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Sleepers West (1941)

 -  Crime | Drama  -  14 March 1941 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 180 users  
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Mike Shayne tries to distinguish criminals from red herrings as he escorts a surprise witness via rail to a high profile trial in San Francisco.



(screen play), (screen play), 2 more credits »
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Title: Sleepers West (1941)

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Complete credited cast:
Lynn Bari ...
Kay Bentley
Mary Beth Hughes ...
Helen Carlson
Louis Jean Heydt ...
Everett Jason
Edward Brophy ...
George Trautwein
Don Costello ...
Carl Izzard
Ben Carter ...
Leander Jones - Porter
Donald Douglas ...
Tom Linscott
Oscar O'Shea ...
Engineer McGowan
Harry Hayden ...
Conductor Lyons
Hamilton MacFadden ...
Conductor Meyers
Ferike Boros ...
Farm Lady


Detective Shayne is on a train headed for San Francisco with a surprise witness (Hughes) whom many on board would like to keep from testifying at a murder trial. Written by Ed Stephan <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama





Release Date:

14 March 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Sleepers East  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


When the trainman receives the telegram via the train order hoop, he keeps the hoop on board. In actual railroad practice, he would have extracted the paper and dropped the hoop to the ground so that the operator could recover it for future re-use. See more »


Michael Shayne: Madame, my card!
Kay Bentley: [reading] Michael Shayne, Private Detective!
Michael Shayne: Mmmm-hmmm!
Kay Bentley: Sleeping on your own time now, huh?
Michael Shayne: Yep! Oh, and meeting a much finer class of thugs!
See more »


Followed by The Man Who Wouldn't Die (1942) See more »

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User Reviews

You won't sleep through this movie!
5 June 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

'Sleepers West' has a complicated pedigree. In the early '30s, pulp-magazine novelist Frederick Nebel wrote a detective story called 'Sleepers EAST'. The Fox studio bought the rights and filmed this in 1934, but the film 'Sleepers East' is spoilt by some boring romantic elements that dilute the mystery plot. In 1941, Fox remade the story ... changing the plot to make this film an appropriate entry in their 'Mike Shayne' series. They also retitled it 'Sleepers WEST'. The directional change is appropriate to a private-eye story, as westward is the most noir-ish direction: the progression towards sunset ... and death. (Compare this with Rodgers and Hart's 'All Points West', in which the main character dies at the end ... or Lucille Fletcher's radio script and Twilight Zone episode 'The Hitch-Hiker', in which Death and his victim are both heading west on the highway.)

'Sleepers West' is a nice taut little B-picture, a splendid example of those second-feature low-budgeters that Hollywood did so well in the great studio era. Even the film's title pleasingly evokes the 1940s, when sleeping-cars ('sleepers') on American railway trains were commonplace. (On a British railway, 'sleepers' are the wooden ties that hold up the rails.) Movies that take place aboard moving railway trains are always enjoyable: the characters are hurtling along at top speed even if the plot goes off the rails.

Lloyd Nolan had a mug that usually cast him as criminals, but here he's perfect as Mike Shayne, the hard-bitten yet incorruptible private eye. Shayne is escorting Helen Carlson from Denver to San Francisco, where she's to testify in court. Helen's testimony will free a man who's been falsely convicted of murder ... but her testimony will also expose a powerful corrupt politician. So, of course the train to Frisco is chock-full of passengers who want to kill Helen. As if Shayne hasn't enough troubles, there's also one of those stereotypical 1940s 'girl reporter' types (well-played by the vivacious Lynn Bari), who keeps getting in Shayne's way at inconvenient moments.

There are lots of those great supporting roles that nostalgic movie-goers expect in 1940s films like this: I especially enjoyed the great Edward Brophy and the underrated (but prolific) character actor Harry Hayden. Unfortunately, another typical trait of 1940s Hollywood movies makes an unwelcome appearance here: the gratuitous Negro stereotype. In the days of Pullman sleeping-cars, there was a well-organised union of Pullman porters: all of them African-American men. It makes perfect sense that a black actor is cast as the porter in 'Sleepers West'. Regrettably, the role is played by Ben Carter: a plump, simpering, pop-eyed, high-pitched, effeminate black man whom I always find painful to watch on screen. Ben Carter's character portrayals were consistently much more annoying (and possibly more racist) than those of the notorious Stepin Fetchit ... though never quite so annoying as those of Edgar Connor, possibly the most offensive Negro actor in the (no pun intended) dark days of Hollywood stereotypes. Couldn't the railway porter in this movie have been depicted as an ordinary human being: a black man just trying to make an honest living, like pretty much everyone else?

Despite that one cavil, I eagerly rate 'Sleepers West' 9 points out of 10. They don't make 'em like this any more!

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