Saturday, June 04, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Sleepers West (1941)

I love train movies, so I found the title of this followup to MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE (1940) particularly appealing. SLEEPERS WEST is an unusual and memorable title for the solid second entry in this seven-film series of films with Lloyd Nolan in the lead role. (Hugh Beaumont later took over the role at a different studio.)

Brett Halliday's creation, Michael Shayne (Nolan), returns to the screen in SLEEPERS WEST. However, rather than using a Halliday novel, the movie was inspired by a novel titled SLEEPERS EAST by Frederick Nebel. Screenwriters Lou Breslow and Stanley Rauh inserted Shayne into the plot and changed the train's direction!

Shayne is protecting a key witness, Helen Carlson (Mary Beth Hughes), as she travels from Denver to San Francisco to testify at a murder trial. (I couldn't help wondering if the screenwriters of 1952's THE NARROW MARGIN had seen this film.) Shayne's old flame Kay Bentley (Lynn Bari), a newspaper reporter, is also on the train and senses Shayne's sitting on top of a big story. And, as might be expected, there are some people on the train who are very anxious to keep Helen from getting to San Francisco.

This is a well-made little film which perhaps could have had stronger pacing for its 74-minute story, but on the whole is entertaining and pleasant to watch. All but the last few minutes of the film take place in the train station and on the train, and the setting is most enjoyable. Watching Lynn Bari in the dining car, relaxing with dinner and a newspaper brought on board at the previous station, I couldn't help thinking it looked like a pretty wonderful way to travel!

The film is in secure hands with the talented Nolan and Bari in the leads, and they have some nice chemistry. There's a sequence where their characters are each trying to trick the other which is quite amusing, especially when Kay gets stuck to a closed upper bunk.

Hughes is a blonde looker, at least for those who like her type, and she's believable as a showgirl who found herself in a bad situation. Hughes, like Marjorie Weaver of the first film, was in three separate entries of the Shayne series, and like Weaver she plays three completely different characters in each film!

The supporting cast includes faces like Edward Brophy, George Chandler, Louis Jean Heydt, Don Costello, Ferike Boros, Harry Hayden, and Donald Douglas. The train porters are played by Sam McDaniel, Ben Carter, Charles R. Moore, and Mantan Moreland.

The movie was directed by Eugene Forde, who also directed the first film; he would later direct another film in the series, DRESSED TO KILL (1941).

The movie is part of the Michael Shayne Mysteries Vol. 1 DVD collection.


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Nolan as Shayne is very appealing, and "Sleepers West" one of the best entries in the series. I consider it the long lost uncle of "The Narrow Margin".

4:31 AM  
Blogger Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

Oh, I've got to see this one. Trains AND Lloyd Nolan? Oh, yeah.

4:37 AM  
Blogger Ms.Daisy said...

My daughter and I recently watched Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" which took place on a train for the last 3/4 of the movie. Since we had just come from visiting the Train Museum at Strasburg, PA it was doubly interesting to us. Those old train cars are fascinating to see in person.

I will look for "Sleepers West" as it like something I would like.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Train movies sure appeal to a lot of us -- and so does Lloyd Nolan! I like the description of the film as the "long lost uncle" of THE NARROW MARGIN. Hope those of you who haven't caught it yet have the chance to see it.

The train museum sounds wonderful, Jean -- so nice to hear from you again!

Best wishes,

11:43 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Just caught up with this one and liked it a lot,though it would have been even better as a straight thriller.
The writers of Narrow Margin must have seen this,or at least read the book on which it was based.
Lots going on, nicely written parts for Mary Beth Hughes and Louis Jean Heydt. Lynn Bari just right opposite Lloyd Nolan.
And Ed Brophy can do no wrong in my book. Just love him!
Films set on trains appeal to me too.

1:35 PM  

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