Welcome to this special edition of Reeling. Tonight we're going to explore trains in film and the surprisingly many ways in which they're portrayed.
British films and directors are well represented here - largely because the British railway system is so deeply embedded in their culture. A search on the word train in the Internet Movie Database brings up 158 entries and a surprising number are French films.
L'arrive D'un Train A La Ciotat:
The Lumiere Brothers' L'Arrive d'un Train a la Ciotat had audiences diving under their seats in 1895 because they weren't yet attuned to the cinema and the train hurtling towards them seemed all too realistic. This is the very first film *ever* and its subject, a train, will continue to be a major film image, symbol and setting throughout cinematic history. There's such a wealth of movies which feature trains prominently that we'll only be able to include a relatively small sampling tonight. We're going to explore how trains exist in the most everyday aspects of life to their symbolic use to portray crime, mystery, adventure, history and society.
Shadow of a Doubt
The Out of Towners
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg:
One of the most enduring cinema images is the greeting and sendoff on the train platform. Hellos, goodbyes, tearful separations, good riddances, welcoming of the troops and the mad dashes of commuters all have taken place at train stations.
Murder on the Orient Express
North by Northwest
Strangers on a Train
The Out of Towners:
People live their lives while journeying on trains making the dining car a focal point. Unlike airline food, trains run the gamut from five star dining to fast food.
North by Northwest:
The image of a train entering a tunnel is a well known symbol for another part life - sex - and no one was better at suggesting that particular human impulse than Alfred Hitchcock.
...and everyone knows that sex is linked with death. Jumping in front of a train is a time honored, if nasty, method of suicide. In 1935, one of film's most tragic heroine's, Greta Garbo, made perhaps the most famous lethal leap.
The Great Train Robbery
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Some people may not be intending to commit suicide by train, but their behavior would sure make you think otherwise. What is it with people's need to run around on top of moving trains? Ya gotta love stuntmen!
I Know Where I'm Going
The 39 Steps
Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula:
Trains inspire filmmakers' inventiveness as well. Here are three unique dissolve shots from Powell and Pressburger, Hitchcock again, and Francis Ford Coppola that inspire three very different emotions in the viewer.
The 39 Steps:
Fugitives from the law often use trains to make their getaways - that's what Cary Grant was doing in that earlier clip from North by Northwest. Here's an earlier Hitchcock flick where another innocent man makes a run for it.
Trains have historically had a major role to play in times of war, as we just saw in that scene set during the Communist Revolution. An even blacker period in world history, the Holocaust, paints the train's darkest image.
While train journeys had dire, life changing consequences for Holocaust passengers, they frequently can lead to more life-affirming changes. Gwyneth Paltrow's life took two very different turns via the sliding doors of a subway train while Hope Davis finally met her intended in the last scene of "Next Stop Wonderland." In this next film, an unscheduled stop in Vienna begins as a lark but ends in true love for Julie Delpy.
The Great Train Robbery:
Train robberies are a staple of such Westerns as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Wild Bunch." We'll return to cinema's first decade where a train robbery was the subject of the world's very first Western.
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