Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Piggyback Freighters and Jimmy the Gent

Other Men's Women (1931)
directed by William A. Wellman
rating: 2 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Talk about trains and movies and people think of metaphors for power and control. Nazis, The Iron Horse, sex. But Other Men’s Women might even beat Hitchcock for the elegance of chrome, and it does it in a lazy, breezy-day way, not five miles from the train yards of Los Angeles. There, Joan Blondell works at a coffee shop beside the tracks, and makes dates with engineers on their way into town.

One in particular - a bit of a booze hound - likes her company, and slows his train to a crawl in the coffee shop's vicinity. He leaps from the engine, runs inside, and counts the cars that pass while wolfing down a plate of eggs and flirting with the waitresses. Two cars from the end, he sprints out the door, climbs the caboose, and runs the length of the train on top of the train to resume his seat for the home stretch.

The second joy of Other Men's Women is James Cagney in his second role. He's up on high with the engineer, ducking beneath bridges they pass so he doesn't have to climb down in the coal and dirty up his glad rags for Saturday night. Not even Fred Astaire wore a tuxedo like Cagney.

If you see a train in the middle of nowhere from a distance, it doesn't look big or out of control. It looks easy, like a good way to pass the time. Those trains inspire romantic thoughts, and bad songs don't say them half so well as the opening stretch of this otherwise melodramatic little picture.