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The Phantom Express (1932)

A railway is threatened by mysterious wrecks, which turn out to be caused by criminals using a unique deception.

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Cast

Cast overview:
William Collier Jr. ...
...
Carolyn Nolan
...
D.J. 'Smokey' Nolan
...
Mr. Harrington
Axel Axelson ...
Axel - the Fireman
...
Betty
Eddie Phillips ...
Dick Walsh
...
Reynolds
...
Ma Nolan
David Rollins ...
Jackie Nolan
Tom O'Brien ...
Red Connelly - the Telegraph Operator
...
President of Rival Railroad (as C. Huntley Gordon)
Brady Kline ...
Slim - a Thug
Jack Pennick ...
Bubba - a Thug
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Storyline

An engineer at the throttle of a locomotive speeding through a tunnel sees the lights of a train approaching from the other end. Although the signals say the track is clear, he still sees the train's lights. He grinds the train to a halt, derailing it. He survives, but many passengers are killed. He is fired in disgrace, but sets out to prove his innocence by finding the "phantom express." Written by frankfob2@yahoo.com

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Plot Keywords:

train | railway | See All (2) »

Genres:

Mystery | Thriller

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Details

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Release Date:

15 August 1932 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Il lampo  »

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Sound Mix:

(RCA Photophone System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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User Reviews

 
Charming and effective early talkie
20 October 2009 | by (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK) – See all my reviews

The Phantom Express is an early talkie that impresses in a few ways. It's about a series of train accidents caused by an unexplainable phantom express whose headlights appear every few nights on the tracks. This mysterious train bears down on other locomotives causing them to brake suddenly and derail. The driver of the latest train to encounter the phenomena is fired in disgrace as the investigators do not believe his story. It's left to him and the son of the railroad president to clear his name and find out what is behind the notorious phantom express.

The Phantom Express is a fine example of one of the many mystery films released in the 1930's. Admittedly the actual mystery itself is a little easy to work out and the plot is structured such that it's obvious that the rival railroad company are behind things in some way. Nevertheless, there is still much to admire in this cool little film. As poverty row movies go, this has to be one of the better put-together. Where other cheap genre films of the 30's often restricted themselves to two or three studio-created locations, The Phantom Express includes many scenes set on the grounds of the rail-yard construction site. This authenticity is welcome and adds nice detail to proceedings. Conversely, I really enjoyed the model-work used for the train scenes. It was very well done and looked very cool, giving the film a lot of character and soul. This model-work was well integrated with the live action, especially in the final ride through the storm and was effective in generating suspense. A similarly well-handled thrilling scene was where the signalmen are tied up by thugs and made to helplessly watch the oncoming phantom express bear down the tracks on another train. Great stuff. Ultimately, the mystery of the phantom express is resolved with an explanation that I thought was kind of funny. I won't give anything away so will leave this little amusement for first time viewers to discover for themselves.

The cast acquit themselves well but a special mention should be made for J. Farrell MacDonald who is excellent as the fired train driver. The scene where he breaks down at his birthday party after being sacked is very good; MacDonald certainly put a lot of emotion into that moment. I also have to mention Axel Axelson, who plays MacDonald's trusty sidekick. Not only does he have a name that sounds like it should belong to an 80's hair metal guitarist, but he also has one of the craziest accents you are ever liable to hear. It seems to be a mix of Swedish, Dutch, Irish and possibly Martian. It's difficult to say with any certainty but it's funny as hell.

The Phantom Express comes recommended to anyone interested in early talkies and/or 30's mysteries. It's a very worthy little obscurity that has a great deal of charm about it.


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