30 April 2014 | SimonJack
Railroad action galore but no train whistles
The absence of train whistles in "The Block Signal" is only because this is a silent film. Had there been sound, I'm not sure we wouldn't have been able to stand the sound – or hear many lines above the train noise. There is so much train action in this film that it's interesting just for that alone. The cinematography of the trains is quite good.
The plot is OK, but the technical qualities of this film are not very good. They may have been spot on for the time. Besides the train action, the film has romance and even some skulduggery. A couple of actors had careers with hundred of films – the bulk of which were silent movies. The most interesting person in the cast is Jean Arthur. This was in her natural light brunette years. She's hardly recognizable to me, but appears very charming in her silent poses.
Arthur would become well known for her comedy. Indeed, some great men of the theater call her the best comedienne ever. Yet in her comments, she frequently lamented not being able to get dramatic and other roles. She was a mainstay at Columbia for Western and comedy. Yet, she starred in some very excellent dramatic roles. Arthur led a private life and said she was naturally very shy. One would never know it from seeing her films. She was known to be very quick on her feet as well.
Arthur played opposite many of the leading men of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Among them were Gary Cooper (her favorite), Cary Grant, James Stewart, John Wayne, Fred MacMurray, Joel McCrea, William Powell and George Brent. She taught drama in her later years. But as a comedienne, she had a list of tremendous hits, the likes of which any modern comedienne will find hard to match. Just look at these wonderful comedies: 'A Foreign Affair" in 1948; "The More the Merrier" in 1943, "The Talk of the Town" in 1942, "The Devil and Miss Jones" in 1941, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "Only Angels Have Wings" in 1939, "You Can't Take it With You" in 1938, "Easy Living" in 1937, and "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" in 1936. There are many more, as well.
This isn't a long film, and anyone who likes trains should enjoy it. For the rest, maybe the quiet role of Jean Arthur and Ralph Lewis and Hugh Allen will keep one's interest.