As far as I can tell -- and oddly, it's been a bit difficult to track down -- today is National Train Day. At least it is here at Elisberg Industries, and that's good enough as a starting point. You won't find it on any calendars, but National Train Day (Or as it's also known as around these parts, "Let's Make Chris Dunn's Head Explode Day") is nonetheless still one of the most joyous holidays of the year.
For our part here, we celebrate it by posting a list of the greatest train movies. These are films in which trains are absolutely central to the story. Where a train is the driving force of the tale, without which you can’t properly describe the plot.
(Think of it like the classic and beloved Santa Claus song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Santa Claus isn't actually in the song at all. He hasn't even shown up yet. In most ways, it's about "you" and what you should do -- or better not do. But even though there's not a hint of Santa Claus even appearing in the song, without Santa Claus...there's no song.)
This relates to the fun part of the day, when the inveterate Chris Dunn goes totally mental, unable each year to grasp the concept, trying annually to explain unsuccessfully why Bridge on the River Kwai is supposedly not a train movie, yet Throw Momma from the Train is. He's wrong on both counts, but it's still fun to watch.
Every year, he always spins out of control in disorderly circles trying to make his point, that Bridge on the River Kwai is not about trains. And as I say every year -- he's right, it’s not “about trains.” But then I never said it was – just that it was a “train movie.” And more to the point, specifically a great train movie. Not merely a film with a train in it, but one where a train is the driving force of the story, without which you can’t properly describe the plot. Where you can only tell the story of Bridge on the River Kwai by saying:
The train is coming – we have to finish the bridge before it gets here. The training is coming – we have to destroy the bridge before it gets here. The train is coming – it’s what drives Alec Guiness to madness. The train is coming, the training is coming. It’s the core foundation of what affects everything in the story. The train is coming.
By contrast, Throw Momma from the Train could just as easily be Throw Momma from the Funicular. Or you could probably even tell the story cutting the train sequence entirely and instead write in some other scene to bridge the plot points. No pun intended... For 98% of the movie, it's about something entirely separate from trains and has absolutely nothing to do with trains, other than have the word in the title. It certainly deserves consideration as a train movie -- though hardly an all-time great train movie -- but like some retired baseball players hoping to get in the Hall of Fame year after year even though their career statistics don't change, it just doesn't measure up against the competitions. Sometimes, some players do finally make it in the Hall after a dozen years on the ballot, as their statistics get more deeply-analyzed against the growing perspective of time...but Throw Momma from the Train, still just doesn't measure up.
The point isn't a list of movies that have trains in them, whether briefly or at length. It's about Great Train Movies.
I note here that Throw Momma from the Train has finally moved up a notch and is now on the Honorable Mention list, making it there last year -- in part because it does have the word "Train" in the title and a train sequence so, given the perspective of time, it does at least support that limited standard, and in part as a salve to Mr. Dunn, so that he would be able to get some rest rather than spend another completely feverish week.
We've also added a new movie to the list of Great Train Films, an interesting train movie in the full sense, Emperor of the North, about a hobo challenging a cruel railway detective for authority, as he tries to hide on a train trip during the Depression. And to give total credit where due, the film was suggested by...Mr. Christopher Dunn.
I should note, which I think is likely very obvious, though I haven't stated it before in these annual columns, I love train movies.
Around the World in 80 Days
Back to the Future 3
Bridge on the River Kwai
The Darjeeling Limited
Emperor of the North
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
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The Greatest Show on Earth
At the Circus
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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