Stir in some essence of any ‘Two black guys in a buddy movie’.
Continue by folding in at least six ounces of ‘The Stepford Wives’ (1975).
Then reach for your box of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968), and add the whole contents.
Leave to set, and you have ‘Get Out’.

This film had good critical reception on release, and you can see why. A nice widescreen production, good lighting throughout, and even an occasional, “That made me jump!” moment. It starts off with a good-looking young couple in a modern loft-style apartment in the city. They are planning to take a trip. The reason is to spend the weekend at the house of the girl’s parents. But he is black, and wants to know if that will be an issue. She assures him it will not. He leaves his dog in the care of his fast-talking Transit Cop friend, and off they go.

As soon as they arrive, despite a warm welcome by her family, it is immediately apparent that something strange is going on. Both the gardener and house maid are black, but acting very strangely, almost like robots. Her mother turns out to be a hypnotherapist, and urges the young man to let her use her talents to help him to stop smoking. A brother arrives; manic, hyped-up, and keen to agitate his sister’s new boyfriend. Then there is the news that it is a special weekend, one when all the family friends will be arriving the next day, for the annual party. Walking around the house that night, our young hero bumps into the hypnotherapist, who invites him in for a chat. As they talk, she surreptitiously hypnotizes him.

And then the trouble really starts.

If you have seen most or all of the films I have mentioned in the ‘recipe’ above, then you would do well to give this film a wide berth. If not, then you may well find it refreshing, occasionally a little scary, and when the big (unsurprising) ‘reveal’ is finally revealed, you might even be shocked.
Or if you are me, you might have groaned, because it was so painfully obvious..

On the plus side, I didn’t hate it. The cast is good, and each one does their best with what’s on offer in the (sometimes laughable) script.

But come on, Mr film-maker, get that dictionary off the shelf.
Now turn to the letter ‘D’. Go down to ‘DER’.
Keep going until you find this word, then look at the meaning.


Here’s the trailer.

Book Review: Look Behind You

This is not a book by another blogger. I bought this one from Amazon for just 99 p, based on good reviews, and the usual Amazon recommendation that I might like it.

It is described as a ‘psychological thriller’, though I would probably say it is more of an old-fashioned ‘whodunnit?’. It has a crime, a victim, a few suspects, and the ubiquitous disinterested police investigator. That leaves the terrified victim having to resort to doing her own detective work, with the help of one close friend, as everyone around her refuses to believe her version of events. It builds to the usual page-turning climax, as we the reader rush to discover who is the real culprit. So, nothing new there.

The story begins with a woman waking up, trapped in a cellar. She has no idea how she got there, and no recent memory of what happened. After she manages to escape, her confusing world tumbles around her, as nobody, including her loving husband, believes a word she tells them. Slowly but surely, we get the back story, from the perspective of the heroine. A controlling relationship in an unhappy marriage. Past arguments and incidents are still there for her to recall, and it becomes clear that there was a catalyst, an event that has clouded her memories of what happened after that.

As she searches for clues, turning to friends and colleagues for sympathy and advice, it is left up to us whether to believe her, or agree with the others that everything is a figment of her imagination, and her way of dealing with grief, and stress.

Despite numerous necessary flashbacks, including memory ‘revelations’ that drive the plot, it is easy to follow, and I always knew where I was supposed to be in the story. The description of a loving relationship slowly turning to control is well done, and believable. But the appearance of a loyal friend who is devoted to the heroine felt clumsy and predictable, and despite joining those ‘page-turners’ close to the finale, I was not at all surprised by the ‘big reveal’, sadly.

Most of all, I am left frustrated that the characters in such books are always in the upper echelons of society. Chemists, Teachers, Doctors, university-educated, wealthy people who have dinner parties, and few money worries. Don’t women who work in supermarkets ever find themselves in peril? Is an unemployed person never stalked and terrified? For me, the outwardly cosy world of the upper middle classes seems to be the only ground considered to be fertile, for so many writers.

That said, for under £1, it’s a decent read, and I managed the 280 pages in just three sittings.

But I would have liked a much better twist.

Here’s an Amazon link.