johnlink ranks TERROR ON A TRAIN (1953)

Turner Classics is great for movies like this. Something that I’ve never heard of, never would have heard of, and almost certainly never would have seen. The description promised a story about a potential train bombing with Glenn Ford in the lead role. Why not?


I watched TERROR ON A TRAIN (1953) on 10.20.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

TERROR ON A TRAIN – which is also known under the title of TIME BOMB – is a 50s B-movie which is short on run time and long on shots of a train sitting in a train station. The story opens with a saboteur (Victor Maddern) jumping off of a train filled with munitions. He’s planted a bomb on it somewhere, but the train is on its way before Constable Charlie (John Horsley) can engage the bad guy. When our villain escapes the police chase, the British government soon realize they have a train – containing an explosion waiting to happen – lumbering through its towns.

They must call in a former American military man, Peter (Glenn Ford).  As we meet him, he is getting in a big fight with his French wife Janine (Anne Vernon). She storms out of the house, but he only seems mildly concerned. When the British show up at his door for help, he is relieved to have something else to think about. The side story involving the wife creeps the runtime of this movie up over an hour, but is mostly useless otherwise. This has nothing to do with Vernon’s performance – which is fine  – but instead is due to a script which feels like it includes her only to ensure a female will be cast.

But the script, by Kem Bennett, is actually the film’s best asset. While the train becomes grounded and dawn approaches, this is a movie which could have gotten bogged down in overly dramatic moments. Instead, Bennett sprinkles in several comedic characters. The best of these is a senile old man who just really wants to look at the train, may the consequences be damned. But even a one-scene character, like an amused old lady who couldn’t care less if she dies,  works in the context created.

Ford is fine as our hero, but he spends more than half of his screen time going through the same motions of looking for a small device on a large and open train. Once he gets on board the locomotive, the film really has to work hard to keep up the suspense. Peter has until the next morning to disarm the bomb while some other folks chase down the saboteur. In the genre of train-based-thrillers, TERROR ON A TRAIN is one of the slower moving ones.

This isn’t a bad movie, but it is largely unnecessary. It is easy to compare these sort of shorter B-films to modern disposable television. This is no better or worse than an episode of NCIS or CSI or any other formulaic show. We know the characters who will live. We know things will turn out just right in a timely way. We know that the heroes will be likable.

The reason to watch, then, is to see familiar characters do interesting things in a fun or unique way. TERROR ON A TRAIN breaks no molds, but it is harmless enough entertainment.




FINAL SCORE: 5.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on October 22, 2015.

One Response to “johnlink ranks TERROR ON A TRAIN (1953)”

  1. The redeeming quality of this otherwise boring film is, “ Moi noime is Choirlie an’ Oi loike troins!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: