The recent film Source Code (2010) despite it’s cyber setting has at its heart the train. The soldier played by Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up in the body of a stranger on a train that is about to be bombed. Using a secret program called the Source Code he is returned to the train over and over again to identify the bomber. Needless to say Source Code is just one film in a long line that have used the train as a central not just a peripheral part of the film. Indeed the origins of cinema itself have trains at there centre. For the first audiences a moving train appearing on the screen would send some running from the theatre. Over the years the car became central to American cinema and the Road Trip was born and often repeated.
However I wish to consider only the train, that form of transport that brings so many characters together in one space where the action plays out at incredible speeds ,on the roof, underneath or inside the carriages. Can I see your ticket? thank you, lets now look at the very best films that take the train seriously or otherwise:
Narrow Margin (1990) Gene Hackman and Anne Archer hoofing between carriages in a stylish action film that harks back to the 1950’s.
Strangers on a Train (1951) What better place to concoct the perfect murder, why the train, you’ve got plenty of time, a table and someone opposite you to put the proposal too. Not sure this film would work on a United Airlines flight to Denver.
Throw Momma from a Train (1987) De Vito’s homage to the film above but much funnier. In this film you even get an outdoor model train set in the park if my memory serves me. Classic line when Billy Crystal’s character say to momma “I am a friend of Owen” to which the formidable Momma played by Anne Ramsey “Owen doesn’t have any friends”
Source Code (2010) I have to mention this film as it got me thinking about this blog post. The film returns to the train over and over again to replay an eight minute sequence in the style of Ground Hog Day. The opening of the film shows us other forms of transport, mainly the car but then settles on a train hurtling towards disaster. The film is concentrated on one carriage rather than the entire train.
Dr. Zhivago (1965) The vast expanse that of Russia is utilised to the hilt by David Lean who uses the train as a microcosm of revolutionary Russia. As an annex to Dr Zhivago the film by Warren Beatty ‘Reds’ (1981) has the train at it’s most visually stunning.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974) adapted from the novel by Agatha Christie. This version directed by the late and great director Sidney Lumet take the train and its carriages as a hall of mirrors. We enter and think we know what is going but instead the train becomes a wonderful labyrinth of mystery.
So there we have it, the mighty train in some of the best loved films of our times, please leave a comment with your suggestions, this list is far from complete. However I want to leave you with an excerpt from one my favorite directors the irrepressible Ken Russell. The plane has indeed been a formidable rival to the train especially within American cinema and the legend that is the ‘mile high club’ has a long tail indeed. However the train can rival that club and more as this excerpt from Russell’s film the Music Lovers (1970) shows. This puts the mile high club to shame with a hysteric drunken romp aboard a train overlaid with the music from Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique”-Symphony