Bank robber Duke Benson (Douglas Fowley), Public Enemy No. 1, is hiding in plain sight in Southern California suburbia, along with his wife Jeanie (Isabel Jewell). (This aspect called to mind THE BIG CAPER, released 20 years later.) When Duke realizes that he's literally holding a winning lottery ticket, he's got to travel east to the point of purchase to cash it in. Duke and Jeanie split up for the trip, with Duke taking the train and Jeanie flying to their destination.
On the train Duke meets Anne (Gloria Stuart of TITANIC fame), who's evading a process server, and Frank (Brian Donlevy), a newspaper reporter. In reality Anne is a reporter and Frank is a G man on Duke's trail.
I found this 66-minute film a lot of fun, with a solid script, strong cast, and attractive setting. Donlevy and Stuart are appealing leads, with Stuart particularly good as a self-confident young woman.
Watching Anne and Frank eat breakfast on elegant china in the dining car, while rain pours on the windows, or seeing them singing under the stars on a train car's back deck, I can't help feeling a little envious of a bygone world. I'm not sure I'd ever want to get off the train!
Stepin Fetchit is prominent in the supporting cast as a slow-moving porter named Flash; I have to admit that he got me to laughing more than once, particularly as he called out the names of cities or belatedly shouted "All aboard!" after the train has already pulled out. Setting aside the well-worn debate over the appropriateness of his type of character, the man had great comic timing and deserves his due in that regard.
Also in the cast are Warren Hymer, Charles Lane, Julius Tannen, Jonathan Hale, and Dickie Jones. Lynn Bari is listed as a "traveler" by IMDb but I didn't spot her.
36 HOURS TO KILL was directed by Eugene Forde and filmed by Arthur Miller. The screenplay by Lou Breslow and John Patrick was based on a story by W.R. Burnett, who wrote the stories or screenplays for many well-known crime films, Westerns, and war movies.
The movie is available on DVD in a nice print from Fox Cinema Archives. (My experience to date with that very inconsistent line is that the '30s and early '40s prints tend to be better than some of the later prints.) I rented it from ClassicFlix.
The movie also got a thumbs up from John McElwee at Greenbriar Picture Shows.
36 HOURS TO KILL would make a great double bill with another Fox movie set aboard a train traveling in the opposite direction, SLEEPERS WEST (1941).