Smart and economical, this taut film noir is a classic example of the form. Boasting a gloss & technical finish beyond its modest budget, it brings out tour de force work from Richard Fleischer, Earl Felton & George Diskant, helming, scripting & lensing with imagination & daring. The plot mechanics are pretty straightforward; tough-guy detective Charles McGraw has to deliver mob widow Marie Windsor to L.A., by train from Chicago, to testify before a Grand Juror . . . and see that they don’t get rubbed out first. But when hit men finger the wrong lady on the train, a well-scrubbed innocent (Jacqueline White) traveling with her kid, McGraw’s suddenly got two dames to protect. Fleischer was probably at his best on smaller pics, willing to try an odd lens (look at an intimate little scene at a station stop midway thru), nifty hand-held stuff down train corridors, even shifting POV action shots in a close-up fight. (Hey! I just got kicked by a guy’s shoe . . . and I’m sitting in the audience!) And there’s swell use of window-framed shots that either double the action on a second plane or use the glass surface as revealing ad-hoc mirrors. All done on the run, embedded in the action without making a big artistic fuss over it. Plus, one of the great ‘reveals’ in film history. And we get out in a quick 72 minutes.
DOUBLE-BILL: Auteur-in-his-own-mind Peter Hyams added stars (Gene Hackman, Anne Archer) and half an hour’s running time in a 1990 remake that has its fans. (Not seen here.)