Dir: Bernard Vorhaus
Starring: Godfrey Tearle and Hugh Williams
The driver of an express train goes mad with jealousy and plans to kill all in his charge
This gripping low-budget b-movie portmanteau thriller is badly neglected having lay in obscurity for many years but frequent showings at transport film screenings and critical re-evaluation of Bernard Vorhaus’ work have led to its release on DVD and it is now seen as one of the most exciting and technically well-made railway films of the 1930’s, and there were quite a few to choose from. It takes wholesale liberties with its depiction of common railway practice, comically using speeded-up camera work on occasion, and the scene where a signalman diverts a goods train into a loop, moments before it can be hit by the pursuing express has to be seen to be believed but it is none the less absolutely brilliant, and is one of the best quota-quickie films from the period. The GWR offered full use of facilities, no doubt to heighten their own public image, and the railway scenes completely dominate the entire film. An example of the lengths which the company went to are clear in the opening five minutes when there is a sequence of shots that follow a ‘shunt released’ ‘Castle’ Class 4-6-0 on its way light engine to the servicing facility. Actual footage of the footplate as viewed from the tender and then shots of the loco on the turntable at Ranelagh Bridge loco yard are very good, and a taste of what is to come. London Paddington dominates the early scenes, with images of other 4-6-0s departing and arriving and 0-6-0PTs on shunt duties, plus an overview of Ranelagh Bridge servicing facility with at least one 2-6-2T amongst the stabled main line power. Once the express is on its way to ‘Mulchester’ it is clear that something is very wrong as it rushes through booked stops, these scenes were filmed at West Ealing and Slough stations, though a number of shots of unknown locations feature, in addition to a scene of an express passing through Shooters Hill Cutting, between Goring and Pangbourne in the Thames Valley. Much of the action then takes place on the Reading-Basingstoke line, particularly around Bramley, filmed over a number of Sundays, and although the route was closed and given over for sole use to the film company, Reading depot were clearly not expected to provide the same loco and wagons for every weekend of filming which is why the motive power visibly changes four times. First it is a 5700-series 0-6-0PT, then a 4300 Class 2-6-0, followed by a 2800 Class 2-8-0 and finally a 2251 Class 0-6-0. Later in the film there is some footage taken from the front of a train heading along the Dawlish sea wall, a shot of a train approaching Laira Junction, and an express hauled by ‘Hall’ coming of the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash. The final climax of the film, however, features an extremely rare location in the form of Millbay Docks station, located adjacent to Princess Royal and Millbay Piers in Plymouth. This location appears very rarely in photographs so an appearance in film is exceptional to say the least. The very opening pre-credits shot features an ‘over the camera’ run past of a 4-6-0 followed by scenes on the approach to Paddington with other 4-6-0’s obscured by the credits themselves. The GWR locomotives in the film that can be identified include ‘Star’ Class 4-6-0 No.4020 Knight Commander, ‘Hall’ Class 4-6-0 No.4953 Pitchford Hall (now preserved), ‘Castle’ Class 4-6-0’s No’s.5004 Llanstephan Castle, 5012 Berry Pomeroy Castle, 5013 Abergavenny Castle and 5022 Wigmore Castle, ‘King’ Class 4-6-0s No.6004 King George III and 6005 King George II and a very rare shot of a ‘Saint’ Class 4-6-0 No.2980 Coeur de Lion. A good number of 5700-series 0-6-0PTs can also be seen at Paddington on empty coaching stock duties. The footplate and carriage interiors are very detailed sets, made with the assistance of Swindon Works to help recreate their authenticity.