Lady on a Train

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Director: Charles David
Writers: Leslie Charteris, Edmund Beloin, Robert O'Brien

  • Deanna DurbinNikki Collins
  • Ralph Bellamy — Jonathan Waring
  • David Bruce — Wayne Morgan
  • Chester Clute — train conductor
  • George Coulouris — Mr. Saunders, nightclub manager
  • Jacqueline deWit — Miss Fletcher, Morgan's secretary
  • Dan Duryea — Arnold Waring
  • William Frawley — Police desk-sergeant Brennan
  • Thurston Hall — Josiah Waring
  • Samuel S. Hinds — Mr. Wiggam, Waring lawyer
  • Edward Everett Horton — Mr. Haskell, of the New York office
  • Patricia Morison — Joyce Willams, Morgan's girlfriend
  • Maria Palmer — Margo Martin, nightclub singer
  • Elizabeth Patterson — Charlotte Waring
Universal Pictures: 1945
black & white; 94 minutes
April 2009

A suspenseful romantic comedy

Lady on a Train has a mix of plot levels which is not easy to do right: murder-mystery, romance, comedy, and music. A serious mystery drives the suspenseful plot, but there is plenty of romance, and a leavening of comedy well-integrated throughout, plus three songs that fit neatly into the story.

Deanna Durbin plays Nikki Collins, who as her train is halted briefly upon entering New York City at Christmastime, witnesses a murder in a nearby building. As we might predict, the train shortly pulls away, leaving Durbin with a determination to bring the crime to light. She seeks out mystery novelist Wayne Morgan, whom she thinks must be an expert in solving real-life crimes; and entangles herself with the Waring family, the senior member of whom was the murder victim. The plot quickly begins zigzagging, making it not so predictable after all, and quite suspenseful.

Settings, cast, & Deanna Durbin songs

Director Charles David makes visual participants of his settings: railroad yards with a couple of guys on a handcar, a mansion in snowy grounds, a busy nightclub and its back rooms, a deserted warehouse, even a couple of pleasant apartments. On a re-viewing, notice the fine lighting effects, and what I particularly enjoy, the mazily clever use of rooms and corridors, most creatively in the nightclub scenes.

For an essentially light-hearted film, the cast gives us a nice variety of characterizations. After we think we've pegged the characters they reveal surprising nuances, giving an impression of substantial lives beyond what we're shown. I suspect the film could have been substantially longer without loss of quality.

The three songs that Deanna Durbin sings in her lovely voice are of quite different types: "Silent Night", "Give Me a Little Kiss", and "Night and Day". All fine pieces, sung by Durbin in clearly distinct and appropriate styles and moods. Durbin's singing is at the upper end for movie stars, and these are very nice elements in the movie.

Lady on a Train is a fine film on its variety of levels.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson

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