Monday, May 18, 2015

Sleeping Car to Trieste (1948)

Sleeping Car to Trieste is a remake of Rome Express (1932), one of the classic suspense on a train movies. Sleeping Car to Trieste is not quite in the same league but it’s still decent entertainment.

A diary is stolen from an embassy in Paris. The contents of the diary are explosive - enough to start a revolution in a certain unnamed country.

Zurta (Albert Lieven), the man who stole the diary, is double-crossed by his accomplice. The accomplice flees and takes the Orient Express hoping to put as much distance as possible between himself and Zurta. But Zurta is on the train as well. Also on the train is Valya (Jean Kent), also an accomplice of Zurta’s

Naturally various other passengers on the train are unwittingly involved. These include George Grant (Derrick de Marney), a solicitor off for a dirty weekend with Joan Maxted (Rona Anderson). Joan thinks it’s true love but George is married.

The diary is valuable enough to kill for and it comes as no surprise when murder does indeed result. And George and Joan find themselves suspects.

As luck would have it the famous French detective Inspector Jolif (Paul Dupuis) happens to be on board the train. Unravelling the mystery is made more difficult by the fact that a number of passengers have things to hide and he is faced by conflicting testimonies from key witnesses. Some of the passengers also have their own agendas in regard to the missing diary.

There are no big stars in this picture but the cast includes plenty of solid reliable character actors. Albert Lieven makes a convincingly sinister villain. Jean Kent is a perfectly adequate vamp. Paul Dupuis is a clich├ęd suave French policeman but he carries it off with a certain amount of aplomb.

As you would expect in a 1940s thriller there’s a good deal of comic relief, involving everything from exasperated chefs to ladies’ hats to a typical English club bore. What’s more surprising is that most of the comic relief is actually quite amusing. David Tomlinson as the aforementioned club bore and Hugh Borden as the harassed secretary to an obnoxious millionaire with political ambitions are both particularly good. Finlay Currie is suitably insufferable as the millionaire.

The diary is as pure an example of a McGuffin as you’ll ever encounter in a movie. We never find out what’s in it, or which embassy it was stolen from, or the name of the country which it had the potential to plunge into revolution. All that matters is that one man has the diary and other people want it badly enough to commit murder. The script is serviceable and the actors are good enough to make it work fairly successfully.

John Paddy Carstairs was a perfectly competent B-movie director. There’s nothing particularly inspired about his handling of this movie but he knew how to get the job done.

The most important thing about this movie is that it’s set on a train. Trains, especially the old-fashioned variety with compartments, corridors and dining cars, are perfect settings for mysteries or thrillers. You just can’t go wrong with a train thriller and Carstairs makes the most of the Orient Express in this picture. 

Strawberry Media’s Region 0 UK DVD release is barebones but it’s what we’ve come to expect from this company - it’s pleasingly inexpensive and the transfer is excellent.

Sleeping Car to Trieste is a second-rank but quite well-made British thriller. As railway thrillers go it's not of the same clsas as The Lady Vanishes or even Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich but it delivers thoroughly enjoyable entertainment. If you’re an aficionado of train movies or vintage spy thrillers you’ll certainly want to see it. Recommended.


  1. i enjoyed this British B film train noir with good actors and noir cinematography

  2. I watched it this week and really enjoyed it. Not a great film but it has plenty of atmosphere. I always love a good crime or spy story set in a train.