Movies and Transportation

This may seem to be an unusual topic but there is a reason behind it.

Yesterday, I took the train down to Washington D.C. to visit my sister. The ride is usually 2 1/2 hours, but that’s not what happened. Instead of arriving at 5:20 PM, I arrived at Union Station at about 7:30. Here’s why.

About 10 minutes outside of Baltimore, the train I’m on breaks down. The engineer cannot fix the engine so mechanics on the next northbound train are brought to the rescue. They can’t fix it either. So I have to transfer trains.

The first train that comes fills up and a second one is needed. By this point the 50 or so people left in the car (myself included) are getting restless. “Where’s Anderson Cooper when you need him?”, “What did the passengers on the Titanic supposively sing?”, “What would they do if we rioted?”

Fortunately, I got on the second train but as the train left you could see the faces of the other passengers peering out the windows, being left behind for the third time.

This fun adventure on public transportation got me thinking. And because I have a one track mind, I immediatly started thinking about movies.

Transportation in the movies. Believe it or not, trains, taxis, airplanes, subways, buses can be important elements in a film. They can add an element to a scene and often move a picture along.

Some examples are less important than others but it’s amazing what you come up with when you’re stranded on a hot, sticky, and unairconditioned train for over an hour.

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The Graduate opens with the unconfident Benjamin Braddock on an airport conveyer belt, practically falling off the screen. The film ends with Benjamin and Eileen (Katherine Ross) on a bus, after he’s stopped her wedding. The two look exactly as Ben did in that opening scene. Lost and unsure of the future.

On the Waterfront. Where does Marlon Brando’s infamous “I could’ve been a contender” speech take place? In a taxi cab.

A Streetcar Named Desire. Southern belle Blanche DuBois arrives in New Orleans by the streetcar named Desire with her extravagent clothes and failed dreams packed neatly in her trunk. Lets just say that she doesn’t leave that way.

Taxi Driver. Due to insomnia, Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) takes a job as a nighttime cab driver. He witnesses the decay of the city and he decides to take action against the sleaze.

Forrest Gump. Forrest utters that famous line, “Life is like a box chocolates. You never know what you’re going to find,” at the bus stop, waiting so he can visit Jenny (Robin Wright).

The drama that unfolds in Airport is probably anyone’s worst nightmare. A snowstorm nearly shuts down the airport, a bomber is on board an airplane, and everyone else has an endless amount of melodrama to last a lifetime.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a femme fatale who stop will stop at nothing to kill her husband in Double Indemnity. After, she convinces Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband, the pair tries to pass off his death as an accident. This becomes a difficult task that involves a train.

In A Night at the Opera the Marx Brothers play theater agents, hoping to get an up and coming opera star signed to a major contract. They have to travel across the Atlantic by steamship on only one ticket. Chico, Harpo, and the singer hide in Groucho’s trunk. The trunk takes up most of the space in the stateroom. As the voyage progesses more and more people enter the crowded stateroom, until finally someone opens the door and 12 people fall out.

The Lady Eve. Opposites attract. Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck) is a con artist and Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) is a scientist who studies reptiles. They meet on a steamship crossing the Atlantic and fall instantly in love. But when her secret is revealed, can their love survive?

An Affair to Remember is a remake of Love Affair (1939). In both pictures, the lovers (played first by Charles Boyer and Irene and then, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) meet and fall in love on an ocean liner bound for New York City. At the end of their voyage they vow to meet 6 months later at the top of the Empite State Building. She doesn’t show up and their romance is nothing but a memory.

North by Northwest. Cary Grant’s character is traveling north by Northwest airlines. But an overnight train plays the more significant role in this Hitchcock thriller. He meets Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who becomes his accomplice, helping him hide from the men trying to kill him. Of course the Hitchcock blondeisn’t always what s he seems to be.

In Cat Ballou, the soon-to-be female outlaw, meets her future partners on a train destined for her hometown. The only problem is that she is a schoolteacher and they are running from the authorities. Later, when Cat is sentenced to death, her partners save her in an impressive stagecoach rescue.

In Risky Business, Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay get it on on the El and this made me question how sanitary subways/metros/trains really are.

Charade. A personal favorite. Audrey Hepburn to Cary Grant. “You know what’s wrong with you? Absolutely nothing.” So true and she says this line on a Parisian river taxi.

Picnic. So a freight train isn’t really a method of public transportation but if that is how William Holden’s journeyman arrived in a small Kansas town, then it’s fine by me. And it’s William Holden, so who cares?

And my top five picks:

5. Stagecoach. Despite not being the biggest Western fan, this one has always been enjoyable . A group of unique and very different passengers board a stagecoach that has to travel straight through Indian Territory.

4. The French Connection. Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider play New York City narcotics detectives who uncover a drug smuggler with a French connection. At one point, Det. Doyle(Hackman) learns that an illegal load of heroin is on the elevated rail. He jumps into a vehicle and begins one of the best high speed chases in cinema. He follows the rail, ignoring pedestrians, and oncoming traffic, just so he can capture the bad guys.

3. It Happened One Night. She (Claudette Colbert) is an heiress trying to escape her overbearing lifestyle. He (Clark Gable) is a recently fired newspaperman looking for the next big story. When they board a bus to New York City and are forced to sit next to eachother, a road trip romantic comedy is the result.


2. Yes, airplanes are technically not public transportation. But how could a movie list about transportation not include Airplane!? It’s a parody of Airport.

1. In Brief Encounter housewife Laura Harvey and doctor Alec Harvey meet in a railway station cafe. They gradually fall in love despite being married to other people. The train becomes a symbol of their impossible love and eventual separation.

4 thoughts on “Movies and Transportation”

  1. Great list .. My favorite would have to be that Jim Jarmusch flick about taxi rides … this is awfully embarassing, but the name escapes me now except for it had the word “Night” in it .. it’s been a long day at work, so please forgive me

  2. I looked it up. The movie you’re thinking of is “Night on Earth”. I really like Jim Jarmusch so I’m going to check it out.

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