Today is one of my favorite holidays, except for the fact that that the festivities that should exist pretty much don't. That would be National Train Day. There's a page for it here on Amtrak's site, and they always have something planned, though it's always pretty paltry. This year that have an event at Chicago -- which makes sense, it being the rail system's hub and all -- where one can tour the Amtrak Exhibit Train, and visit the Amtrak Experience exhibit.
Swell. But what about the rest of the country. How's about doing something actually interesting at train stations all over the country? Maybe send an exhibit train to other rail centers? Something. Anything.
Well, so be it. That's the way the choo-choo crumbles. It's still National Train Day, and therefore still a day o' rejoicing.
I not only love traveling by trains, but as I've mentioned in the past I also love train movies. These are films that, at their heart are about trains, but can also be movies where trains are prominently featured, central to the story, where 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 new or previously unseen movies keep coming to our attention, 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. As a result, this year we added a new entry to the list, the excellent Source Code.
We also decided to revisit a long-time nominee made by the inveterate Chris Dunn, Throw Momma from the Train. Because he is an honorable man who deserves respect (as Don Corleone said of "The Turk" Sollozzo in The Godfather), 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. Regardless of its title, the film has next to nothing to do with trains. It has 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." It's a movie that has a good train scene in it. (This is what has kept Planes, Trains and Automobiles off the list -- along with The Greatest Show on Earth, The Marx Bros.' Go West and At the Circus -- the latter of which introduced the song, "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" on board -- Trading Places, and Cat Ballou 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 agreed to look at the case again next year.
The committee did, however, vote to create a new, Honorable Mention category 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, At the Circus, Trading Places and Cat Ballou,.
(Mr. Dunn's petition to remove Bridge on the River Kwai from the list, on the grounds that the train -- which the whole point of the movie is about -- doesn't appear on screen until the last minute has been rejected laughingly with extreme prejudice. It remains on the list, in high honor.)
Here then is the current Honor Roll, in alphabetical order. Additional nominees are always welcome.
Around the World in 80 Days
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
Finally, to honor the day, here is the classic last scene from Bridge on the River Kwai. The culmination of what the whole freaking movie is about.
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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