Metro Goldwyn Mayer
How about an entire town surrounded by a raging forest fire with only a little Baldwin 2-6-2T tank engine and a couple SP heavyweight coaches to trundle the populace to safety? That’s what we have here in this spectacular disaster flick from the early 1960’s filmed in glorious Metrocolor!
The disaster is ignited when none other than a young Frank Gorshin (Riddle me this, Batman!) carelessly discards a lit cigarette in the tinder dry woods. Add to this some serious heat between Steve and Bobbie (whose bare midriff is featured prominently throughout) and you’ve got a winner. Let’s check it out, Daddy-O!
Many thanks to Richard from Carson City for bringing this movie to my attention.
Pages 20 and 21 of Kenneth G. Johnsen’s excellent book, “Washington Steam Locomotives” tells you all you need to know about the scrappy little tank engine currently residing in the Wynooche River Gorge.
The train scenes don’t actually show up until the final 16 minutes, but I couldn’t pass up at least a few “establishing shots” from the initial 75 minutes.
The opening credits reveal a wonderful street view of Vernonia as Sergeant Steve and his deputy enter the City Cafe; Uh-oh, punk Frank Henderson has got the drop on Steve as the snazzy Bobbie looks on; Close up of the Plymouth’s radio; A WW2-surplus Quonset hut serves as a Shell gas station as a Washington State Patrol motorcycle officer stands by.
Bobbie is still sassing the gun-toting Steve somewhere deep in a river gorge; As he is led away to the slammer, the Riddler mocks Steve for succumbing to Bobbie’s advances and spills the beans that she’s only 17! (actress Taylor was 29 at the time).
All right. On to the train scenes. Steve remembers an old locomotive kept in steam (how convenient) down at the burning lumber mill and tries to get it running.
Bobbie escapes from the Plymouth and joins Steve in the cab. Soon Steve’s got the 2-6-2T going forward.
Nice side view of #9 as it rolls past the burning building; With gritted teeth, Sergeant Steve operates the engine; “You’re not getting rid of me, daddy-o!.”
“Remain Calm! All is Well!!!”; The good citizens of Vernonia are fleeing for their lives!
Steve couples up to the two Espee coaches and pushes the consist down to the depot for the terrified townsfolk to board. All roads are cut off by the “Ring of Fire” with only the railroad as an escape route.
As the train reaches the station, the people begin to board; Oh no, the depot itself is aflame. Amidst abandoned vehicles, the loaded train begins to shove out of town.
The train still has to pass through a wall of fire. Hey, that guy on the left looks like Kramer from Seinfeld!
Bad news. The bridge to safety is already burning. As if that wasn’t bed enough, the burning timbers has caused the track to shift and mis-align. The train can go no further.
Okay, everybody off and head to the other side. What’s this? The handcuffed Riddler makes his escape from custody over the side of the trestle. Not a tremendously smart move on his part. Well, there goes Georgia Pacific #9 into the river below.
The engine’s plunge into the gorge is enhanced by some well-placed dynamite charges.
Steve and Bobbie run through the train as the two cars begin to tumble. The townspeople managed to bring an impressive assortment of luggage with them on the train.
Okay, one coach left. The last of the folks run off the trestle.
Aaaaaand there it goes, tumbling down into the river as the trestle collapses and burns.
Finally out of danger, Sergeant Steve and Bobbie share a tender moment and even get in a quick smooch as the credits roll.
This movie was great fun. Frank Gorshin just stole every scene he was in. Joyce Taylor was hot and juicy eye candy as the sizzling temptress making the otherwise boring kidnap scenes interesting. I loved seeing all the old cars and scenery which is more or less “home” to me. The train wreck at the end was just icing on the cake. The movie is shown occasionally on Turner Classic Movies, but I was able to purchase an “after-market” DVD for closer study.
Oh, here’s the location of the train wreckage if you’re so inclined:
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Ring of Fire:
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