From jolly, old England comes this tale of a small village trying to prevent the closure of their much-loved railway branch line. Stanley Holloway (the local bon vivant) and Godfrey Tearle (the Bishop) lead the townsfolk as they tidy up and operate the railway in their effort to win the mail contract (and bring in some much-needed revenue).
Opposing them are the eeeevil operators of the local bus company (who want the mail contract for themselves) and will stop at nothing to harass, delay or stop the plucky Titfield train.
Despite the good guys’ best efforts, their original set of equipment becomes unavailable (more bus company skulduggery), so they resort to “borrowing” some motive power from the local railway museum.
Filled with train scenes from start to finish, I had a difficult time pruning this down into something resembling a basic review. Pip pip, cherrio — Ship shape and Bristol fashion! And of course, “They’ll always be an England”.
Purloined in the dark of night from a nearby museum, the Titfield Thunderbolt once more takes to the rails in triumph.
Our story opens with this scene of a modern (1953) British Rail steam passenger train roaring over a viaduct as the local train to Titfield trundles below.
Rolling along through pastoral English countryside, the train arrives at Titfield Station where the green-flag-toting guard hands over his staff to the stationmaster.
The name Titfield, created by T.E.B. Clarke, came from the adjacent villages of Titsey and Limpsfield in Surrey. (lifted directly from the very helpful trivia section of IMDb.)
After much confusion loading the train and waiting for their “regulars” to show up, the guard checks his pocket watch, waves his green flag, and they’re off with a tremendous display of steam.
Uh-oh. Looks like British Rail (BR) is going to close the line. Quickly, the townsfolk organize the “Mallingford Inquiry Special” to state their case alongside the bus company.
The trip into the big city evolves into a mad race through the countryside between train and bus (sporting a huge, “It’s safer by road” banner).
Held in the local railway museum, the inquiry commences under the gaze of the old Titfield Thunderbolt – an actual locomotive “Lion” that was operational for the movie.
Having been given a one month reprieve to prove their case, the townspeople cheerfully turn out to spruce up the place, operate signals and even move a shed over the locomotive….by hand!
The next morning, we get our first good look at engine 1401 and train.
Filmmakers used two identical engines, 1401 and 1450 facing in opposite directions. 1450 was renumbered 1401 so trains could be filmed in either direction. Engine 1401 was scrapped but 1450 is still with us.
Valentine gazes adoringly over the buffet car and its comely barmaid, Joan (played by Gabrielle Brune). Once again, the guard waves his green flag and they’re off down the track getting a big sendoff from the local populace.
As Valentine leans on the pony keg of Watney’s Red Barrel, a commuter chats it up with Joan, who appears to be fixing him a scotch and soda for breakfast. But what’s this? A truck load of rocks has stalled on the tracks!
THAT…is a TIT…field resident. Joan and Valentine hustle forward to see about the delay. In addition to the truck, the bad guys run a steam traction engine onto the line.
Well, the 1401 simply backs up, gets a run at it, and blasts through — leaving the baddies with nothing but wreckage and twisted metal. The inaugural run is completed at “Mallingford” (actually Bristol Temple Meads station) without further incident. Note the additional steam locomotives and colorful rolling stock in the background
On another trip, the bad guys shoot up the water tower. The passengers simply form a bucket brigade to the nearby creek.
Then the bus company guys get nasty. Under cover of darkness, they send the entire consist careening downgrade. They remove a section of rail causing the train to plunge into the river. Bastards.
In a preposterous scheme, the townsfolk roll the ancient Titfield Thunderbolt engine down the museum’s steps and commandeer an old coach from a farmer’s field to put together a train.
Comes the dawn, the makeshift train is coupled together with some hopefully stout rope.
The snooty inspector is here (it’s been one month) and the Titfield denizens must prove they can, indeed, run the train successfully. As is custom, the entire town turns out to wish them well.
The train pulls out and we get our best views of the locomotive Lion (renamed Thunderbolt for filming) and train.
You guessed it. The rope eventually breaks, but the plucky passengers simply push the cars down the line until they catch Thunderbolt at the water stop.
Without further ado, the Titfield Thunderbolt makes its’ way onto mainline track and into Bristol, er… Mallingford station whereupon they are serenaded by the nearby steam locomotives. End of film.
Wonderful movie. Lots of fun to view, critique and learn about. As I’ve said before, I don’t normally review foreign films, but this one is pretty good from start to finish. And I could say its’ title all day long, “Tit…tit….tit….”
Here’s what IMDb has to say about The Titfield Thunderbolt:
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