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The Last Journey -one worth making

The latest gem uncovered by Talking Pictures TV is what on the face of it is a standard ‘quota quickie’ –The Last Journey (1936), but look more closely and you will find an especially memorable human interest thriller.

It is part of what you might call the ‘disaster movie’ genre especially that of the ‘runaway train’. The Twickenham Films production’s plotline is fairly simple – Julian Mitchell plays a train driver due to make his last GWR (steam) train run to ‘Filby’ and  ‘Mulchester’. Reluctant to retire and driven crazy by the (false) idea that his wife (Olga Lindo) is having an affair with is fireman (this is a steam train after all!) played by Michael Hogan , he determines that this trip will be a final one (“No return ticket- this is The Last Journey!”) he screams at Hogan.

However the 66 minutes of the film go quickly as writers John Soutar, H Fowler Meare and Joseph Jefferson Farjeon create as quirky a group of passengers that many a screenwriter could wish for.

Amongst those on board we have a bigamist (the dapper Hugh Williams), a grand stutterer, a likeable bonnie and clyde duo (Eliot Makeham & Eve Gray) robbing their way across GWR, a ‘brain doctor’ (always handy when you have a mentally ill train driver on board) as well as a lady roaming the third class coaches getting people to sign ‘the pledge’ (it is 1936).

Few of the cast made it big and managed to get out of these kind of ‘B’ movies, and whilst the acting is often of the highest ham order, it is a really engaging ride with them.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Last Journey is its director Bernard Vorhaus. Although a New Yorker by birth he was a mentor of the great David Lean and was busy in the 1920s making B films for Republic Pictures and then across the Atlantic including The Last Journey. He also made some important instructional air films with Ronald Reagan. However for Vorhaus, it was not Reagan’s politics that rubbed ofs as he affiliated himself with Communism which led him to be blacklisted in 1951 and moving back to the UK. Rather than resurrect his career on our shores like fellow blacklister Cy Endfield (director of films such as Hell Drivers also on the wonderful Talking Pictures TV), he decided to renovate buildings in England.

Vorhaus’ work was rediscovered in the 1980s when he had a retrospective at the British Film Institute and shortly before he did at the ripe old age of 95, his memoirs were published.

So, The Last Journey is probably his best work and is a very diverting hour or so,