Great Movies IV

film 2 of 3

The Titfield Thunderbolt

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 2, 2015

Here’s the fictional situation. National Rail is closing down a branch line. Local forces vie. Some of the Ealing comedies can tiptoe inoffensively, but like the best/most forceful of them (cf. The Man in the White Suit particularly), this film blithely tweaks both the left and the right. The union man retires defeated because it turns out that the owners are only exploiting themselves, and quite willingly at that. The rapacious bus line competition is painted in properly sinister capitalist hue—before going on to be affectionate and affirmative about eternal things like the English countryside, craftsmanship, cooperation, and the endless wonder and beauty of plain people. The character of the Vicar is especially delightful, and his similarly train-smitten Bishop nicely broadens the reach and portent of their mutual and pretty obsession. Hugh Griffith is, as usual, a Michel-Simon-like comic juggernaut.  

The film’s various complications and machinations (the battle with the steam roller, the communal water stop, the very effective train wreck, the stolen engine boldly driven right down the street, the cautious Naunton Wayne character’s pleasing repentance) all lead beautifully to a wonderful and gently suspenseful climax: the very happy test run for the fussy inspector who of course turns out to know right from wrong, and very cheerfully allows the folly to run on into eternity.