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Sleepers West (1941)

 -  Crime | Drama  -  14 March 1941 (USA)
6.7
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Ratings: 6.7/10 from 187 users  
Reviews: 11 user | 3 critic

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.

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(screen play), (screen play), 2 more credits »
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Cast

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
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Storyline

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 <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama

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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

14 March 1941 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Sleepers East  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Kay Bentley: My editor wants a feature story - the woman's angle!
Michael Shayne: Oh, tear gas, huh?
See more »

Connections

Followed by Time to Kill (1942) See more »

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User Reviews

 
The Narrowest Margin
16 April 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

"Sleepers West," originally titled "Sleepers East," is one of the most enjoyable of the seven Michael Shayne detective mysteries from Sol Wurtzel's B-picture unit at Fox. This entry, however, is not based on any of the scores of Shayne pulps written by Brett Halliday, but on a novel by Frederick Nebel, notable as the first star writer of the legendary BLACK MASK magazine in the 1920's. Although Nebel licensed his most famous character, Torchy Blaine, to the movies in the 1930's, he held Hollywood in contempt and avoided adapting any of his material to the screen.

The film's premise has Shayne covertly escorting a secret surprise witness to a high-profile San Francisco trial aboard a cross-country passenger train. While trying to keep her location and identity a secret, he also has to contend with sinister on-board forces that are trying to silence her. The setting of a sleeping car has traditionally been an intriguing background for thrillers from Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" to Sidney Lumet's "Murder on the Orient Express," and the restrictions of narrow dining cars and narrower sleeping berths, the incessantly repetitive sound of the train's mechanics, and the readily available supply of red herrings add an air of claustrophobic excitement to the proceedings.

If the film's plot of a secret witness threatened by sinister forces sounds familiar, it is because that entire premise was later borrowed without attribution for the highly-acclaimed 1952 Noir thriller, "The Narrow Margin" directed by Richard Fleischer. It was remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman under the same title and credited the '52 film as the source. Despite the fact that "Sleepers West" is largely ignored and forgotten, as is the entire Shayne series, one must wonder why it receives so little attention.

A possible explanation lies with Fox's conception of the Shayne persona. The original Halliday stories were largely ignored by the studio's screenwriters, and the tough, no-nonsense character of Shayne himself was reshaped for the wise-cracking, breezy style of actor Lloyd Nolan, who bears little resemblance to Halliday's hard-boiled gumshoe.

No matter. "Sleepers West" and the other series entries are great escapist fun, filled with sharply witty dialogue and some of Hollywood's most idiosyncratic character actors at their peak, including Mary Beth Hughes, George Chandler, Eddie Brophy, and, in possibly the best role of his lengthy career, Louis Jean Heydt. "Sleepers West" also gives significant screen time to some of best black comedians of Hollywood's Golden Age as Pullman porters. Those of you who remember and appreciate the unsung talents of Mantan Moreland, Ben Carter (Moreland's old nightclub partner), Fred "Snowflake" Toones, and Sam "Deacon" McDaniel are in for an enjoyable 74 minutes.


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