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!
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!
Our story begins at New York City’s magnificent Pennsylvania Station (pre-1963 destruction).
Gerry (Colbert) stands at the gate for Track 12, pondering how to get aboard with no money for a ticket. When passenger travel was heavy, railroads would often run additional sections of the same train. Thus the Advance Section of the Florida Special.
It’s her lucky day. The Ale & Quail Club (rich, eccentric millionaires all) have chartered a private lounge car tacked on the rear of the Special — as duly-noted by the Pennsy train crew (check those huge PRR keystones on their lapels!)
Discussing her plight with the gatekeeper (she does the poor-little-old-me routine), Gerry then gets the good news that the boys of the Ale & Quail have elected her as club mascot (all in favor, say aye….”AYE!!!”). Free trip to Florida!
Her soon-to-be ex-husband Tom Jeffers (played by Joel McCrea) is thwarted at the gate as Gerry waves a sad farewell from the vestibule.
Our first “exterior” is another PRR publicity shot of a streamlined K4 charging under a signal bridge in the rain.
In actuality, anything coming out of New York in 1942 would have some sort of electric locomotive on the point — most likely a classic Pennsy GG-1 — to take it as far as Washington, DC.
The Pullman conductor and trainmen look aghast at the chaotic scene before them: Hound dogs bay in one compartment whilst the club members take turns dancing with their mascot. In another vignette, the boys drunkenly try to settle up with the conductor, handing over their pile of tickets.
Mascot Gerry manages to escape to an adjoining compartment in some borrowed pajamas for a little shuteye, but not before the club members bust in for an impromptu serenade.
Just two codgers are left back in the lounge. The geezer with the shotgun (William Demarest) says, “Bang, Bang!” as he imagines he’s pranging quail on the wing — soda crackers tossed up by the bartender (played by Fred “Snowflake” Toones).
Suddenly, things go terribly wrong. The boys start shooting REAL ammunition, shattering windows, light fixtures and causing the bartender to panic.
His counter a shambles, the pail-helmeted bartender waves a white Pullman towel in surrender. Clad in a Pullman blanket, Gerry enters the lounge to see what all the fuss is about.
Spooked at all the shooting going on, Gerry flees into the next car (the diner) and then finds a curtained section sleeper set up for upper and lower berths. Locating a vacant upper, she encounters J.D. Hackensacker III (played by Rudy Vallee), in the lower berth.
The character name J.D. Hackensacker III alludes to John D. Rockefeller the 3rd, heir to the Standard Oil fortune.
With much difficulty (including stepping on and smashing J.D.’s pince nez, a running gag), Gerry manages to gets situated in the upper.
Realizing their mascot has flown the coop, the Ale and Quail takes off in pursuit complete with shotguns and tracking dogs. The Pullman porters are NOT amused.
After being ordered back to their own car by the trainmen, the club members cheerfully do so to the strains of, “A hunting we will go”. The Pullman boys have had enough. In the rain, somewhere in Georgia, the Ale & Quail private car is set out on a remote siding to the dismay of it’s occupants.
It’s morning and the PRR #3768 is charging along (running wrong main) whilst JD3 shaves in the bathroom at the end of the car.
Stuck in Upper 10, Gerry explains her dilemma (no spare clothes) to JD3 and the porter. Cheerfully, they canvas the other sleeping cars for donations and cast offs.
Here’s what she came up with. Did a Pullman blanket ever look so good? Hubba-hubba!
With one final pose, Gerry sits down to breakfast with JD3. Look at all that railroad china and glassware!
One of JD3’s eccentricities is neatly keeping track of all his purchases. Soon, they’re off the train in Jacksonville, Florida and buying her some clothes. JD3 considers it all great sport.
Having taken an overnight flight from New York, jilted ex- Tom meets the train at West Palm Beach (Elevation 1 foot above sea level). The porter gives Tom the bad news that Gerry got off in Jacksonville with some richo and is cruising south on his yacht.
Thus endith the train scenes.
This movie is a lot of fun. Very much worth streaming or viewing with some adult beverages and snacks. The dialog is superb, snappy and is just non-stop entertainment.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about The Palm Beach Story:
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Hi Lindsay! Great blog! MTH (Mike’s Train House) released a “Premier” 3 Rail O scale version of #3768 in 2013 and a “Railking” version in 2017. See MTH’s video of the Premier version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kpLF4F5KSQ