Metro Goldwyn Mayer
I first heard about this movie on one of my favorite blogs. The first part of the film is mostly on studio sets, but the big finish is just bursting with scenes along Southern Pacific Railroad’s Dunsmuir, CA yard and their Cascade Route.
The basic plot is…. a lowly, but perky, switchboard operator is discovered to be the long-lost daughter of a wealthy tycoon. Dear old Dad sends his private railroad car to pick her up and they finally meet on the platform at an intermediate station. That’s when things REALLLY start to get hairy as they travel together on the Pullman Observation.
Lower quadrant semaphores and rugged mountain scenery abound. C’mon, let’s see some Espee action from the steam and heavyweight Pullman era!
Mount Shasta was a favorite backdrop for SP publicity shots including this tinted postcard. Shasta is also evident in this detail shot of the chime whistle and steam dome of SP #3721 F-5 class 2-10-2 Baldwin class of 1923.
It’s in all the papers; So 19 minutes into the picture, bosom buddies [hee..hee…] Georgia (Una Merkel) and Heiress Ruth (Mary Carlisle) unpack in their stateroom. But what’s this? A creepy hand is reaching for Mary! After much screaming, it turns out to be just the porter turning off the light.
Somehow Godfrey-from-back-at-the-office (Charles Ruggles) is onboard and offers his services as a crime “deflector” to Georgia. As Ruggles heads to the rear platform we get a look at the observation area of the railroad car set.
Cheesecake interlude. Ruth and Georgia prepare for bedtime with various naughty poses.
(clears throat) Skipping ahead a bit, the 43 minute mark is when the good train scenes really begin.
Southern Pacific Lines #4312 MT-1 class 4-8-2 Mountain-type (Alco 1924) pulls a train into “Holton” (probably an SP depot somewhere in the Los Angeles area). Off of #4312’s train steps Luke Carson (Berton Churchill), Ruth’s long-lost father.
Carrying his grip between the two trains of heavyweight equipment, Luke walks the platform in search of daughter. Ruggles and Una point him in the right direction and soon there is a happy reunion with Mary’s boyfriend glad-handing his future father-in-law.
With everyone back onboard the private car, their train crosses a spectacular bridge as it climbs into the mountains. Look out! Metal screens are going up on all the windows — they’re sealed in! And and….conveniently-labeled high explosives are discovered in the floor boards!
As if that wasn’t bad enough, now their private car is uncoupled from the rest of the train. What else could go wrong?
Plenty. Their car begins rolling down the steep mountain grade towards the following double-headed “Orange State Limited” blasting up hill in a fine display of smoke and steam.
Helper engine SP #3721 churns past the camera with the Limited in tow as passengers onboard listen to the newfangled onboard radio. Note the classic Espee 15-15 speed sign out the window (passenger 15mph – freight 15mph).
Great shots of the uphill train passing a rock wall and splitting lower quadrant semaphores.
Calling all cars….Calling all cars….Ruggles gets on the radio and broadcasts their predicament which is fortuitously heard on the following train.
Both engineers on the Orange State notice the heavyweight car hurtling towards them and quickly put their train in reverse. Great view of the brass gauges in the cab.
Meanwhile the gang is out on the rear platform as Ruggles tries the handbrake to no avail. It’s gonna be close….
It’s now a race to Dunsmuir. The observation car splits semaphores and the Limited backs into the yard.
Great shots of the passenger backing in whilst a switcher works a cut of cars. Note the observation car just coming into shot on the right. This must have been pretty tricky to film.
Not to worry, the boys in the tower and on the ground are busy throwing switches to route the runaway car through the yard tracks.
Beautiful view of steam power lined up at the roundhouse. As the runaway passes, we actually get a view of the lettering PULLMAN and the car name, SAN LUCAS.
Recently shopped SP #2656, a Baldwin 2-8-0, rolls across the turntable and out onto the mainline in pursuit of the San Lucas.
Wonderful scenes of the 2656 pedaling along for all it’s worth.
Slowly the 2656 catches up to the San Lucas. The engine can’t couple onto the runaway without setting off the dynamite. How will they escape? Will they make it?
Not wanting to give away the entire plot, I’ll instead end the review here and leave you with a scenic vista of the San Lucas, SP 2656 and Mount Shasta looming the background.
Wasn’t that exciting? This was one of the most chock-full-of-trains movies I’ve seen in a very long while. If you want to see it, for sure fire up the Roku and stream it to enjoy some old-time railroading.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Murder in the Private Car:
If you have ANY information about this movie, please contact me at: