Full Steam Ahead

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THE LAST JOURNEY is a classic quota quickie — maybe the best ever — directed by Bernard “Mad” Vorhaus, about an engine driver on the brink of retirement who cracks up and attempts to crash his own train. It’s a precursor of the ’70s disaster movie, or more accurately, group jeopardy movie (since in this particular version of the genre, actual disaster must be averted) — stick a bunch of amusing stereotypes together in a perilous situation and watch them sweat. Or “perspire,” if they’re first class ticket holders.

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The reliably oily Hugh Williams in a typical cad/dirtbag role.

The story is by J. Jefferson Farjeon, a man who is suddenly all over my mind like a pox. He’s not only the author of Michael Powell’s lighthouse mystery THE PHANTOM LIGHT, which I wrote about already, but of THE GHOST CAMERA, written up for The Forgotten over at The Auteurs’ Notebook. This seems to be a style of title Farjeon favoured: I wonder if he had trunks full of unsold screenplays with titles like The Haunted Tripod, The Zombie Microphone, The Spook Boom or The Spectral Dolly.

He’s also responsible for the play which Hitchcock’s NUMBER 17. is based on, the subject of this Wednesday’s entry in Hitchcock Year, and a little number called TWO CROWDED HOURS, which in the manner of quota quickies, crammed both hours into a 45 minute running time. This was Michael Powell’s first directorial outing, and is apparently a lost film. Do check you’re not sitting on it, please.

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At last, a good hypnotist! Tearle’s suave doctor begins the film with a hokey demonstration of his mesmeric arts, and wishes that he could use the technique to save lives. Will he, before the film is finished? He will!

THE LAST JOURNEY is one of the most exciting films I’ve ever seen! Not for cinematic brilliance, although there’s a certain amount of that: Vorhaus does silly things like putting the camera inside the locomotive’s burner, and uses crazy canted angles to film the fraught railway employees trying to prevent a collision. What generates the real energy is the furious pace of the storytelling and cutting, and what makes it fun is the shameless comedy relief and boldly overplayed melodrama ~

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The lunatic engine driver keeps yelling “We’re overdue! We’re overdue! The crash! The crash!” with increasing fervour, like he thinks he’s in a Tod Slaughter movie.

~ while the comic relief characters are highly reminiscent of the one-note caricatures populating the later Hitchcock THE LADY VANISHES, or a Hollywood comedy like TWENTIETH CENTURY.

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“The Frenchman” spends the entire flick trying and failing to go to the lavatory — OK, so it’s not a great character arc — while Goddard is a boozy Yorkshireman, and not the director of A BOUT DE SOUFFLE.

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The stutterer is another one-note running gag, trying to order something in the dining car but being abandoned by waiters before he can ram a syllable from between his palsied lips. Ah, the truly th ’30s were a golden age of mocking the afflicted! Miss Smith is a hypochondriac bore whom Tearle, our hero, disposes of by letting her read his medical textbook, which convinces her she has motor ataxia. He prescribes dry toast, and she leaves for the dining car.

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Most amusing are the wildly dishonest pickpockets, fleeing the law and swiping everything that’s not nailed down as they go. They’re like cockney versions of characters from a pre-code Warners movie.

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The hero type on the left spends the whole movie chasing the train, desperate to rescue the girl he loves from the clutches of the oleaginous Hugh. Sidney Fairbrother is the temperance campaigner, butt of the film’s best and meanest joke. After making a pest of herself campaigning against strong drink throughout the action, she faints at the climax and has to be revived with a bottle of brandy. Waking up, she sees what she’s been drinking, and faints again. So they start pouring more into her, as we ~

FADE TO BLACK.

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8 Responses to “Full Steam Ahead”

  1. Arthur S. Says:

    I like the font of the title cards in these stills.

    Which other quota quickies are of interest. They can’t be all bad, can they?!

    OFFTOPIC
    I need to ask people about some tech issues. I try to log on to YOUTUBE and every time I do, the browser collapses saying that it’s missing a file or something. I try to search YOUTUBE on Google, same thing, search it on wikipedia same thing. The same thing is happening with a friend of mine who uses Mozilla. Any one else has had similar experiences

  2. The two Vorhaus films I have seen are great, and it looks very much as if the rest are also. The Phanom Light is good fun, suggesting that Powell developed from early incompetence (must write something about Rynox) to competence by working fast and furiously over a few years. But there are absolutely hundreds of these films which are impossible to see, so who knows what’s out there?

    No idea re YouTube, it’s fine here. Although my computer has stopped remembering its passwords, which is a pain.

  3. Christopher Says:

    I had a problem with an older computer I had where if I stayed on You Tube more than 5 mins my computer would shut down completely and reboot..At the time I didn’t think to google for remedies I just did a system restore on the thing and that solved it..But I’m thinking its something that could be fixed in the service menu when you tap the F12 key during the booting up process..Sounds like a file is missing needed to open You Tube..a quick System Restore might restore the thing..

  4. Sounds like good advice. I’m soooo not the person to ask about technical stuff.

    In other news, China has lost YouTbe, but gained Shadowplay, apparently. Hello, China!

  5. Christopher Says:

    I’m hardley the person to ask either..but I’ve had to learn some things thru trial and error to stay aboard..wandering the kind of places I do thru Cyber Space..
    …Shadowplay comes to WU HU!!!

  6. David Boxwell Says:

    The Wikipedist informs us that Tearle was half-American! Symbolically “castrated” in THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS, this perfect British baddie achieves his apotheosis for Hitch.

  7. David Boxwell Says:

    Film makers today should take a leaf out of this QQ’s first frames: look at how much info gets packed on that title card!

  8. Yes, I was extremely disappointed by the titles of The Good German, a supposedly retro-look film. A non-period font, non-period duration (lengthy), and credits sprawled out a couple at a time, rather than crammed into the frame like Victorian newsprint. Waste not, want not, I say!

    Only a few weeks until Tearle time…

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