Alphabetical Movie – The Lady Vanishes

Most of The Lady Vanishes takes place on a train and it got me wondering – what is it with trains in movies?

Alfred Hitchcock, we know, had a thing for trains.  I suppose that is to be expected given that he comes from Europe, where people actually ride trains.  He was so enamored with trains, he even made Strangers on a Train.  We won’t even talk about the train going into the tunnel at the end of North by Northwest.

Except I just did.

Ignoring the obvious fact that trains make a fantastic phallic reference (something Mr. Hitchcock did not ignore), I recognize when we look at older movies with trains in them, they serve as a transportation mechanism.  Until air travel became far more affordable, trains comprised a major form of transit.

From a filmmaking perspective, if someone is going to travel cross country, train is better.  You can have a meeting on a train.  You can Throw your momma from a train.  You can Murder someone on the Orient Express. It’s hard to murder them on the Orient ExpressAir.

I suppose you could do those things in a car or on a cruise ship but it isn’t nearly as interesting.

Modern films, though, also rely on trains as plot devices (and not just moving penises).  Heck, even Skyfall opens with a fight on a train and later sends a London Underground train hurtling right at James Bond.

Spider-man and Doc Ock engage in one of the best action sequences ever filmed on a train.  A little while after that, Batman fought on a train as well.  It would be kind of stupid to have Superman fight on a train.  He could just pick it up.  If Hitchcock had made a Superman movie, superman would have picked up a train and stuck it in and out of a tunnel, just to make a point.  The point that trains look like dicks.

Trains are also frequently used as weapons because they carry something really dangerous (Super 88) or they are out of control (Unstoppable).

Westerns, of course, are filled with trains.  Also horses and guns, which are also phallic symbols.  The guns, not the horses.

I don’t think John Ford would ever have implied a train looks like a penis because he wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think for a moment that he or John Wayne were interested in anything except vaginas. They were manly men, consarnit!

Although, having said that, one wonders why Ford spent so much time in monument valley…

Trains allow characters to move around and still engage in conversation.  They also allow for sudden darkness in which murders can conveniently take place.  If you are going to get into a fight with someone, it is way more dramatic to do it on top of a train.  I was going to say that I was surprised that there was never a film that was basically Die Hard on a train but then I looked up the plot to Under Siege II.

Yes, I think it is fair to say that trains are everywhere in movies and they’ll probably be everywhere for a very long time.

Because let’s be honest, it’s a male dominated industry and there’s nothing we guys like more than our phallic symbols.

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About Petsnakereggie

Geek, movie buff, dad, musician, comedian, atheist, liberal and writer. I also really like Taco flavored Doritos.

One response to “Alphabetical Movie – The Lady Vanishes”

  1. ubi dubium says :

    Trains also trap a small set of characters in a confined space, which is wonderful for setting up plots. Of course you have the same thing on planes, buses and cars, but those don’t allow for as much moving around and interacting, so trains are better. Sort of like the classic country house murder, where everybody is trapped by a snowstorm or something, so you know exactly who is a possible suspect.

    Cruise ships are too crowded to really work. It’s too easy for someone to lose themselves among the tourists.

    The wonderful Doctor Who episode “Midnight” uses the idea of a set of characters trapped in a fairly small vehicle to a tremendously creepy effect. No one can get out, or avoid the drama that’s happening. TVTropes has a page about thrillers set on trains. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ThrillerOnTheExpress

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