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As the train approaches the level crossing where the crash takes place it is traveling through open countryside. Yet during the rescue operation after the crash a bridge is clearly visible at a point 30 to 40 meters behind the train. See more »
A truly magnificent Ealing drama with powerful performances
This film is one of the finest achievements of British cinema in the immediate post-War period, having been shot in March of 1948 (as a calendar in one shot shows) and released in 1949. The film is remarkable for the 'introducing' of Peter Finch, who is absolutely brilliant as a tormented young man who has been driven mad by six years in the Army and his faithless and tormenting wife, played with skin-crawling provocation by the relentless Mary Morris, one of the finer actresses of that period. Their story is a distinct film noir strand in the tapestry woven of separate stories of people over the three days prior to their boarding an ill-fated train from London's Euston Station to Liverpool, on the ominously-named Platform 13. Although this is a film of multiple story-lines all converging on a single journey, they are all compelling, and there is no sense of lack of unity. In other words, the bold project of making this film paid off and is a complete creative success. The film is compulsive viewing for anyone familiar with or interested in how certain places and things looked in the London of 1948, as the location shooting is very extensive indeed, and it is in that sense like a time-capsule travelogue. I sat watching this recently released DVD with my finger on the pause button for the entire time. I must have stopped it and rewound thirty or forty times, all agog at how clearly it showed the immediate post-War Kings Cross area (now being totally redeveloped), the old Euston Station, the Strand, Trafalgar Square, and other locations. Anyone interested in steam trains will find the many detailed shots of them irresistible, because the train driver (solidly played by Jack Warner) is a main character, and we see every aspect of servicing, turning round, and operating the trains, with a thoroughness and multiplicity of close-ups of the machinery approaching that of a documentary, and reminding one of the famous documentary film NIGHT MAIL (1936). The film is never dull for a moment, but is constantly fascinating to watch, and operates on many levels successfully. There are such witty lines in the script, and the dialogue is often priceless, especially when the train driver and his wife are speaking to one another in their pungent manner at home. I laughed out loud on numerous occasions, as the Ealing sensitivity to comedy is always hovering in the background and present in the dialogue, despite this film being very far from a comedy, and containing desperately tragic tales of overwhelming intensity. There are some spectacularly amusing and wonderful character parts, recording on film some types of people who have entirely vanished now from the face of the earth and will never come again. Watching this film is like entering a living museum of how things were in London in 1948. It really is a staggering experience if you have any interest in that at all, and in the old England as it really was, and shall be no more. Perhaps the most harrowing performance in the film is by the young actress Joan Dowling, who puts her all into the tragic role of a girl whose parents have been killed in the Blitz and she has no one and nothing left except her love for a former German soldier who refuses to return to Germany because ' he betrayed us and destroyed my country'. (The 'he' is Hitler, and it is very effective never mentioning him by name.) The sheer terror of this penniless couple as they run from the police, are thrown out of their cold and horrible flat by a heartless landlady, and sneak around London trying to avoid his being seized and deported is heart-breaking. When they take refuge in an even more depressing flat, with the wallpaper peeling off the damp walls, in Delancey Street in Camden Town, they have really reached rock-bottom. She steals the money to buy a fare from Liverpool to Canada for him to start a new life there, sacrificing herself because she knows she can never earn the money to get a fare for herself to join him. Her performance is enough to make the most hardened cynic cry. This amazing actress, then aged 20, committed suicide at the age of 26, thereby realizing her own personal tragedy to equal that which she experiences in this film. This couple too are on the fated train. Then there is the story of the orchestra conductor and composer, played by John Gregson, whose archly amusing upper-class wife (showing great skill with her silver tea service) is played by Valerie Hobson. Gregson is always having affairs and this time it is with a tempestuous young pianist played with tremendous flair by a real pianist, the Russian musician, prima ballerina, and actress Irina Baronova, who only appeared in four films, abandoning the cinema in 1951 after her marriage, which was a great loss to the screen. (She was the mother of the actress Victoria Tennant, who despite her wide range of work has, like her mother, been seriously under-appreciated. For instance, Tennant gave one of the finest performances in the TV series THE WINDS OF WAR in 1983 but was never praised properly for it. Why is it that these two amazing women have never been given their due of attention for their unique qualities?) This film had three directors, Sidney Cole and Charles Crichton, who did one segment each, and Basil Dearden, who did two, namely the two with the most powerful performances (Finch's and Dowling's). The different segments are blended seamlessly, but we are not told who was in overall creative charge in order to pull off so successfully the unifying of this multi-stranded film. Unlike anthology films of the period which show separate stories in succession, these stories are all contemporaneous, and converge. This film is an incredible creative triumph.
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