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Prison Train (1938)

Passed | | Crime, Drama | 17 October 1938 (USA)
Frankie Terris and Mannie Robbins are the two most powerful gangsters in their city. Frankie has a young sister, Louise, whom he has kept at a boarding school away from the stench of his ... See full summary »



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Cast overview:
Louise Terris (as Linda Winters)
Train Steward / Sam
Faith Bacon ...
Alexander Leftwich ...
Manny Robbins
Joe Robbins (as James Blakely)
Sam Bernard ...
John Pearson ...
Val Stanton ...
Peter Potter ...
The Lawyer


Frankie Terris and Mannie Robbins are the two most powerful gangsters in their city. Frankie has a young sister, Louise, whom he has kept at a boarding school away from the stench of his racketeering. Mannie's young son, Joe, is also ignorant of his father's profession. Louise and Joe meet, and Joe tries to make love to her. Frankie interrupts and, in a fight that follows, kills Joe. Mannie vows to get Frankie. The latter, sentenced to Alcatraz, fears for Louise's safety and makes her promise to take a trip abroad. Louise learns that Mannie plans to shoot Frankie on the train taking him to prison, and she stows away in hopes of warning her brother. On the train, she falls into the protective arms of Federal Agent Bill Adams. Before she has a chance to warn Frankie, Mannie's henchmen go to work and a gangland shootout ensues. Written by Les Adams <longhorn1939@suddenlink.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


"Alcatraz is too good for him - I'll blast him to hell where he belongs" (original poster)


Crime | Drama


Passed | See all certifications »




Release Date:

17 October 1938 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

People's Enemy  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


This was the only film appearance of famous fan dancer and Burlesque performer Faith Bacon who plays Maxine. She took her own life in 1956 at the age of forty-six. See more »


Referenced in Citizen Kane (1941) See more »


Husker du vor skoletid
Music by Walter Kollo
Lyrics by Axel Kjerulf and Aage Juhl Thomsen
See more »

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User Reviews

Tense, Absorbing Drama-Novel Plot and a Real Role for a Black Actor

"Prison Train" from 1938 was made on a small budget using largely "B" feature actors. And it was meant to be a second feature too. But this film rises above its often desultory although occasionally amusing pre-war genre counterparts. The acting is, overall, good and the plot original.

Fred Keating is mobster boss Frankie Terris whose relationship with his kid sister, Louise, is very close. He's certainly overly protective. Louise is played with fine effect by Dorothy Comingore (under the name Linda Winters). She's aware of big brother's criminal activities but she also adores and trusts him.

Finding a prosecutor's heat too uncomfortable, Frankie resolves to give away his numbers racket to a rival. Meeting with the fellow, Frankie brings his sister who is asked out by the instantly smitten rival's lawyer son. After a dancing date that guy returns Louise to the apartment she shares with her sibling and the censorious brother sees Louise rebuff an effort to kiss her. Angry, he follows the would-be suitor down an alley and in a fight kills him with a pipe.

Frankie is sentenced to a long prison term at Alcatraz (the killing took place on post office property so it's a federal rap and federal time) and he and other convicts are put on a train for the long trip to the West Coast. The father of the slain Lothario vows that Frankie will never make it to Alcatraz and he follows the train with a gang, some on board and others keeping pace by car and Ford Tri-Motor.

Frankie's sister manages to get on the train where she's befriended by an undercover officer who is there to insure her brother's safe delivery to prison. Frankie himself learns of the plot to kill him. He is not happy. In fact he's increasingly, would you believe, scared.

In "Prison Train," unlike so many "B" films, tension actually builds up and the ending isn't clear at all - until the end.

Very unusual for a pre-war movie, a black actor has a serious role, not a Steppin Fetchit-class harmless display of buffoonery to insure no bigot will be discomfited. Clarence Muse, a veteran actor eventually inducted into the Black Film-makers Hall of Fame, is a sinister dining car steward in league with the vengeful father. His role is important to the murder plot and he's not subordinated to the other criminals. Muse, who isn't too well known to most moviegoers, made very many films almost up to his 1979 death and he was a staunch advocate for equal opportunity for blacks.

Comingore/Winters had real albeit modest talent that was silenced by the Cold War Hollywood witch hunt, another victim of a mad time.

Train buffs will enjoy some nice footage of prewar rolling stock.

Very worth seeing.

Thanks, Alpha Video. (And I paid $4.99 for this DVD.)


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