Southern Pacific Railroad and the Burbank Train Station play a key part in Billy Wilder’s classic film noir, Double Indemnity. 51 minutes into the movie, Walter (Fred MacMurray) and Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) hatch their plot to stage her husband’s “accidental” death and collect double the insurance money.
Aside from the train bits, what I dig about this picture is Fred MacMurray’s Walter constantly referring to Phyllis as “Baby” — pronounced “Bay-buh” — sort of like how Elvis would say it. He calls her Bay-buh in practically every line of dialogue once the movie gets rolling. Tickles me.
Anyway. Let’s watch Fred/Walter ride the Espee and take a short tour onboard an open platform observation car.
A mundane scene from the 1940’s of porters and trainmen assisting passengers boarding a heavyweight train at night. But all is not as it seems. Just entering the shot, stage left, is Barbara Stanwyck, femme fatale, with a sordid scheme of murder afoot.
The scheming pair pull up trackside in their DeSoto (thanks, Mark!). As they walk the platform going over the plot once more, passengers from the lighted coaches watch the filmmaking.
Posing as the Glendale depot, the real Burbank depot was torn down long ago. Ironically, the actual Glendale station is still in use and beautifully restored.
As Walter stays in the shadows, Phyllis hands his grip to a porter.
Phyllis hands over tickets to the trainmen as Walter climbs aboard.
After asking the Porter to make up his bedroom, Walter hobbles down the aisle towards the rear platform. I include this small publicity still to show MacMurray facing the camera — which doesn’t appear in the movie.
Isn’t that a beautiful lounge car interior? 🙂
Shuffling to the rear platform, Fred/Walter unexpectedly encounters a Medford, Oregon businessman who immediately chats him up.
Without giving away too much, Walter convinces said businessman to fetch the cigars back in his bedroom. Once alone, Walter throws the crutches overboard and clambers off the rear of the observation car railing (with rear-screen projection, of course).
Fred MacMurray’s stunt double bails off the rear car as the train slowly trundles away. As Fred’s body double rolls around in the ballast, we get a good look at the drumhead of the observation car. Southern Pacific with a 19 centered between the letters.
What does the 19 indicate? Most drumheads I’ve ever seen would have the train NAME, rather than its number.
According to my October 1946 Official Guide, Southern Pacific had a train #19, The Klamath which ran Portland to Oakland via Klamath Falls. But this is just conjecture on my part.
Fred stands up, dusts himself off and staggers in his fake cast to where Phyllis is waiting.
Phyllis retrieves the crutches from the mainline as Fred begins the gruesome task of dragging their victim’s body from the car onto the tracks.
That appears to be a Milwaukee Road double door boxcar behind them.
In this publicity still, we actually see the “body” Fred and Phyllis were looking at. I’m thinking the Hays Code, rigorously-enforced at the time, would not have permitted the shot in the movie.
Our final trackside scene is Phyllis unable to start the car. Oh, no, they can’t get away! After some suitably tense moments, the engine finally coughs to life and they make their escape.
“That’s a honey of an anklet you’re wearing, Mrs. Dietrichson.” This scene was mercilessly parodied 44 years later in the 1988 film, The Naked Gun — from the files of Police Squad. In Color.
It’s not train-related, but it’s a great line. This movie had LOTS of great lines. I hope y’all enjoy it as much as I did.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Double Indemnity:
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