Lady on a Train (1945)

We had not watched this little mystery movie from beginning to end until now, when we put it on the Christmas cinema garland because of its numerous character actors. And I don’t believe I have ever fully watched a movie with Deanna Durbin, the brief rival to Judy Garland in the early 1940s. Durbin certainly had a lovely voice, though more operatic than Garland’s. Even though her acting in this film seems less forced than some of Garland’s early efforts, Durbin didn’t prove to have the vocal or character depth that Garland eventually evidenced.

Lady on the Train was enjoyable but not delightful enough to make it onto our holiday watch list in future years because the connection to Christmas is tenuous and the film itself is thin.

PLOT SUMMARY

Pulling into Grand Central Station for a holiday visit to New York, Deanna Durbin witnesses a murder out of the window of her train car. She cannot convince the police of what she saw, so she then contacts her favorite mystery writer, who also dismisses her. She stumbles upon the identity of the victim, a rich industrialist whose greedy family wants only the inheritance. After numerous puzzling paths, usually shown with bits of slapstick comedy mixed with a touch of suspense, she solves the murder and marries the mystery writer with whom she heads on her honeymoon, again on a train.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

Deanna Durbin is visiting New York for Christmas, but the holiday is used only as the film’s quick rationale for her visit and a few decorations. After the first 10 minutes and Durbin’s singing “Silent Night,” the holiday setting is completely ignored.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Ralph Bellamy (Jonathan Waring) appeared in two fantastic screwball comedies: The Awful Truth (1937), for which he was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, and His Girl Friday (1940). His best known role was as Franklin Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello (1960).

Edward Everett Horton (Mr. Haskell) will be seen soon in Holiday (1938). He also had wonderful roles in The Front Page (1931), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and as the narrator of the Fractured Fairy Tales in the Rocky & Bullwinkle show.

Allen Jenkins (Danny) makes his first appearance on our Christmas cinema list, which is surprising considering how many classic films he has on his resume: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), 42nd Street (1933), Ball of Fire (1941), as well as supporting roles in the Falcon and Perry Mason film series from the 1930s.

George Coulouris (Mr. Saunders) appeared in such classics as Citizen Kane (1941), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and None But the Lonely Heart (1944).

Dan Duryea (Arnold Waring) appeared in such diverse films as Ball of Fire (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), None But the Lonelyheart (1944) and Winchester ’73 (1950).

Elizabeth Patterson (Aunt Waring) has been previously seen in Remember the Night (1940).  Her long list of credits includes Dinner at Eight (1933), Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), I Married a Witch (1942) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).

Samuel Hinds (Mr. Wiggam ) played Pa Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.

William Frawley (police sergeant) has already been seen in Miracle on 34th Street, Good Sam and The Lemon Drop Kid.

Thurston Hall (Josiah Waring) appeared in such classics as Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Great McGinty (1940) and Saratoga Trunk (1945).

Chester Clute (train conductor) was seen in Larceny Inc. and three other films on our holiday watch list: Remember the Night, Bachelor Mother and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

Tom Dugan (police turnkey) has been seen in The Lemon Drop Kid.

Ralph Peters (cabbie) also played a cab driver in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Cyril Ring (Circus Club ringmaster) has been seen in The Cheaters, Beyond Tomorrow and Holiday Inn and will be seen soon in Holiday.

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Ralph Bellamy appeared with Fred Astaire in Carefree (1938).

Edward Everett Horton appeared with Fred Astaire in The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat and Shall We Dance.

Elizabeth Patterson appeared with Fred Astaire in The Sky’s the Limit (1943).

Thurston Hall appeared with Astaire in the film version of The  Band Wagon (1953).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

We always enjoy films with trains and New York scenery, but these elements weren’t enough to make us love this movie. I enjoyed Durbin’s rendition of “Night and Day,” but not enough to watch the film again any time soon.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies usually shows this film once a year.