Sleeping Car To Trieste (1948)

Director: John Paddy Carstairs
Starring: Jean Kent, Albert Lieven, Alan Wheatley, Derrick De Marney, Paul Dupuis, Rona Anderson, David Tomlinson, Finlay Currie, Hugh Burden
Music: Benjamin Frankel

Sleeping Car To Trieste is a British post-war spy thriller, and not a bad one at that. If it has a weakness, it’s that you may have seen this kind of espionage hi-jinks on board a train a bit too much. But I for one, like this kind of film, so I enjoyed it immensely.

The film opens in Paris France, and a grand ball is being held at an Ambassadors residence. While all the other guests are swanning around downstairs, upstairs Colonel Zurta (Albert Lieven) is breaking into the safe. From inside he removes an important diary. As he is about to shut the safe, a servant walks in. Zurta pulls a pistol and fires. Somehow the other guests fail to hear the shot. Zurta then puts the diary into a bag and walks out onto the balcony. Down below an accomplice, Karl (Alan Wheatley) is waiting. Zurta throws down the bag and returns to the ball.

Inside, Zurta has another partner, Valya (Jean Kent). She is the real driving force behind the theft. Her father was assassinated due to the contents of the diary. In her possession, the diary could start a revolution. But that’s all background information. The Maguffin is the diary, and everybody wants it. Zurta and Valya share one last dance and leave the Ambassador’s residence. They head to Karl’s appartment to collect the diary only to find that he has double crossed them and scarpered. From his man-servant, Zurta and Valya ascertain that he is leaving Paris on board the Orient Express.

Once on board the train, the film is about the assorted characters making the journey. Some of them are good, some are bad, and some of them are comic relief. And a few have nothing to do with the story at all. Karl, now travelling under the name George Poole is in hiding and hoping for a compartment to himself. And Zurta and Valya managed to board the train at the last moment. Naturally they spend their time trying to search the train looking for Karl. Other pasengers include: George Grant (Derrick De Marney) and Joan Maxted (Rona Anderson), a couple having an extra marital affair and certainly don’t want any attention brought to them. Then there’s Sergeant West (Bonar Colleano) who is an American soldier, hoping to meet some attractive European birds. Unfortunately for West, the only birds he encounters are provided in book form by Elvin (Michael Ward), an effete birdwatcher. Boarding the train along the track is famous author, Alastair MacBain (Finlay Currie) and his put upon valet/secretary (Hugh Burden). MacBain has a grudge against the French Ambassador, after a poor response to one of MacBain’s lectures.

Adding to the variety of travellers on board is Inspector Jolif (Paul Dupuis) who is the French equivalent to Sherlock Holmes. He has little to do in the first half of the film, but after Karl is killed, he holds a criminal investigation on board the moving train. As we know who the bad guys are from the beginning, there aren’t too many surprises in the story, but it is handled well, and the ending is quite good.

Sleeping Car To Trieste is a good old fashioned thriller. It is not a classic, but if you like train films such as Murder On the Orient Express or even Breakheart Pass, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here. Apparently this film is a remake of an even better thriller called Rome Express (1932) which I have never seen, but sounds like it may well be worth tracking down?

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