The setting of a train for my first mystery seemed like a natural fit; I have always been fascinated by mystery-on-a-train movies. I remember an episode of Laverne & Shirley (yes, that’s right) called Murder on the Moosejaw Express where the girls were on a train and were naturally involved in some sort of mystery caper. I don’t remember the exact details of the episode, but I do remember who the murder was (neither Laverne nor Shirley, naturally!) That episode always stuck with me as being a favorite for some reason, there was something fascinating about a mystery on a train.
Sometime later, I would stumble upon a Saturday afternoon movie matinee on television, Strangers on a Train. This easily became one of my all-time favorite Hitchcock films. Two strangers meet on a train and decide to “swap murders” – one killing the others wife in exchange for killing his father. Much of the action did not actually take place on a train, mind you, but the setup did, and it was brilliantly executed. Hitchcock had earlier roots on the rails in another favorite, The Lady Vanishes. From the title, you can guess the plot fairly easily – a woman who was travelling on a train mysteriously vanishes. Not only does the lady vanish, but all traces of her having been on the train in the first place also seem to vanish, much to the frustration of the movie’s heroine, who spends the rest of the movie sorting things out.
A few years ago, I stumbled up on another train mystery, The Narrow Margin (from 1952, not to be confused with the 1990 Gene Hackman remake – which is not as good) . The Narrow Margin is a fairly short, “B” film clocking in at only 71 minutes but delivers a solid punch. It is classic film noir, perfectly utilizing its small cast and tight plot.
Of course, no train movie list would be complete without mentioning Murder on the Orient Express. Although I am an avid Agatha Christie fan, I have to admit I am somewhat underwhelmed by her most famous story. I find the pace a little slow, the resolution mostly unbelievable and have often fallen asleep trying to make it through several of the film adaptations. The book and films are not among my favorites, by any means, but thought they at least deserved a mention. As a side note, you may not know the Orient Express is still in full operation and I encourage you to look at their site, the pictures of the train interiors will leave you breathless – they are unlike any other form of transportation you have ever seen.
When I was within spitting distance of finishing the Cora Flash and the Diamond of Madagascar, I took a train to a city about two hours away from me to amp-up my inspiration. I wrote the entire way on the train, and holed myself up in a hotel overnight to continue writing, and finished the first draft on the train ride home… with a little time left over to enjoy the ride!