I showed my Super 8 print of Rome Express to a small audience recently after a pause of 8 years and was delighted to rediscover how well scripted and tightly directed it is. This tale of theft, blackmail, murder and love moves at a rapid pace for a British film of its time, builds its characters and suspense admirably, and involves much fluid camera-work, excellent use of extras, and extremely thoughtful editing.
The various intriguing characters on the overnight train from Paris to Rome include a movie starlet who is tired of her publicity agent's strict regime of press stunts, a fence who is trying to get away with a painting stolen from the crooks who stole it in the first place, a millionaire who is only generous when its likely to get him in the papers, runaway lovers who don't want to be involved in anything or with anyone but themselves, a golf course bore, and a French police inspector on vacation.
It's delightful to watch the journey go gradually wrong for almost everyone involved, and in such a cleverly constructed way that it does full credit to writer Sidney Gilliat and former silent film comedian turned director Walter Forde. Scots actor Finlay Currie does a very acceptable American accent as the publicist (boasting of having been press agent to Tom Mix's horse), Conrad Veidt is supremely sinister and threatening as the art crook Zurta, Donald Calthrop is his usual creepy self as the cowardly fence on the run, and Esther Ralston is simply delicious in a variety of stunning 1930s outfits as jaded but very beautiful starlet Asta Marvelle. Yum!
This forerunner of many a classic train movie was acclaimed as one of the best films of 1933 and it's easy to see why especially if you care to be kind about the model shots (more convincing than Hitchcock's) and some of the background scenery seen outside the train at night.
And of course the Gaumont British Lime Grove Studios reconstruction of the train itself is almost as attractive as Esther Ralston but not quite. While its acting is rather wooden hers definitely isn't.
Like the sumptuously luxurious train, this film is one worth waiting for and even gets a little steamy at times. The journey is pleasing, colourful and more exciting than the destination.
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