Monday, October 13, 2008


In England during WWII on a violently stormy night, a group of train travelers get stranded at a railway station in the middle of nowhere. The stationmaster (Herbert Lomas) insists that they can't stay, but as their connecting train won't be by until morning, they have no other choice. Just before he leaves, Lomas tells them a local legend about a mysterious train that supposedly rolls through on an otherwise unused set of tracks in the middle of the night, a "ghost" of a train which crashed off a bridge years ago. The travelers include an annoying vaudeville performer (Arthur Askey), a star athlete and his attractive female companion (who turns out to be his cousin), a doctor who likes a nip now and then, a stuffy older lady with a parrot, and an anxious couple who are to be married the next day. During the height of the storm, Lomas staggers back in the station and drops dead, the lights go out, and a highly-strung woman (Linden Travers) and her brother arrive with more stories about the imminent arrival of the train. The body of the stationmaster vanishes, and soon there's no doubt that something is about to come roaring through on the ghost train tracks.

This is based on a play which was adapted to film in 1931 (and which seems to be lost). It's essentially a British version of the American films of the era which featured comedians like Bob Hope or Abbott & Costello in spooky surroundings. In almost all such cases (Hope's THE GHOST BREAKERS, Kay Kyser's YOU'LL FIND OUT), the comedy overwhelms the spookiness, and the same thing happens here. These are good movies but I do wish that the comedy/horror balance had gone the other way on occasion. The star of this film, Arthur Askey, was a well known comic with his straight-man partner Richard Murdoch (here playing a train passenger who woos the athlete's cousin, Carole Lynne). Askey is rather annoying, but as his character is supposed to be, it's difficult to judge his performance. He and Murdoch don't show much chemistry, but they are serviceable. The relatively light mood shifts effectively to a much creepier tone with the arrival of the unbalanced woman and the last 20 minutes or so move along nicely to the predictable non-supernatural explanation of events. Among the cast, Kathleen Harrison is a standout as the tee-totaling older lady who takes some brandy from the doctor, strictly as medicine, and winds up drunk. I also like the low-key performance of Stuart Latham as the nervous groom-to-be. Askey's high point is an amusing novelty tune, "The Seaside Band," which he never gets to complete. Some of the early antics in the train compartments look like they might have influenced the Beatles' similar antics in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT many years later. Like YOU'LL FIND OUT, this could be a good Halloween viewing choice. [TCM]

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