Majestic Pictures Corporation
A mixture of nicely-detailed train models and Southern Pacific steam power highlights this early talkie. Engineers and Fireman along the “Southwestern Pacific” railroad are freaking out because they see what appears to be an oncoming train, slam their engine into emergency — derailing from the sudden stop, then having the “Phantom Express” mysteriously vanish.
Our star of the picture is SP #4311, a 4-8-2 Mountain, Class Mt-1 (Alco-Schenectady) used at Espee’s Los Angeles roundhouse for daylight scenes.
Come along and look at some classic railroad fare from the early 1930’s!
SP #4311 smokes it up alongside SP #4329, a fellow 4-8-2 Mountain, Mt-3 class. The train indicators on 4311 display “101”.
It’s nighttime on the SW&P as train #101 wobbles past a signal tower. The hogger has everything under control as he peers out the cab window. As the model 4-8-2 crosses a trestle, notice how the smoke mechanism shoots out little arcs of smoke ahead of the locomotive.
Suddenly, there it is — the unmistakable headlight of an onrushing train! The hoghead does his best, “holy excrement” expression. His fireman sees it too and the engineer dumps the air on 4311. Unfortunately, the train is on a curve and the sudden stop puts the locomotive on the ground.
The next morning, 101’s mishap is front page news.
There’s an inquiry and the engineer finds himself defending his actions.
During the meeting, there are a couple of interesting items: First with an out-the-window view of what looks to be a passenger yard (note the baggage cart) and Second a “Speed With Safety” poster on the wall. The poster seems to feature New York Central trains passing along the Hudson River.
Much plot left out HERE.
Next thing you know, the entire ensemble are riding the cushions on 101. That’s Sally Blane with the nice window seat. Ms. Blane also appeared in another train movie, The Silver Streak 1934 and was one of three actress sisters of A-list movie star Loretta Young.
Sally picks out a snack from the train “news butcher” (note the Saturday Evening Post in his basket); The engineer does his best “O” face as he sees that blasted Phantom Express headlight up ahead. He big-holes the train and Sally goes flying from the sudden stop.
Despite throwing the passengers around, #101 manages to stop without derailing. The engine crew, conductor and rear brakemen hustle up front to take a look. Good night-time scene of the front end of SP #4311. All this bad publicity is driving down the stock price. Sounds like some scoundrel wants to buy the railroad on the cheap!
Interesting bit in the article, “The Southwestern Pacific is not a long road, but it is of vital importance to the district which it serves, being the connecting link between two major roads.” Methinks Southern Pacific Railroad didn’t want to be too closely-associated with this picture.
4311 needs some shop time and is rolled into the inspection pit. Note how the worker ducks JUST in the nick of time. Major safety infraction.
Roundhouse scenes with a big locomotive on the turntable. What sort of fop wears white pants in a greasy setting like this?
Espee 4311 on the ready track. As the engineer inspects his engine, we get a good view of the trailing Delta truck and the Vanderbilt tender.
Even MORE plot left off here.
I won’t give away what the “Phantom Express” actually is (you can watch it yourself and find out) but rest assured the President’s son wins Sally Blane’s hand in marriage. We close with some good shots of an SP train bearing the wedding party off in the sunshine.
Once more train 101 rounds a curve with a big 4300 on the point.
The fireman and engineer are back on the job.
Some smooching on the observation platform as the “gaily-festooned” train pulls away from the camera.
Not a bad movie, but kind of a weird story-line and rather wooden acting. The actual railroad scenes are worth the price of admission though, particularly the background details at the SP roundhouse in Los Angeles. Two and a half stars out of five.
If you want to watch the Phantom Express, it is on YouTube:
Here’s what IMDb has to say about The Phantom Express:
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