September 25, 1947, release date
Directed by Anthony Mann
Screenplay by John C. Higgins
Based on a story by Gertrude Walker
Music by Alvin Levin
Edited by Louis Sackin
Cinematography by Guy Roe
Sheila Ryan as Rosie Ryan
Hugh Beaumont as Mickey Ferguson
Jane Randolph as Clara Calhoun
Charles D. Brown as Police Capt. MacTaggart
Clancy Cooper as Detective Jim Chubb
Peggy Converse as Marie Weston
Ed Kelly as Steve Ryan
Hermine Sterler as Mrs. Ryan
Keefe Brasselle as Cowie Kowalski
Roy Gordon as Jackland Ainsworth
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films
Produced by Producers Releasing Corporation
I was ready to be disappointed when I saw the cartoonish cover of the DVD copy of Railroaded! that I had borrowed. Instead, I found a very gritty film noir that was full of surprises, one of the first being Hugh Beaumont as a police detective, Sergeant Ferguson, and not his fatherly Ward Cleaver character from the television show Leave It to Beaver (1957–1963). Railroaded! was inspired by the same case on which another film noir, Call Northside 777, starring Jimmy Stewart, is based. Call Northside 777 is much closer to the real-life case.
Click here for more information at Wikipedia about the arrest and conviction of Joseph Majczek and Theodore Marcinkiewicz, whose case formed the basis for both Railroaded! and Call Northside 777.
The opening credits of Railroaded! appear over a nighttime city scene. The scene cuts to the camera moving closer to a nighttime street, then closer to street level, and finally to a storefront called Carla Calhoun: Your House of Beauty. The editing and the camera shots set up the story and the atmosphere from the beginning, going from a general urban scene to a location where the narrative begins. Pedestrians pass by Carla’s shop; one is a police officer walking his beat.
Two men with scarves over their faces hold up the beauty shop, but Clara, the proprietor, is remarkably unconcerned. She apparently is in on the plot: She signaled via opening and closing the back door that the beauty shop was closing for the day. Marie is one of Clara’s coworkers, and she screams when one of the robbers, Kowalski, puts his rifle barrel in her face. Kowalski is shot by Officer O’Hara, the one who strolled past the storefront just minutes ago. Officer O’Hara entered the shop after hearing Marie scream. Kowalski and Duke Martin struggle to escape because Kowalski has been shot by Officer O’Hara. Kowalski stumbles and pulls the scarf off Duke’s face and it drops to the floor before the two of them escape in a laundry truck from Larson’s Laundry.
In a matter of minutes, in a film that is barely more than an hour long, viewers are introduced to many details quickly and efficiently. I was pulled into the story from the start.
Marie and Clara, as witnesses, go to the police station and argue over the color of the men’s hair. Marie says that both had dark hair; Clara says that one had dark hair and one had sandy hair. The police believe Clara. Her statements to the police mean that she will be a witness at Steve Ryan’s trial, and Duke Martin, who is Clara’s boyfriend, has to make sure that she sticks to the story she told the police.
Detective Sergeant Mickey Ferguson and his partner Jim Chubb investigate Steve Ryan. He works for Larson’s Laundry, he has sandy hair, and his scarf was found at Clara’s beauty shop. The scarf is distinctive: It is navy- or army-issue and has Steve’s initials stenciled on it. In fact, he states that he stenciled his initials himself. Steve is taken on suspicion of armed robbery and homicide of a police officer. Both Rosie Ryan, Steve’s sister, and Mrs. Ryan, Steve’s mother, insist that Steve is innocent.
(This blog post about Railroaded! contains spoilers.)
John Ireland’s portrayal of Duke Martin is a real treat. He’s a man of few words, but he exudes evil and violence. He doesn’t trust anyone, and no one should trust him. Rosie Ryan tries to clear her brother’s name and uses any information she can get from Duke to do that. But Duke is interested only in self-preservation. Toward the end of the film, convinced that Rosie is double-crossing him, Duke pulls a gun on her and shoots her. This scene surprised me: Even in film noir, it’s unusual for the female lead, one who is not a femme fatale, to be the victim of such blatant violence.
Rosie misjudges Duke, but she doesn’t trust him as much as his girlfriend Clara Calhoun does. The realization that Duke will do anything to protect himself comes to Clara very slowly, only after his evasiveness about Marie’s disappearance (she’s been shot and her body dumped) and Sergeant Ferguson’s insistence that Duke is the one who murdered Marie.
The film’s conclusion is a neat wrap-up that seemed a little quick to me, but Railroaded! was almost certainly a B film on a 1947 marquee bill, which meant that brevity served the story and the theater lineup at that time extremely well. The ending lets viewers know that they are back on safe ground: The final scene is brightly lit, and Steve Ryan is home from jail, Rosie has her arm in a black sling, and Mickey Ferguson asks Rosie if she has changed her mind about cops.