TMP’s exploration of the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack ends today with a review of Lady on a Train. Previous reviews from the set: Three Smart Girls, Something in the Wind, First Love, It Started with Eve, Can’t Help Singing
Nicki Collins (Deanna Durbin) is slightly obsessed with mystery novels. Her addiction to these books is well-known among her friends and family.
While reading one of her beloved novels on a train, she sees an apparent murder through the window, in a building that the train is passing.
Arriving in New York City to visit her aunt for Christmas, Nicki tries desperately to convince the police that she truly did see a murder. When the cop laughs off her story, assuming she’s just been reading too many mysteries, she decides to start an investigation of her own, tracking down her favorite mystery writer (David Bruce) for help.
Charles David directs 1945’s Lady on a Train. Ralph Bellamy, Edward Everett Horton, Allen Jenkins, and plenty of other familiar faces appear alongside the lovely Deanna Durbin in this mystery-comedy. The screenplay was written by Edmund Beloin and Robert O’Brien from a story by Leslie Charteris.
Lady on a Train is a very successful mystery-comedy. There’s a lot of amusement to be had, with some suspenseful atmosphere built as well, though there are no big dramas or spooks.
The film’s humor all lands well: There’s a running joke about the “New York office” between Durbin’s character and Edward Everett Horton’s, which works thanks to the bit of sass that Durbin injects into her character; In one early scene, Nicki’s past “cry wolf” experiences come to light, including one in which she reported an FBI agent to the police as a spy; When we meet mystery writer Wayne Morgan, he’s dictating his latest novel to his assistant… and acting it out as he goes along. Plenty of laughs and plenty of fun.
The cast is just as strong as the script, with not a single bad performer in the bunch, which is why the film works so well. The stars are able to carry off the comedic moments while also keeping a touch of suspense in the murder-mystery side of the plot. (David Bruce even gets to partake in a great fight scene — hand-to-hand combat in a wine cellar!)
Lady on a Train seems to have been included in the “Sweetheart Pack” set to show some variety, as also seemed to be the case with Something in the Wind. Durbin sings in this film, but it’s not a light musical-romance like the films she’s best-known for. Take out the cheerier musical numbers and the laughs, and this would work very well as a noir-thriller.
Rounding out the “Sweetheart Pack” set, Lady on the Train is a pretty great watch. The set as a whole is well worth a purchase for any fan of Durbin, or any classic movie collector in general. Every film in the set is enjoyable, and Lady on the Train ranks among the best. The score: 4.5/5