Today is one of my favorite holidays, although you won't find it on many calendars. That would be National Train Day. (Or as it's also known as around these parts, "Let's Make Chris Dunn's Head Explode Day.") Alas, even for Amtrak the day isn't getting as much attention as in the past, which is an uphill challenge for revelers since I think they are the major impetus behind the day. Well, so be it, that doesn't stop me from celebrating. That's the way the choo-choo crumbles. It's still National Train Day, and therefore still a day o' rejoicing.
As I've mentioned in the past, I not only love traveling by trains, but I also love train movies. The criteria for what makes a "train movie" is the part of the celebration that the eminent Mr. Dunn has never quite grasped. I'll try again to make it clear here, though as always without much hope.
Train movies are films that, at their heart, are about trains, but can also be movies where trains are prominently featured, absolutely central to the story, so critical that if you told someone the plot in a few sentences, you couldn't leave the word "train" out. There isn't a precise rule book on this, but I serve on the Standards Committee, of which the other members number zero.
As a result there has been some controversy on some of the movies included on the Hall of Fame list, but the Standards Committee has looked into all protests and have always backed me up.
Since previously unseen movies keep coming to our attention, or new ones, as well -- and also because life is fluid and the committee likes its list to be dynamic and fluid, we regularly review the landscape and add deserving films to join those classics already honored (somewhat like the Baseball Hall of Fame giving another chance to players previously overlooked, even though their final career statistics haven't changed). As a result, this year we added a new entry to the list, the excellent Back to the Future 3.
We also decided to revisit a long-time nominee made by the inveterate Chris Dunn, Throw Momma from the Train. As I always say, because he is an honorable man who deserves respect (as Don Corleone said of "The Turk" Sollozzo inThe Godfather -- not long before the Don's son kills him, although in fairness Sollozzo made the first hit attempt), the jury agreed to watch film clips and went into executive session for lively debate. It has come to the decision that their previous ruling stands. Despite its title, the film has next to nothing to do with trains. It only has one relatively brief sequence in it with a train. And though that sequence refers to the title of the film, that doesn't make it "a train movie." (In the novel Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens, the "son" dies on about page two, and the story is actually about Dombey and his daughter. The title is meant ironically to contrast the substance of the plot, and the book is not an example of the eternal struggle between fathers and sons, nor would it be included on a list of the same.) In Throw Mama From the Train, the short sequence in question with a train comes at the very end, having little directly to do with the story before. It could have been on a bus, aerial tramway, mountaintop, the roof of a skyscraper, or any such plot device. It's a movie that has a good train scene in it. (This is what has kept Planes, Trains and Automobiles off the list -- despite having "Trains" in the title, and a valuable part of the plot -- along with The Greatest Show on Earth, with one of the famous train sequences in film history, The Marx Bros.' Go West where they famously dismantle a train, and At the Circus -- which introduced the song, "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" on board -- Trading Places, and Cat Ballou, all of them off the list, as well, all wonderful movies with even more extensive and classic train sequences.) The ballot was close, decided by just a single vote, so the committee has agreed to look at the case again next year.
The committee, however, did create an Honorable Mention category last year of "Movies with a good train sequence in them." And Throw Momma from the Train has been included there. Along with Planes, Trains and Automobiles,The Greatest Show on Earth, Go West, and others,.
(Once again, Mr. Dunn's annual petition to remove Bridge on the River Kwai from the list, on the grounds that the train doesn't appear on screen until the very last minute has been rejected and laughingly so by the committee with extreme prejudice. The train itself and the building of the titular bridge for the train and stopping the train is the whole point that the movie is about, without which you couldn't tell the story remains on the list, in high honor.)
As said, a new complete review will take place next year when the committee is able to coordinate schedules and get everyone together to meet. For now, though, here are the current Hall of Fame movies, and the Honorable Mentions. We understand that Mr. Dunn will likely not agree with the committee's decisions or accept the reasons, but we have come to accept this like the braying of a lone wolf every night when the moon rises, or the annual, timeless coming of cold, harsh Winter. Though at times bitter, Winter brings with the season its own beauty of desolate emptiness. And then there is Spring.
And with it comes the lists.
The Train Movie Hall of Fame
Around the World in 80 Days
Back to the Future 3
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
The Great Locomotive Chase
The Great Train Robbery
The Lady Vanishes
Murder on the Orient Express
The Narrow Margin
North by Northwest
Night Train to Munich
Strangers on a Train
Von Ryan’s Express
At the Circus
The Greatest Show on Earth
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Throw Momma from the Train
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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