Friday, May 04, 2012

Trains and Romance, in Black and White

All legendary obstacles lay between
Us, the long imaginary plain,
The monstrous ruck of mountains
And, swinging across the night,
Flooding the Sacramento, San Joaquin,
The hissing drift of winter rain.

All day I waited, shifting
Nervously from station to bar
As I saw another train sail
By, the San Francisco Chief or
Golden Gate, water dripping
From great flanged wheels.

At midnight you came, pale
Above the negro porter's lamp.
I was too blind with rain
And doubt to speak, but
Reached from the platform
Until our chilled hands met.

You had been travelling for days
With an old lady, who marked
A neat circle on the glass
With her glove, to watch us
Move into the wet darkness
Kissing, still unable to speak.

--John Montague

The General

Trains figure in the whole history of cinema and in all film cultures...Trains represent progress, and the past, and the future, and death. They always signify change. They're protean as a metaphor, and yet they're also profoundly romantic objects in and of themselves.

--Laurence Kardish

The Girl: You're so simple, you're apt to get into trouble.
Sullivan: Why do you think I'm here?
The Girl: Gee, I like that about you. You're like those knights of old, who used to ride around
looking for trouble.
--Sullivan's Travels

Oscar: Why Lily, you're crying.
Lily: Sure, sure, I turn on the faucet. It's that sort of scene. That's the devil of it.
Oscar: That's the pity of it, you mean. Those movies you were in--it's sacrilege throwing you away on things like that. When I left that movie house, I felt some magnificent ruby had been thrown into a platter of lard.
--Twentieth Century

Chips: Miss Kathy!...Kathy!...You kissed me.
Kathy: I know, it was dreadful of me.
Chips: No, but do you...are we...oh this, is dreadful...awful...Look here, you'll have to marry me now, you know.
Kathy: Do you want to?
Chips: Do I want to? Do you?
Kathy: Dreadfully...goodbye.
Chips: Kathy! Oh you can't go now, my dear!
--Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Frank: Goodbye, thin girl.
Ariane: Goodbye, Mr. Flannagan.
Frank: You promised.
Ariane: You don't have to worry about me, Mr. Flannagan. There've been so many men before. There'll be so many after this. It's gonna be another one of those crazy years. While you're in Cannes, I'll be in Brussels with the banker. He wants to give me a Mercedes Benz, a blue one. It's my favorite color. And while you're in Athens, I'll be with the duke again in Scotland. But, I don't know whether I'll go yet, because another man's asked me to spend the summer with him in Deauville. He owns race horses. He's very rich. He's number twenty. I mean number twenty-one. You're number twenty. So, you see Mr. Flannagan, I'll be perfectly all right. I'll... I'll be all right... I'll be all right!
--Love in the Afternoon

Anna: Are you just going to sit there and do nothing?
Gus: Now please, don't make a scene.
Anna: Don't you realize what this means?
Gus: Yes, I do. But he's got a gun and I haven't and he's got a couple of reserves next door. Who do you take me for, Bulldog Drummond?
Anna: Can't you be serious even now? I told you this would happen, I told you that your scheme was absolutely childish, but you wouldn't listen to me. Why didn't you stay in England, instead of coming over here and deliberately throwing your life away, you fool!
--Night Train to Munich

But, my friend, happiness is not a joyful thing.
--Le Plaisir

And I love the scene in Since You Went Away, where Jennifer Jones sees Robert Walker off at the railroad depot. It is night, the night that John Cromwell and Stanley Cortez photographed so well, and she wears a white frock and she runs to keep up with the train, but it is inexorable, pulling away.

It still seems to me the perfect farewell scene, and no film crew today could muster the same feeling or keep away the irony in order to just do a scene like that. They'd whisper to you that, in real life, Jones and Walker were breaking up at that time because David O. Selznick, the film's producer, had seduced Jennifer. None of which matters, except maybe for Jennifer Jones.

Which of us ever forgets one detail of the moment when we lost something, or let it go?....
--David Thomson

I stood there and watched his train draw out of the station. I stared after it, until its tail light had vanished into the darkness. I imagined him getting out at Churley, giving up his ticket, walking back through the streets, letting himself into his house with his latchkey. His wife Madeleine, will probably be in the hall to meet him, or perhaps upstairs in her room, not feeling very well. Small, dark, and rather delicate. I wondered if he'd say: 'I met such a nice woman at the Kardomah. We had lunch and went to the pictures.' And then suddenly, I knew that he wouldn't. I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that he wouldn't say a word - and at that moment, the first awful feeling of danger swept over me.
--Brief Encounter


DavidEhrenstein said...

And don't forget "Pull in Your Head -- We're Coming To a Tunnel!" from The Lady Eve

La Faustin said...

Tracks and sprockets!

The beginning/end of Citta delle Donne

The Prater "train ride" in Letter from an Unknown Woman

All of Union Depot

Peter Labuza said...

I'll throw some love for two endings with perfect romantic moments on trains: Berlin Express (Tourner, 47) and Vivacious Lady (Stevens, 38).

DavidEhrenstein said...

Ceux qui m'aiment prendront le train

Jason McGensy said...

Reading this post and thinking of other examples, I realize that trains feature significantly in 4 of my 5 favorite movies (Twentieth Century, North by Northwest, The Band Wagon, I Vitelloni...alas, no trains in Captain Blood).
The ending of I Vitelloni is one of the great romantic train endings ever. Romance of a different sort, but romantic nonetheless.

The Siren said...

Thanks guys! This admittedly somewhat oddball post (kind of a disguised list) was just something that had been rattling along in my head. I wanted old, black and white, and love. No "Letter" despite my unendingly advertised love for it because it's a fairground, not a real train, and that's significant; when she does get on a train, well, see Mr. Kardish. The subject of trains in movies is unbelievably vast. When I was doing this I spent some time at a blog called The Art of Memory. If you go to this link, and scroll to the bottom, you'll find the writer's links to an absolute feast of posts using screencaps from a staggering array of movies. Highly recommended.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Well if you're going to include srtreetcars, Siren. . .

DavidEhrenstein said...

Samuel Barnett does an utterly magnificent versio of THIS in The History Boy, but I couldn't find that clip.

DavidEhrenstein said...

And what would ANY discussion of trains in the movies be like without. . . ?

I shudder to think.

X. Trapnel said...

Hitchcock has given us many memorable and romantic train sequences, but none better than that in The Thirty-Nine Steps climaxing on the Forth Bridge (that monument to Scottish engineering and Scottish muscle).

mas82730 said...

TCM honored Audrey on her birthday yesterday with 'Love in the Afternoon' one of the films shown. That final scene is an emotional bombshell, I can't watch it without welling up, Audrey takes your breath away, and sure Cooper is too old for her, but so what? An exquisite couple of minutes of film.

Narmitaj said...

Al Stewart did a song called Night Train To Munich, referencing cloak and dagger skulduggery, which might amuse. Rough vid from Glastonbury's 40th anniversary here: (Stewart had been at the inaugural Glasto in 1970, btw).

The Siren said...

Unknown, just the title "Night Train to Munich" SENDS me. God, so romantic right there. I always forget how much I love this movie, and Rex Harrison in it, when Harrison's name comes up. For that matter, I forget Margaret Lockwood and I like her a LOT.

Trish said...

Great post, Siren. Night Train to Munich, Brief Encounter and Sullivan's Travels resonate with me. There's also The Manchurian Candidate, where Janet Leigh meets Frank Sinatra in between railway cars. Next minute, they're living together. Yes, I know. The cold war isn't very romantic....

gmoke said...

The dissolve between the conductor's hat and the chimney of the locomotive in "I Know Where I'm Going."
(Or is it the other way around?)

Yojimboen said...

I Know Where I’m Going is a natural segway to…

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats…”
Kenneth Grahame (Wind in the Willows)

Well, he said, avoiding puns about Things Beyond Our Ken, Mr. Grahame got that one wrong [almost unheard of for a Scotsman to be wrong – I, myself, thought I was in error once, but it turned out I was mistaken]. Not boats, Kenneth: Trains!

Forever blessed are Messrs. Grierson, Auden, Britten [sorry, X] for this, the film which made me (and, I suspect, countless other Brit youths) want to be a filmmaker.

Yojimboen said...

P.S. How's this for a title sequence?

X. Trapnel said...

Inspiring stuff, Y (except, of course, for Britten's cardboard-gray music). It reminds me of those few riveting moments of railside stock footage in The Confidential Agent.

Renoir's non-romantic (and oddly un-Zolaesque) train sequences in La Bete Humaine have their own poetry.

hum'n'mum said...

My good friend Mark and I have a long-standing joke that any author employing the imagery of a faint/distant/lonely/speeding train crying/soughing/wailing/keening through the vast/silent/haunted/pregnant night, is committing literary malpractice; it's the laziest conveyance by which to haul in a load of "mood"- atmospherics on the cheap.

But, what is cliche on the page is something else indeed on the screen. A written description of a train, or a flower for that matter, often congeals into clumsy artifice, while a short tracking shot of Walter Neff hobbling to the back of the observation car is an elegant montage of murder and deceit, avarice and doom.

Thanks, Siren, for letting this romantic join you in a railway reverie:

-Walter Huston's rueful farewell to Ruth Chatterton in "Dodsworth.
-Joseph Cotten and Teresa Wright locked in that soundless death-struggle in "Shadow of a Doubt".
-Glum and glorious Buster Keaton riding the locomotive crankshaft in "The General".
-Farley Granger desperately trying to jog the mathematician's memory in "Strangers on a Train".
- Claudette Colbert making quick work of the raucous roues of the Ale and Quail Club in "The Palm Beach Story".
-Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, all mistrust and lust, sizing each other up in "Human Desire".
-The abyss of thwarted obsession that stares out of Paul Scofield dead eyes- his train, his plunder, his future all lost- in "The Train".

As my mamma dun tole me, "Ahooeeii, ahooeeii..."

John Fitzpatrick said...

For an amped-up, CinemaScopic, Andre Previn-scored, and thoroughly electrifying train opening sequence, see Bad Day at Black Rock. I distrust, however, the notion of that cinema train are "always" _______. Sometimes a train is just a train. I'm thinking of the film version of Shadowlands (inferior to the television original), which contains two "moving" platform farewells. They were totally unnecessary. C. S. Lewis was simply commuting from Oxford to Cambridge, but the scenes were staged to jerk tears. I suspect that the filmmakers paid plenty for that old steam locomotive and just wanted to show their investment on screen.

X. Trapnel said...

That Bad Day train is terrifying! Likewise the train in Night of the Hunter with equally alarming music by (I think) Walter Schuman.

Narmitaj said...

@ Rozsaphile - I have a soft spot for the TV Shadowlands, partly as my uncle David Waller played Warnie Lewis in it but also because I thought Joss Ackland better than the chilly Anthony Hopkins as CS in the movie. But that's off the train point.

BTW I am the Al Stewart-quoting "Unknown" above; something went odd with the sign-in process.

gmoke said...

"The Blues in the Night," a film featuring the acting work of Elia Kazan, also has at least one railroad sequence, if memory serves.

The Siren said...

Hum-m-mum (did I spell that correctly?) and Roszaphile bring up a good point; it isn't just that you have a train, although I am a huge dork and I am always happy to see a train in the way that I am always happy to see an ocean liner, even if the name stenciled on the side is "TITANIC." (All right, especially if the name on the side is Titanic...but you knew that.) It is what you do with the train. That Bad Day at Black Rock opening is indeed fantastic and I freaking love that movie in some many ways and for so many reasons. It is neither romantic, nor b&w, but it's awesome.

Speaking of Kazan, Gmoke, in Kent Jones and Martin Scorsese's doc on him, they re-run a stunning train shot from East of Eden.

I love the individual compartments, too; my god, the opportunities for interaction, they're endless. People going up and down the corridors, eyeing one another don't get that on a plane.

Narmitaj said...

Someone mentioned I Know Where I'm Going! There's another Powell and Pressburger B&W film with a train (well, there are a couple) - A Canterbury Tale, where at the end the pilgrims & penants, so to speak, go by train to Canterbury. "I'll believe that when I see a halo round my head" says Dennis Price at 1:34:55 or so as the train arrives and he and some steam are backlit by the sun.

WelcometoLA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WelcometoLA said...

For laughs, I always enjoyed the "train scene" spoof in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid.

WelcometoLA said...

I always loved the Duke getting off the train and taking in the resplendent green of Ireland in The Quiet Man.

Shamus said...

Siren, on the subject of trains as chilly and paranoid environments, you couldn't do much better than Anthony Mann's Tall Target (as a matter of fact, nobody could). (Richard Fleischer's Narrow Margin is another very good example of this, even if it was only shot only on studio, alack.) Leisen also uses the smoke rising off the train to achieve a phenomenally (in every sense) noirish effect in No Man of Her Own, in sequence where (Spoiler, I suppose) John Lund disposes off the body.

And I suppose if you exclude Ophuls, I suppose Sternberg's Shanghai Express also stands discounted. What about From Russia With Love, instead...?

Shamus said...

David, re Lady Eve- that movie features extended sequences on ships, motorboats and trains (and horses, if they count). Palm Beach Story has locomotives of all kinds: cabs, trains, yachts and aeroplanes. You have a sense that Sturges is intrinsically interested in machines (and their comic possibilities).

Roma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roma said...

Some sinister romances occur on trains: Sudden Fear (Joan Crawford and Jack Palance) and Born to Kill (Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor). I hesitate to put the encounter between Johnny and Lina in Suspicion on the same plane, but...
There's a wonderful scene with a train in one of Ophuls' most beautiful and poignant films, "Liebelei". It's when an adulterous countess is banished - from society and literally from the narrative - and the means of her banishment is a train!

Great post as always, Siren!

john_burke100 said...

"How's the trout?"

Lovely post and great comments. Not story elements but scene-enhancing: a NY Central express and switch engine in "Odds Against Tomorrow." And for straight-up machine worship, "Pacific 231."

"The LFykillers"!

john_burke100 said...

That would be Ladykillers.

X. Trapnel said...

While the entire flashback scene in Sorry Wrong Number may be the apex of Anatole Litvak's artistry, I especially treasure the shot of a train chugging toward what appears to be Harrison, NJ.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Off-Topic -- Punishment Park

Yojimboen said...

To return to the original edict of B&W, and the last giant H’Wood action film made in B&W, The Train.

@ hum'n'mum… Couldn’t agree more on that Paul Scofield moment - it makes one regret he made so few films.

The Train itself almost didn’t leave the station, what with the firing of Arthur Penn, the tension between Lancaster and Frankenheimer (Lancaster made something of a bad bargain when he got Penn fired and replaced by Frankenheimer, who signed on at the cost of total control – and his name above the title); plus Lancaster ripped a knee tendon just before the climax was due to be shot and could barely walk, let alone run. But he pulled it off.
And in one continuous take (04:50).
Dude had true grit.

Vanwall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vanwall said...

The subverted romance of trains is more interesting for me, Walter and Phyllis can do that to ya.

"Beggars of Life" was all about trains, in a sort of reverse-romance way; the grit and freedom of those old steamers as a love song to vagabonds.

It's a good companion to "Emperor of the North Pole", the other upside-downie romance of the rails.

End with "The Narrow Margin", the train movie as hard as Charles McGraw's jaw, and a train that just out-gravels his voice, as well.

Trains are just little or big deaus ex machina, very machina. and oh yeah, and Charlie pushes her uncle offa one, too.

gmoke said...

I suspect Jim Tully is a treasure trove just waiting to be unearthed. If I recall correctly, he worked for Chaplin for a time.

_Beggars of Life:  A Hobo Autobiography_ by Jim Tully
Oakland, Edinburgh, London:  AK Press/NABAT, 2004
ISBN 1-902593-78-2

(19)  He could have talked a ghost into seeing its shadow.

(43)   Mrs. Mabee would wait upon the table.  She had either been born tired, or became tired soon after birth.  No woman could have become so tired without years of experience.

(65)  I was never able to learn the derivation of the word "punk," as these boys were called, but years later, in more polite society, when I heard it spoken, I experienced a slight shock, as though I were listening to a bishop swearing out loud, or talking intelligently.

(105)  "His Honour" wiped his lips as the saliva spattered into the box, and then his Adam's apple was seen to work up and down like a frog crawling under a yellow sheet.

(118)  Now every "road-kid" knows that forty-nine out of every fifty drunkards will feed him.  If it were a drunken world, the beggars would own it.

gmoke said...

Not romantic, unless you count Wellman courting the lead actress, but "Wild Boys of the Road" is another fine b&w train movie.

gmoke said...

Watching that Burt Lancaster clip, I wondered whether Lancaster and Cary Grant ever got together to do some acrobatics. What a treat that would have been!

Vanwall said...

Two of my favorite scenes in all film are in "The Train". One is where Lancaster is in the repair shop pouring babbitt metal for a new bushing on one of the drive arms, and he sets it, files it, hoists the arm over and lines it up on the train wheels. Like he did it every day of his life.

The other scene is where Papa Boule, the doomed older engineer played by the great and wonderful Michel Simon, is musing about the train full of stolen Impressionist treasures and the lover he once knew who was one of the models for them.

X. Trapnel said...

Tully may be worth a look, but I recall that he once attacked Lubitsch for frivolity and dismissed Chaplin as a mere mimic. This does not inspire confidence.

Shamus said...

In Bhowani Junction, Ava Gardner's would-be rape by sweaty, lusty Brit is staged near the track of a train, all his phallic energy unleashed as the train rushes by.

It aired on TV recently and I thought that scene was impressive (for Cukor, I mean) and the movie itself seemed rather interesting, considering it is about India, which most directors get hopelessly wrong. There were a hundred little mistakes that no Indian would have committed but at least it is not the carnival of kitsch you find in Tiger of Eschnapur or (horrors!) Temple of Doom and Brad Bird's recent Mission Impossible movie.

Unfortunately, I could not see the movie through because I had to catch the train...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Do see it through when you get the chance. It's one of Mr. Cukor's most interesting films. He adored Ava Gardner she got into this role like few others she was ever offered.

Yojimboen said...

X., Tully …dismissed Chaplin as a mere mimic.
William Claude Dukenfield dismissed him as ‘that goddamn ballet dancer’. I’m with Fields.

X. Trapnel said...

I would not want to disagree with Fields on anything.

The Siren said...

Well, Fields was 100% dead wrong (and quite nakedly jealous) on Chaplin.

The Siren said...

Apologies for the sharp tone; but I love Chaplin very dearly, and just spent a beautiful afternoon listening to my kids howl with laughter over A Dog's Life and The Kid. A ballet dancer? Please. If anything the juggler Fields should have appreciated Chaplin's incomparable grace of movement. I love Fields in a lot of movies (including My Little Chickadee, which has an awesome train) but there's no question in my mind as to who was the greater artist and, in this case, the more generous.

X. Trapnel said...

Just a feeble joke on my part re Fields/Chaplin. I should have said: While I wouldn't want to disagree with Fields etc.

I certainly agree that Chaplin is the greater artist.

The Siren said...

XT, ha, I don't know if I would have liked to disagree with Fields to his face, either, although Mae West reportedly managed to do so, with vigor. I don't know why My Little Chickadee has such a poor reputation; I don't think I'd posit it as a misunderstood masterpiece but I've always found it very funny.

mas82730 said...

I thought Fields praised Chaplin as 'he BEST goddam ballet dancer who ever lived".

The Siren said...

Mas, I've usually seen the ballet dancer quote followed up with "I'd like to strangle him" but it's possible it's frequently misquoted, or that the whole thing was a joke on Fields' part. I'm not enough of a Fields-ologist to know and really, with him how do you EVER know. His contradictions were his life.

Naturally, if anyone does know for sure...*looks around the room...*

brookesboy said...

Thank you for mentions of Ms. Jones and Ms. Garson, my two favorite actresses in two of their most memorable scenes. Both of these films are unabashed odes to sentimentality, but the emotions remain honest. Greer's delightful spin on "dreadful" never ceases to make me smile. And Jennifer's face, tears streaming down, will be forever etched in the collective memory of movie lovers through the ages.

mas82730 said...

Yeah, Siren, Fields said that he'd like to kill that sonofabitch Chaplin for his balletic grace, probably speaking out of professional jealousy or maybe in an alcoholic rage of jealousy, I couldn't say. But it sounds like grudging admiration under that blue streak of profanity. I mean, as I'm sure you know (and perhaps Fields, too), Nijinsky and Pavlova, both admired Charlie's movements.

Shamus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shamus said...

If anything, Chaplin's mimicry of awkwardness looks balletic. He would also imagine his death in terms of ballet for Limelight.

The Siren said...

Mas, absolutely, I suspect as much too. I don't know how it could be otherwise, but conforming to expectations isn't what makes a good actor (cf You're Much Too Modest, also).

Kirk said...

Jeanette McDonald on horseback racing to catch up to Maurice Chevalier's train in LOVE ME TONIGHT.

DavidEhrenstein said...

There's a train in this sequence of the film too.

Yojimboen said...

@M VW – Hear hear on the first scene, I’d forgotten about the second. Third prize goes to M Simon again when Lancaster jumps aboard to prevent him from deliberately driving into the Spitfire attack; defiantly, lubriciously, deliciously, Simon snarls, “Get off my train!” (02:20) and kicks Lancaster from the speeding locomotive. (I wish I knew the French for “Fuckin’ Aayy!”)

Kirk said...

I forgot about that, and it's my favorite segment in the whole film, too!

The Siren said...

Kirk, honestly, the joy of this comments section is that people are ALWAYS reminding me of stuff I forgot.

The Train is such a great film and honestly the mere presence of Burt Lancaster makes anything romantic, or at a minimum sexy as all hell. And vive Michel Simon!

gmoke said...

W. C. Fields on Bert Williams: "The funniest man I ever saw and the saddest man I ever knew."

I guess sometimes professional jealousy didn't get his way but then they were friends.

WelcometoLA said...

Best rock and roll on a train in a black and white movie: The Beatles, A Hard Day's Night.

Pordenone said...

Let's not forget the 'faux' train ride scene in Letter to an Unknown Woman, one of the most romantic train ride scenes I've ever watched, and they never left the 'station.'

john said...

From Incipit the locomotive and the train track were in as close embrace as the reciprocating drive of the projector lurching the acetate tracks from reel to reel.

Pardon the Meta Phoros conceit but both trains and "movies"take you from one place to the next