Pack your bags for one of movie history's greatest trips, a nifty film noir thriller that Time deemed "worthy of being bracketed in the select group of train thrillers headed by Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes." The tracks run direct from Chicago to L.A. The OscarO-nominated* story, directed by Richard Fleischer (The Boston Strangler) and scripted by his frequent collaborator Earl Felton, zigzags with surprise turns. Film noir favorite Charles McGraw plays a cop guarding a gangster's moll (fellow genre icon Marie Windsor) as she travels west to testify before a grand jury. Also riding the Pullmans: determined hitmen who know the moll is on the train?but don't know what she looks like. All aboard!
This gem of a B-picture from RKO is the kind of trim, beautifully paced movie people have in mind when asking, "Why don't they make 'em like that anymore?" Two cops have to guard a gangster's widow against assassination as she rides the Golden West Limited sleeper train from Chicago to give evidence in L.A. Soon there's only one cop (gravel-voiced Charles McGraw, usually cast as a villain), and he's finding the sharp-tongued widow (Marie Windsor in excelsis) as obnoxious as she is endangered. Nothing goes quite as you'd expect in this exemplary train thriller, which rattles and rocks toward its destination without a music track or a wasted moment. The bad guys include a most distinctive, elegantly garbed hitman (Gordon Gebert); a soft-spoken, "Be reasonable, Sergeant" negotiator (the vulpine Peter Brocco); and possibly the fat man (Paul Maxey) who keeps blocking up the train corridor at just the wrong time. Detour
writer Martin Goldsmith worked on the story, which was nominated for an Academy Award, and George E. Diskant's black-and-white cinematography is as sharp as the work he was doing for Nicholas Ray around the same time. Director Richard Fleischer went on to bigger things--but he never made a better movie. --Richard T. Jameson