A 25-year-old John Wayne (as Larry Baker) stars in this 12-part serial that was whittled down to a more palatable 80 minutes for the DVD.
In a nutshell, “The Wrecker” is out to cause accidents on the L & R Railroad and Larry is determined to catch him — especially since his father/engineer gets killed in one of the accidents!
There’s quite a lot of railroad stuff to see and it’s a good snapshot of operations around Los Angeles on the Southern Pacific Railroad in the early 1930’s.
As you might expect with an old B&W from the beginning of the “talkie” era, the print and pictures are pretty blurred. Thus, apologies for my fuzzy screen captures!
Conductor waves a highball from the rear observation car of an SP train (note wooden sides, big rear picture window and truss rods visible).
Our story opens with various Espee steam engines rushing past the camera. Highlights include a train splitting some very-SP-looking “lower-quadrant” semaphores and rushing past a water tower.
John Wayne drives his flivver right over the tracks at the SP roundhouse to watch an engine come off the turntable; Engineer-side view of the locomotive heading out to pick up its train.
A standard SP two-story depot complete with train order signal at “Plainville”; We get a peek at the orders for train #59. (According to my December 1933 Official Guide, SP train #59 was the Los Angeles to Sacramento “West Coast”.)
Uh-oh. The Wrecker ™ trots over the tender and quickly overpowers the engineer and fireman. He sends the train hurtling along, where it soon smashes into the Hurricane Express as it takes siding. Train wreck!
The headlines read that Frank Stratton has escaped from the hoosegow. Could he be the Wrecker?
The filmmakers modified a Pennsylvania Railroad calendar as an advertisement for the Hurricane Express. The actual painting (of an onrushing Pennsy K4) was by Grif Teller and entitled, “On Time”.
A couple views of SP trains around Southern California.
How does the Wrecker do it? Well, first you climb up on the roof of the train, take off your full-head-mask, then climb the ladder up to a pacing biplane. Simple, right?
Classic view of engineer with his hand on the throttle; Baggage cars and train sheds at the former SP Central Station in Los Angeles (LA’s Union Passenger Terminal wasn’t opened until 1939).
Also at Central Station, a stepbox-toting Pullman Porter assists passengers with detraining.
John Wayne pursues (and jumps onto) a speeding train from both a car and a motorcycle. Cool Southern Pacific Lines logo on that outside-braced boxcar!
At the finale, the engineer and conductor compare watches and the train is seen passing through a rocky cut as the picture comes to a close.
I’m glad I didn’t have to sit through the entire 3 hours, 47 minutes of the serial. Even with paring it down to 1 hour, 20 minutes, there were quite a few repeated scenes, and some great fight sequences in the cab I didn’t include as my screen captures were so blurred.
Still, Hurricane Express joins the ranks of a plethora of early railroad pictures (such as Twisted Rails, Dynamite Denny and Red Signals — reviewed here on this blog) with the added future-star power of John Wayne. Check it out!
If you’d like to watch Hurricane Express, you can find it here on YouTube:
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Hurricane Express:
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