Murder in the Private Car 1934

mpc001b mpc001

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!

mpc076b mpc076

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.

mpc002 mpc008
mpc009 mpc010

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.

mpc011 mpc012

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.

mpc027 mpc021
mpc022 mpc023

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.

mpc030 mpc031
mpc032 mpc033

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.

mpc036 mpc040
mpc041 mpc042

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.

mpc043 mpc044
mpc046 mpc048

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!

mpc050 mpc051
mpc052 mpc053

As if that wasn’t bad enough, now their private car is uncoupled from the rest of the train. What else could go wrong?

mpc055 mpc056
mpc057 mpc058

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.

mpc059 mpc060
mpc061 mpc062

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).

mpc067 mpc068
mpc071 mpc073

Great shots of the uphill train passing a rock wall and splitting lower quadrant semaphores.

mpc070 mpc074

Calling all cars….Calling all cars….Ruggles gets on the radio and broadcasts their predicament which is fortuitously heard on the following train.

mpc077 mpc079
mpc078 mpc080

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.

mpc086 mpc089

Meanwhile the gang is out on the rear platform as Ruggles tries the handbrake to no avail. It’s gonna be close….

mpc094 mpc095

It’s now a race to Dunsmuir. The observation car splits semaphores and the Limited backs into the yard.

mpc096 mpc097

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.

mpc107 mpc102

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.

mpc111 mpc110

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.

mpc114 mpc115

Recently shopped SP #2656, a Baldwin 2-8-0, rolls across the turntable and out onto the mainline in pursuit of the San Lucas.

mpc120 mpc121
mpc124 mpc125

Wonderful scenes of the 2656 pedaling along for all it’s worth.

mpc126 mpc132
mpc127 mpc137

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:



About Lindsay Korst

Webmaster, Blogmaster, Ferroequinologist - Lindsay Korst works for a nationwide home improvement center after a 20+ year career supporting computer users. A resident of the Seattle area since 1976, he has had a life-long interest in railroads, particularly those in the Pacific Northwest. He is an enthusiastic participant in the Great Northern Railway Historical Society. He and his wife reside in Redmond, Washington.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s