Told in a semi-documentary style complete with officiously-serious narrator and accompanied by “Justice Marches On” type music, “Secret Agent” tells the tale of a train hold up, murder and subsequent tracking down of the prepetrators.
This movie borrowed heavily from an actual train robbery (the Siskiyou massacre) that occurred on the Southern Pacific Railroad in southern Oregon during 1923 including a location of Tunnel 13 and name similarity of the Devereaux gang instead of DeAutremonts gang.
The first 17 1/2 minutes of the picture have plenty of railroad action with the remainder devoted to catching the bad guys. Before he hit it big on televison as Superman, George Reeves starred as one of the villans, Paul Devereaux.
Blasting out of Tunnel 13 (probably Chatsworth tunnel on the Espee), the “Gold Train” heads toward disaster.
Sorry folks. Really fuzzy print of this movie!
The picture opens with a montage of general railroad scenes – setting the tone (along with narration) explaining the work of Special Agents (Railroad Police).
Streamlined Pennsylvania Railroad K4 steam engine trundles along the four track “Broad Way”; Pennsy GG-1 electric locomotive emerges from tunnels under the Hudson River into New Jersey.
A Union Pacific streamliner (probably an early view of the City of Los Angeles) passing through orange groves in southern California.
Interior View of a working Railroad Post Office (RPO) car; A Special Agent nabs a thief as he jumps out of a box car.
Airplane view of railroad yards – back in the day before containerization!
Finally, on with the story.
Two story SP depot renamed Santa Marta for this picture; “On the afternoon of May 9th, 1940 in Santa Marta, Investgator “Smilin’ Johnny Douglas” (William Eythe) shoots the breeze with the local operator.
Smilin’ Johnny chats up the local talent Lucille Peters (played by Kasey Rogers). Note the Pennsy/Airplane calendar behind Johnny.
Johnny and Lucille take a stroll out of the depot past the front of an SP steamer; The train crew of SP 1822 talks it over before the train departs.
SP 1822 is a little 2-6-0 Mogul steam locomotive known as Class M-9 on the Espee.
The mixed train (freight and passenger) leaves Santa Marta on time; “Happy Trails to yoooou. Until we meet again…”.
The mixed local (engine, RPO, several freight cars, passenger coach) rounds a curve with a full head of steam; passengers in the day coach have no inkling of the danger ahead.
Boom! The train comes to a halt inside the tunnel. The conductor goes forward to investigate. He finds the RPO behind the engine disintegrated.
Runaway! The remainder of the train has rolled backwards out of the tunnel and is hurtling downhill; The brakeman climbs the car tops to hand tighten the brakes.
Note: In reality, once the air hoses between the cars parted, the brakes would have come on automatically.
SP 2483 (a 4-6-2 Pacific, Class P-10), waits with its train at Hasson siding (near Santa Susana, CA); SP 2483’s head brakeman dashes up to line the switch for the runaway.
Once the runaway is braked to a stop at Hasson, the Division Superintentent gets on the blower (love the candlestick phone); Soon a rescue / posse train is dispatched from Santa Marta including horses, bloodhounds and well-armed men to the wreck scene.
Smilin’ Johnny contemplates the getaway route trackside; The posse sets out from trainside in pursuit of the train robbers.
The Devereaux boys elude capture for the moment. Leaders in Senate smash filibuster!
Like the real-life Siskiyou massacre, it took authorities years to round up the men responsible and bring them to justice. The remaining 51 minutes of the movie consist of the pursuit and capture — no train scenes at all — so we’ll stop this review here. As for the movie in toto… Meh, only 2 out of 5 stars. It might have helped to have a clearer copy of this movie, but I doubt it.
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