April 11, 2008
I don’t know enough about the year 1933 to understand why you’d need a film about a World War One-era train engineer. If you’d asked me, I never would have guessed that would be a slam-dunk of a pitch session over at Monogram pictures.
But they made it. And Charley starred in it.
Historically for Charley, he had been in Hollywood for 2 1/2 years and this was his 13th film. Judging by the titles of the other twelve (Mask of Fu Manchu, The Viking, The Royal Family of Broadway…) this seems to be the closest he’s come yet to being in a Western.
Netflix describes this as a silent film. It’s not, but the film does remind you how new sound still was in 1933 — it’s really bad.
Story-wise, little Jim Martin looks up to his hero Casey Jones. When the famed engineer dies, we cut to the present where Jim is a big engineer himself. He’s got a great gal and a line on a local route. Then the war comes, his mother has a debilitating heart attack and he can’t go fight, there’s an accident on the train, and everyone thinks he’s a coward. Even his gal.
He’s not and proves it. He forgives everyone for doubting him. The End.
I still don’t know why this was a story that had to be told, but I do now understand a little more about trains. Apparently, the big danger with driving a train is that the needle on the dial will get really low. When this happens, you have “lost pressure” and your brakes don’t work. The only remedy is to climb out on the edge of the engine and tighten a bolt with a wrench. Why they don’t move that bolt inside the platform is a mystery.
Charley’s fine. He doesn’t look particularly younger, and his acting is neither stiffer nor fresher. He’s Charley Starrett. Soon to be the Durango Kid.