Thursday, February 26, 2009


"Railroads are fascinating to everybody!" says the overbearing narrator at the beginning of this B-crime film about a railroad agent (William Eythe) and his pursuit of a pair of killers. Eythe, a new recruit, is given his first assignment in a sleepy California town; he's friendly with everyone, including engineer Jake and his wife and kids, and is sweet on Laura Elliott, daughter of a crusty old engineer (known, of course, as Pops). During a routine trip, a train is stopped in a tunnel, the mail car robbed, and Pops and Jake are killed. For Eythe, it's personal and he becomes consumed by the hunt for the killers. One of the clues is a copy of "War & Peace" left behind at the scene, leading someone to comment, "Obviously we're not dealing with ordinary men." Well, the crooks, the Deveraux brothers, Paul (George Reeves) and Ed (Paul Valentine), are pretty ordinary; they've committed the robbery in order to raise money so their impoverished grandfather can buy back some farmland--the narrator helpfully tells us that the old man's ranch looked like "a once-beautiful woman grown old and slatternly." The trail grows cold, until a lab tech finds evidence that the crooks worked as loggers and ranch hands. The nerdy tech also draws remarkably detailed sketches of the suspects, though how he got those from the physical evidence, I have no idea. Anyway, Eythe gets back on the trail and after a tip from a couple of kids, a well-laid trap, and a couple of shootouts, the agents get their men.

This was decent B-movie fun, despite many liabilities. The acting is not very good: Eythe, only 30 but already in career (and looks) decline, seems to be sleepwalking through his part; Valentine gives an oddly mannered performance as the tough-guy brother; Elliott is OK, though she's not really given much screen time—years later, she was Farley Granger's slutty wife in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and, after changing her name to Kasey Rogers, was Larry Tate's wife on "Bewitched." Reeves is head and shoulders the best actor here. The narration, perhaps intended to give the film a documentary feel and to cut back on expenses by delivering lots of plot points in voiceover rather than showing them happening, is mostly obtrusive and laughable. The Alpha DVD print is just on the edge of acceptable; the night scenes, which include most of the action in the film, are too murky. The story works well, and a little more development of relationships (between Eythe and the dead men, between Eythe and Elliot, between the brothers) would have made things more interesting. Perhaps a better print of this Pine-Thomas B-film, once distributed by Paramount, will turn up someday. [DVD]

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