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This is one film I go back to and enjoy every once in a while. Lyle
Talbot has always been a likable mug for me. He is one of those old
time professionals who I am always happy to see listed in a film's
credits. The plot is simple but very good. Talbot works as a dispatcher
at a small rural railway station. One rainy night, shortly after a
company payroll has arrived at the station, a masked criminal arrives
to steal it. Talbot intercepts the villain's plan and a struggle
ensues. He manages to fight off the masked man and save the payroll.
But during the fight he is away from his station and misses a call to
change the tracks for an oncoming train. This causes a terrible train
crash resulting in many lost lives.
Talbot is shocked when the police and railroad authorities don't believe his story. He is charged with negligence and sentenced to five years in prison. Yet fate intervenes and he escapes custody, going underground to live as a tramp in the country. One day he happens upon a rural station where his help is needed. An older dispatcher (Frank Reicher) falls ill and Talbot happens by just in time to save the station from another train wreck. Bitter from his experience with the railroad company and feeling betrayed by his fellow man, Talbot manages to put these feelings aside and agrees to cover for Reicher for a short time.
It just so happens that the masked villain responsible for Talbot's fall from grace also works at this station. Eventually all the plot threads come together in a most enjoyable way. The story is extremely well written, the performances are really good. Lastly, I'd like to counter the previous reviewers assessment that Talbot's performance as a bitter man is not very good. To me it is bang on. Talbot is basically a nice guy embittered by one event in his life. When the old man falls ill, his true nature comes forward and he no longer has time to feel sorry for himself.
Directed by Ford Bebee. Starring Lyle Talbot, Polly Rowles, Frank Reicher, Henry Brandon, William Lundigan.
Beebe's modest film is made neatly, photographed well, and contains few
longeurs. Unfortunately less can be said for his co-written screen play,
which shows all the characteristic signs of being written in
This is a film which might have been better entitled 'Railroaded'. It begins and ends with a struggle between Dave and the villain, in a signal box, during a rainy night's crisis. Dave is wrongly convicted of criminal negligence after the first encounter and sentenced to five years in the pen. He escapes and after a heavily montaged period of tramping and lumberjacking, re establishes himself reasonably close to the original incident, helping out the ailing signal man 'Pops'. Pop's daughter is being menaced in a very sexually suggestive way by Joe Forbes (Henry Brandon - better known to film fans as a very effective Chief Scar in Ford's 'The Searchers').
Dave has been railroaded into a prison sentence by his last employer who disbelieved his tale of a struggle with an intruder (despite considerable physical evidence in his favour, but we will let that pass). In the hands of a director like Fritz Lang (I'm thinking of his 'Human Desire') a rail track can be an effective means of expressing unavoidable fate and destiny. Not so here, although Joe is railroaded *again* by Pops who sets him up with his daughter. There's a neatness about this continued process which is pleasing to the viewer(Joe explicitly alludes to his hatred of "railroaders" at one point), even though it is carried out in very crude dramatic terms. The grouchy Pops and the caddish Joe, the pressed-but-honest Dave & all are stereotypes which require fresher treatment than they receive here.
Similarly there's another neat echo in the film, this time of Dave's opening struggle with the man who attempts to nab the mine's payroll, an event which triggers the crash. Dave has chased the robber and shot at him out in the rain and dark, injuring him and rescuing the money. Later on there's a comment made about Dave's evident success with the daughter - a realisation which is said to have hit Joe, brooding on his fading chances "like a shot in the dark".
A few neat touches like this aside, the film has little of interest. Lyle Talbot, who was later to find a burly, wooden niche in exploitation pics and worked with the cult auteur Ed Wood (notably in 'Glen or Glenda') is too amiable and pleasant here in role which demands consistent bitterness and fear. His transformation under the warming influence of the daughter, suddenly from gloomy fugitive to cheerful helper-out at the signal box, reveals too suddenly an-all round nice guy. This failure to convince seriously undermines the threat of exposure, the dwelling on injustice, on which the film attempts to revolve.
The best scenes are undoubtedly those at the beginning. The coffin arriving in the rain, the mysterious figure emerging to menace Dave's back, the struggle, the chase and the wreck. Although these moments could have come straight out of a serial, they are still effective and introduce some tension. An ominous, shiny shape, Beebe's coffin device creates a vague and gothic feeling of dread, which, however slight, is entirely missing elsewhere.
One to watch if you're bored or curious about Talbot's early career, and not much else.
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