"I could tell you of a forceful woman," says Doctor Valonius, a white-haired old man who can tell the correct time without looking at a watch, to the spoiled, impatient, well-dressed woman seated next to him in the club car of their train. "She knew what she wanted...and thought she knew how to get it."
"Sounds like me," says the woman, with a satisfied smile. "Was she warned of some danger?" Her fiancé has remained in their compartment, staring out of the window as trees flash by in the night.
"Yes," says Valonius. "She was on a train. She was warned to stay on it, but..."
And with that we start a journey of our own in this clever low-budget noir, a journey where we will see how destiny cannot be changed, and how fate can really wear a guy down.
When Harold Dunlap (Charles Russell) uses a cuticle blade to kill his fiancé at a station stop ("Her heart was given a manicure," says a newspaperman) he finds himself trapped late at night in a small town isolated by a flooding river. Worse, while he dumped the woman's body back on the train before it left, Mike Bennett (Dale Belding), a kid who likes to get away from his mother and have adventures, saw him Even worse, after Dunlap gets picked up while hitchhiking and realizes he can't leave the area because of the flooding, the friendly driver lets him off at the only place to stay in town, a boarding house. And among the people who stay there are...you guessed it, young Mike Bennett and his mother. It's not long before Mike starts to figure things out. At the same time, Dunlap already has figured out that Mike, the only witness, has to be disposed of. It looks like things are going to get rough for Mike, especially when he has to share his room with Dunlap.
And then a dame enters the picture. Jean Maxwell (Mary Beth Hughes) also stays at the boarding house. She's a blond pudding, with loose, plump lips and eyes that stare at a man's mouth. She's not trouble exactly, but she has a taste for the wrong kind of man. Harold Dunlap now has to find a way to kill Mike, get out of town as soon as the bridge reopens, and stay clear of Jean Maxwell's easy-going virtue. If one believes in destiny or in the Hayes Office, is there any doubt who lives, who may die and who just gives in to fate? In a nice circular twist to things, we end up back in that train's club car with Dr. Valonius and the spoiled, impatient woman trimming her nails.
This well-made, unpretentious film packs a great deal of uneasiness into its 62 minutes. Unusual for a noir, it puts a lot of emphasis on humor through the comedy characters who live in the boarding house. There's the efficient owner, there's Mike and his fluttering mother, there's the warm and seductive Jean Maxwell and there are a couple of aging drunks who bicker a bit. I think it's the boarding house humor that makes the threat to Mike so effective. We might have some sympathy for Harold Dunlap at first, but then we realize he's dead serious about turning Mike into a corpse...and whom can Mike go to for help? There's just this odd collection of boarding house denizens. Charles Russell does a fine job as an ordinary man who proves more murderous than either he or we thought he'd be. Dale Belding playing the twelve- or thirteen-year-old boy is no embarrassment. He's reasonably natural in his acting and looks just like Hollywood's idea of an all-American kid, tow headed, generously freckled and with a small gap between his teeth. Mary Beth Hughes is something else. She looks so sweet...until we notice those lips and what she does with them.