Saturday, May 10, 2014

Movie Trains, Travel with Powell Loy Grant and Saint

Trains in Movies
Alfred Hitchcock on Trains

The train figures in
Nick and Nora Charles
let Asta sleep upstairs
prominently in Alfred Hitchcock films such as Shadow of a Doubt, North by Northwest, Number Seventeen, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and of course Stranger on a Train. 
It's a favorite of his motifs.

A couple of famous Train movies include the 1940 British thriller Night Train to Munich starring Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison and Paul Henreid. 

Buster Keaton's The General, a silent from 1927. It's very impressive when you consider all he accomplished in that movie and when it was created.

May 10 is National Train Day and a good time to think about favorite films that feature trains. They're fun means of travel from one place to another. They can be symbolic. Train travel is a good example of the Slow Movement, slow food, slow art, etc. 

It gives the family a chance to relax, enjoy life and enjoy one another. You can find a group of new friends and strike up a chorus of The Man on the Flying Trapeze like Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable did on their bus trip in It Happened One Night.

If you want a total springtime Hitchcock experience, May 10 is also Windmill Day. Watch Foreign Correspondent with its iconic windmill scene. And then maybe treat the family to some miniature golf? :)

"A train may be an old fashioned way to travel, but an upper berth may be a wonderful way to go .... when it's your time to go."

Have you seen The Thin Man, the movie that started the William Powell/Myrna Loy franchise in 1934? The film was made in a matter of weeks in mid-1934, the year famous for ushering in the Production Code. 

Directors, writers and actors became very adept at using symbolism in their dialogue and imagery to alert the viewers to what was going on.

The Thin Man William Powell Myrna Loy
Playing with baby & train

When the film ends, Nick and Nora Charles are headed by train from New York to San Francisco. They let their famous dog Asta have the upper bunk while the two of them take the lower. 

The terrier puts a paw over his eyes as the camera fades out. We hear San Francisco, Here I Come as the train winds its way into a tunnel. 

We would see Nick and Nora (and other couples) sleeping in separate beds. This didn't stop the pair from producing Nick Jr. of course.

California Here We Come, The Thin Man 1934

Myrna Loy and William Powell made six Thin Man films together, but they made fourteen movies together in all. 

Christmas 1940 William Powell gets trains from his wife and friend Myrna Loy
Christmas 1940
Train enthusiast William Powell
receives train presents from his "youthful bride"
and friend Myrna Loy

In 1959, Hitchcock gave Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint the same train into a tunnel treat in North by Northwest. This couple received no high-spirited, pointed musical accompaniment on their journey.

In the post-Code dialogue, particularly the conversation in screwball comedies, the erotic is ambiguous. Like poets who find rewards in writing in the
4-Tone Pinewood
Train Whistle

For the theme birthday,
performance, playtime
forms (such as the sonnet) some filmmakers and screenwriters found rewards in the imposed restrictions. 

Working within them, getting around them, compromise, restraint and risk. It was time to pull out creativity you didn't know you had.

As they say, sensitive viewers congratulate themselves for finding the forbidden just beneath the surface. 

We listened for the suggestive, double entendres, innuendo. This is similar to an audience member at a Shakespeare play or movie who "gets" the language. 

For modern audiences, the more the viewer knows about the time a film was made, the more we can appreciate it. Who was their intended audience and why? 

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

Stuck within the confines of a train, in The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, main characters are being pursued for crimes they didn't commit.

Another pre-Code film is Shanghai Express is a (1932) with Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong and Warner Oland.

What are your favorite movies with trains in them?

The Joe DiMaggio Show featured a segment about Lionel Trains. What a special Christmas gift. A lot of families still put trains under the Christmas tree or in their holiday display each year. Watch The Polar Express with the whole family.

Films featuring train scenes:

Twentieth Century (1934) with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. Not all train movies are capers, crime dramas, thrillers, races or suspense films. This is a favorite screwball comedy from the golden age.

The Palm Beach Story (1942) with Claudette Colbert, Joel McCrea, Mary Astor and Rudy Vallée.

British 1965 Doctor Zhivago starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. It is directed by David Lean.
Thinking of 'Train' as a verb? How about watching a movie like How to Train your Dragon? Could you train an animal like a dragon? Could you herd cats?

Related Books, Pages of Interest:

Hitchcock's Motifs (Film Culture in Transition)

Asta/Skippy doesn't have a star, but what Animals are on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

William Powell and Carole Lombard married 1931-1933; their sapphires, My Man Godfrey. Pre-Jean Harlow and Clark Gable 

Cat Agility Competitions, bonding with your pets 

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