A terrorist has placed a bomb on board a train transporting sea mines to Portsmouth. The train is stopped but near a small town, which actually exacerbates the problem. In desperation, the local authorities contact Peter Lyncort, a former Canadian Royal Engineers munitions expert, and ask him to help them dismantle the explosive device. Peter accepts the assignment. He is given no more than five hours to achieve his dangerous mission.Written by
Despite the fact that the film is set in 1950's working Birmingham, there's not a trace of a Brummie accent from a single character. The cast manage 'educated RP', cockney and estuary English - all from London and the South East of England. See more »
When first made, this film was known in Britain as "Time Bomb", but in the US it was released under the title "Terror on a Train", and is sometimes referred to by that title when shown on British television today. The story is a fairly simple one. A terrorist has placed a time bomb on board a trainload of naval mines, being transported between the factory in Birmingham and the Royal Navy Yard at Portsmouth. (We do not learn very much about the terrorist or his motivation, although he appears to be a lone individual not working as part of an organised group). The police become aware of the plot and stop the train in a siding. Major Peter Lyncort, a Canadian-born wartime bomb disposal expert now working for a Birmingham firm, is called in to deal with the situation while the police organise the evacuation of neighbouring residential areas. There is also a subplot dealing with the relationship between Lyncort and his French wife Janine who, tired of her dull life as the wife of a Birmingham businessman, is threatening to leave him.
Rather oddly, given that he is described as a native of French-speaking Quebec, Lyncort is unable to speak his wife's language. I suspect, however, that the decision to make Lyncort a Canadian was taken at the last minute when the Canadian-born Hollywood star Glenn Ford was drafted in to play the part. During this period, Hollywood actors were often cast in British films to increase their appeal to the North American market, another example being "The Purple Plain", starring Gregory Peck as a character who was British in H E Bates's original novel but Canadian in the film.
I don't think that the Lyncort/Janine sub-plot adds much to the story, but it may have been included because, even with it, the film has a short running time, less than an hour and a half. Without it the film may well have been too short to be shown in cinemas, even as a second feature. It does not appear to have been a box-office success when released in 1953, but has since garnered some appreciation among film buffs. With the exception of Herbert C. Walton as "Old Charlie", a childish, possibly mentally handicapped, old man with a fascination for trains who refuses to be evacuated despite the pleadings of the police, none of the cast really stand out. Ford, who could be excellent in American films noirs, seems rather wasted as Lyncort.
The direction by Ted Tetzlaff, however, is good, and there is a sense of ever-mounting tension as Lyncort tries to find and defuse the bomb. I would not classify this is film noir- genuine noir generally involved a deeper level of characterisation and a greater degree of moral ambiguity- but it includes some noir characteristics such as attractive expressionist black-and-white photography of the night-time city. Despite the low budget, this is a very decent example of a tautly-made suspense thriller. 6/10
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