For Reel

Lady on a Train (1945)
December 25, 2014, 4:48 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Charles David
3 Stars
Lady on a TrainAt the time of Lady on a Train’s release, Deanna Durbin was the highest paid female star in the country and remained Universal Pictures’ biggest asset. Having made her name in light musicals in which she played a youthful sweetheart, she had started reaching for more challenging roles that would adapt her image to something more decidedly mature. Lady on a Train preserves her sense of youthful naiveté while placing her in a sinister environment. The opening scene is a masterpiece of the era–an economical hook that establishes the tone right off the bat. In close-up, Durbin is speaking of a murder that she’s witnessed, only then it is revealed that she has been reading aloud from a mystery novel. Just a moment later, fiction becomes reality when a murder transpires just outside of the train car that she’s seated in, as if it were summoned from the page. The film never recaptures the simple greatness of the sequence–instead, it spins its wheels with lengthy set pieces, including one in which Durbin has to play the part of a singer at a nightclub–but it’s elevated by the impressive cast. Ralph Bellamy and Allen Jenkins deliver their dependably excellent work, but Dan Duryea is the biggest surprise. He often played darker, more menacing characters, and although the film plays with that expectation quite a bit, in the end he’s a charming, genuinely caring man.

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