LADY ON A TRAIN. Universal Pictures, 1945. Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, George Coulouris, Allen Jenkins, Dan Duryea, Edward Everett Horton, Jacqueline deWit, Patricia Morison. Original story: Leslie Charteris. Director: Charles David.

   This is a fun little comedy with noir elements, made late in Deanna Durbin’s career when she was trying to escape from the girl next door roles she apparently felt trapped in. After only a few more films she pulled a Garbo and retired from public life. (Durbin later married the film’s director and they retired to live on a farm outside Paris.)

   Debutante Nicki Collins (Durbin) is on a train from San Francisco, on a visit to her aunt. When the train is about to pull into Grand Central Station in New York she glances up from the mystery she is reading and out the window of the train. She sees into the window of the building opposite and watches as a man with his back to her strikes another man in the head with a blunt object.


   When she reaches New York she goes to the police (William Frawley as the desk sergeant) to report a murder but he thinks she is a crank. She contacts Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), the writer of the mystery she was reading, but he doesn’t want to help her either.

   So she decides to investigate on her own. Here she becomes Nancy Drew — she discovers the identity of the victim, and goes to his house, where during the reading of the will she is mistaken for a night club singer who was having an affair with the victim and who also is his major heir.

   She gets to meet the victim’s nutty family and his sinister servants, one of whom may be the killer. This mistake allows her to assume the identity of the singer at the nightclub The Circus and seamlessly sing several numbers including “Night and Day.”


   What is very rare for a movie of the period, she is not the companion of the male writer; she leads the investigation, and shows no fear even when she gets herself into dangerous situations. It doesn’t hurt the story any that she is also very pretty and has a terrific voice.

   The black and white photography is very good, with major noir overtones featuring scenes of dark shadows, unlit rooms, and sections filmed outside at night. About the only drawback to the movie is some very mild racial stereotyping of the writer’s black servant. If you have never seen this before, give it a try.

Rating:   B Plus.