Prison Train (1938)

Passed   |    |  Crime, Drama

Prison Train (1938) Poster

Frankie Terris and Mannie Robbins are the two most powerful gangsters in their city. Frankie has a young sister, Louise, whom he has kept at a boarding school away from the stench of his ... See full summary »


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17 September 2013 | dougdoepke
Some Interesting Touches
Convicted of murdering a competitor's son, a gangster is sent away on a prison train. Meanwhile, his sister tries to warn him of a plot aboard the train to kill him.

For the gangster obsessed 1930's, the story is suspenseful but basically routine. Nevertheless, this low-budget production does have several notable features. For one, there's the movie's visual flair. Director Wiles was an art director before climbing into the big chair, so his often exotic camera angles and lurid lighting are unusual for a low budget production. At the same time, his artistic ambitions are on more elaborate display in 1947's The Gangster with Barry Sullivan. Too bad that he died so young and that IMDb doesn't have more info on this interesting moviemaker.

Also, the movie's notable for Dorothy Comingore's presence. I wouldn't be surprised if Orson Welles caught her in this programmer before casting her in his classic Citizen Kane (1941). Here she projects a unique loveliness and sweet vulnerability that's almost touching and quite a distance from her near shrewish role in Kane. Then too, there's Clarence Muse as a waiter and a long way from the buffoonish roles generally assigned black performers in those days. Plus, he even turns out to be a treacherous bad guy. Note too, that lead actor Fred Keating's name doesn't appear on the movie's poster. Granted, he's pretty obscure among the Hollywood crowd, but he does a good job here as head gangster Frankie Terris.

I guess my only complaint is Nestor Paiva who does go way over the top, even for this exotic flick, as the needling Morose. All in all, the story may be unexceptional, but there remain unusual aspects that make the production worth catching up with.

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