June 21st, 2018

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Train-ing exercise: 'Twentieth Century' and railroad cinematic classics



Carole Lombard fans don't have to be told that her breakthrough film, "Twentieth Century," is one of the greatest movies set aboard a train. (She's shown with co-star John Barrymore, who showered her with praise following her performance.) But what are other classics of this transportation subgenre?

A writer from a fabled railroad town provides some titles you may wish to explore if you want to take a cinematic train trip from the comfort of your own home. The town is Galesburg, Ill., which this weekend holds its annual Railroad Days Festival (https://www.galesburgrailroaddays.com/). The writer is Bill Knight, a former newspaperman and journalism instructor.

Yesterday, Knight wrote about railroads in movies, and cited "Twentieth Century" among its top ten films. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur adapted their 1932 Broadway play "On The Twentieth Century," which later was made into a stage musical with Madeline Kahn in the Lombard role of Broadway diva turned Hollywood star Lily Garland. (It was revived a few years ago with the great Kristin Chenoweth, below.)



Of the Lombard film, Knight calls it "a terrific 1930s screwball comedy."

His other selections, listed alphabetically:

* "The End Of The Line" (1988) -- Wilfred Brimley and Levon Helm hijack a locomotive engine when a railroad announces it's closing a depot.
* "The General" (1927) -- A silent classic from star-director Buster Keaton as a Southern locomotive engineer who seeks to regain a train stolen by Union soldiers.
* "Murder On The Orient Express" (1974) -- Remember last year's remake of the Agatha Christie story? Knight believes this version, with Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and Ingrid Bergman in an Oscar-winning performance, is far superior.
" "Runaway Train" (1986) -- Jon Voight and Eric Roberts are escaped convicts who board an Alaska-bound train on a brink of disaster. With Rebecca DeMornay.



* "Shanghai Express" (1932) -- My favorite Marlene Dietrich film. She's terrific, as are Anna May Wong, Clive Brooks and a pre-Charlie Chan Warner Oland.
* "Silver Streak" (1976) -- The same year the mediocre "Gable And Lombard" was released, Jill Clayburgh supported Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in this delightful action-comedy.
* "Strangers On A Train" (1951) -- After two men meet and agree to kill each other's rivals, things don't quite go as planned in this Alfred Hitchcock gem starring Farley Granger and Robert Walker.
* "Union Pacific" (1939) -- Cecil B. DeMille directed and Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck starred in this saga about building the transcontinental railroad.
* "Von Ryan's Express" (1965) -- Model train enthusiast Frank Sinatra, who presumably rode the rails plenty of times before telling people to "come fly with me," stars in this World War II action flick about an American colonel who helps his fellow Allied prisoners escape and commandeer a train to Switzerland and safety.



Knight's article is at http://www.galesburg.com/news/20180620/bill-knight-train-your-eyes-on-these-locomotion-pictures.

To close, one of the great railroad songs, perfect for the homecoming of so many soldiers from World War II -- Les Brown and his orchestra, with a young Doris Day on vocal..."Sentimental Journey":

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