The Titfield Thunderbolt 1953

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Ealing Studios

From jolly, old England comes this tale of a small village trying to prevent the closure of their much-loved railway branch line. Stanley Holloway (the local bon vivant) and Godfrey Tearle (the Bishop) lead the townsfolk as they tidy up and operate the railway in their effort to win the mail contract (and bring in some much-needed revenue).

Opposing them are the eeeevil operators of the local bus company (who want the mail contract for themselves) and will stop at nothing to harass, delay or stop the plucky Titfield train.

Despite the good guys’ best efforts, their original set of equipment becomes unavailable (more bus company skulduggery), so they resort to “borrowing” some motive power from the local railway museum.

Filled with train scenes from start to finish, I had a difficult time pruning this down into something resembling a basic review. Pip pip, cherrio — Ship shape and Bristol fashion! And of course, “They’ll always be an England”.

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Purloined in the dark of night from a nearby museum, the Titfield Thunderbolt once more takes to the rails in triumph.

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The Thin Man Goes Home 1944

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Metro Goldwyn-Mayer

William Powell (Nick Charles) and Myrna Loy (Nora Charles) starred in a series of six immensely-popular “Thin Man” movies in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Number 5 in the series, “The Thin Man Goes Home”, features a train ride to “Sycamore Springs” during World War 2. Although mostly filmed on sets, the train-factor is good taking up the first 15 minutes of the picture.

To complicate matters, the couple attempt to smuggle their dog Asta aboard rather than crate him to destination in the baggage car. Or so they try…

No locomotives seen in this film, although we hear whistles and bells in the background. Let’s see what train travel was like (okay, maybe a tad exaggerated) during the hustle and bustle of the Second World War.

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Once onboard, the movie pokes fun at the overcrowded conditions on train travel. Nick and Nora are actually sitting on the armrests of a day coach. This referenced a popular Is-Your-Trip-Necessary? poster at the time.

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ALL A BIR-R-R-D 1950

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Warner Brothers

Tweety Bird and Sylvester Cat (voiced by Mel Blanc) star in this animated short which takes place aboard a steam-powered heavyweight train. Sylvester’s attempt to capture and eat Tweety are thwarted at every turn by the train’s conductor, a bulldog also riding in the baggage car as well as a number of this-could-only-happen-in-a-cartoon hijinks.

As in many of the classic Looney Tunes created by Warners, the artists insert their names on background signs that flash by so quickly you need to freeze-frame the DVD to catch it. My copy of All A Bir-r-r-d comes from Volume 2, Disk 3 from the Looney Tunes Golden Collection.

The opening credits (see above) show a 5 car train with the baggage car inexplicably located in the center of the consist. The train is lead by a 4-4-4 steam locomotive (a somewhat unusual wheel arrangement, at least for the United States at the time).

Let’s check out this wide open cartoon adventure as it rolls down the track!

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As the train stands at the station, the locomotive appears to have two numbers: 651 on the cab and 99 on the tender. The first coach behind the tender has S.P.Q.R in the letterboard.

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The Goat 1921

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Metro Pictures Corporation

This 23 minute silent picture stars Buster Keaton who, through a twisted case of mistaken identity, finds himself on the run from the local constabulary. About 5 minutes into this short, we get our first train scene and the railroad gags keep things moving for another six minutes.

Let’s see what, “The Great Stone Face” could do in his heyday with steam locomotives and heavyweight passenger equipment. His most famous picture, another railroad epic, “The General” was still five years in the future.

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Keaton stands on the pilot of an unknown locomotive (all RR reporting marks painted out) #1229.

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Uphill All the Way 1986

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A Melroy Production

Mel Tillis and Roy Clark star in this self-produced stinkeroo which is redeemed only by a double dose of steam locomotive pulchritude. We ARE treated to two separate train scenes: The opening features Sierra Railroad #28 (a 2-8-0 Baldwin, built in 1922) and the finale is graced by Texas State Railroad #500 (an ex-Santa Fe Railway #1316 4-6-2 built by Baldwin in 1911).

The movie itself, well, it’s forgettable. Unless you enjoy picking out the various famous actors/personalities of the time such as Glen Campbell, Burt Reynolds and even frikken Burl Ives (Mister Holly Jolly Christmas himself), don’t bother streaming or renting this DVD. It is about as obscure as a train movie can be.

BUT…we must emphasize the positives. In fact, after my review of the train scenes, I’ll include a couple short YouTube videos of #28 and #500 in action. It’s the least I can do.

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As a train of heavyweight coaches recedes into the distance, Booger Skaggs (Tillis) and Ben Hooker (Clark) discuss their next move. Yes, Booger. Okay, enough about the characters. Let’s delve into the excellent train bits, shall we?

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The Palm Beach Story 1942

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Paramount Studios

Take a Ride on the Pennsy! Yes, it’s a Preston Sturges-directed screwball comedy from the early 1940’s and while not exactly obscure, the picture has a good hunk of onboard-the-train hijinks to keep things rolling merrily along.

From New York’s Pennsylvania Station, Claudette Colbert (as Gerry Jeffers) is headed to West Palm Beach, Florida to seek a divorce. She’s riding an advance section of the Florida Special, a seasonal heavyweight train run by four railroads: Pennsylvania, RF&P, Atlantic Coast Line & FEC.

The train interiors are mostly sets, but it is well-done with views of lounge cars, a diner, open section sleepers and even a peek inside enclosed bedrooms and bathrooms. Come on, let’s check it out!

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Beautiful shot of a Pennsy streamlined K4 4-6-2 #3768 racing along the four-track mainline (Pennsylvania Railroad’s “Broadway”). No doubt taken from a PRR publicity film, #3768 was even made into an HO scale model!

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Last Flag Flying 2017

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Amazon Studios

A surprisingly well-done movie about three Vietnam vets taking a journey by train. This poignant drama-comedy is laced with Amtrak Northeast Corridor scenes and equipment but was actually mostly filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Taking place in December 2003, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Reverend Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) join Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd (Steve Carell) as he travels homeward to bury his son — a young Marine casualty of the Iraq War.

I was attracted to this film after viewing a preview which flashed many clips of modern-day NRPC trains. Let’s take a closer look at what the filmmaker’s captured.

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New York’s Pennsylvania Station is the midway point on the trio’s journey north. During daylight hours, the veterans ride a standard Amfleet coach (with rear-screen projection).

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