Saturday, November 21, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Murder in the Private Car (1934) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

The equivalent of an "old dark house" mystery takes place on the rails in MGM's MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR (1934), just released by the Warner Archive.

Young Ruth (Mary Carlisle), a phone operator, learns that she is the long-lost daughter of Mr. Carson (Berton Churchill), one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Ruth quits her job, taking along with her fellow switchboard operator Georgia (Una Merkel), and plans to meet her father, but her life is quickly in grave danger.

Soon the main characters, including Ruth's boyfriend Blake (Russell Hardie) and would-be detective and crime "deflector" Scott (Charlie Ruggles) are trapped in a train car with sealed windows and an ominous voice counting down the hours they have left to live.

The general theme of being trapped in a small area with a murderous voice issuing threats over speakers is rather similar to the storyline of THE NINTH GUEST (1934), released by Columbia Pictures earlier in the same year.

While it has some thrills and chills, MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR is played more for laughs, including Ruggles' inept (or brilliant?) crime deflector, not to mention a runaway gorilla. Honestly it all gets a little too silly but at only 63 minutes, who cares? It's not the world's greatest movie but it zips along quickly and makes a reasonably entertaining hour.

MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR was directed by Harry Beaumont. The movie was shot by Leonard Smith and James Van Trees.

Porter Hall, Willard Robertson, and Fred "Snowflake" Toones round out the cast. Watch for Sterling Holloway as an office worker and Walter Brennan in a tiny role as a railroad yard employee.

Leading lady Mary Carlisle is still alive today, at the age of 101. In a tribute to Carlisle on her birthday last February, Nora of The Nitrate Diva wrote, in part, "It’s somewhat mind-boggling to consider that, in California, there still lives a stylish screen veteran who was photographed in two-strip Technicolor and starred in pre-Code films with the likes of Bing Crosby, Lionel Barrymore, and Jimmy Durante." (August 2018 Update: Mary Carlisle Dies at 104.)

Another great bit of trivia: Over a quarter century after costarring in MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR, Charlie Ruggles and Una Merkel both appeared in the beloved Disney classic THE PARENT TRAP (1961).

The MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR disc is a good-looking print, especially considering the film's age. The sound quality is also fine. There are no extras on the DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

I saw this one some years ago, and I remember enjoying it very much... probably more than you did, which surprises me a little, considering how much you like trains;-)

I thought it was a really fun mix of screwball comedy and mystery-thriller, with Ruggles perfect as the "deflector." Love that definition!

3:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Mary!

I think the fact that it was a train movie made me like it more than I otherwise would have, at least -- any train movie automatically gets a little bump up in my estimation!

Took me a while to figure out what Ruggles' character was all about -- definitely was amused by the "deflector" description.

Best wishes,

7:34 PM  
Blogger mel said...

I've just seen this:

Mary Carlisle, a perpetual ingenue in dozens of 1930s films, dies at 104
By Adam Bernstein, Washington Post, Aug 01, 2018

Mary Carlisle, a Hollywood actress who enjoyed popularity in the 1930s as a wholesome ingenue in musical comedies opposite singer Bing Crosby, died Wednesday at a retirement community for actors in Woodland Hills.
Her son, James Blakeley III, confirmed the death but did not provide an immediate cause. She was believed to be 104 but never confirmed her age, even to her family. As a centenarian, she was known to tell visitors that her true age was “none of your business.”

10:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for adding that information here, Mel.

I've just posted a tribute to Mary, which may be found here.

Best wishes,

11:48 PM  

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