This remake of ROME EXPRESS (1932) is a real treat for lovers of British mysteries. Boasting equal parts humor and intrigue, SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE may have outlived the usefulness of its comic interludes, but the impact of its suspense remains undiminished by the passage of time.
Rattling over the train tracks linking glamorous European cities, this sleekly produced foreign adventure can still push susceptible thrill-seekers onto the edge of their seats.
Originally in league with cosmopolitan spy, Valya (Jean Kent), and her trigger-happy colleague, Zurta (Albert Lieven), oily espionager, Carl aka "Charles Poole" (Alan Wheatley), steals a confidential journal from the home of an ambassador in Paris. Double-crossing politically motivated Valya and
Zurta, greedy Poole boards an express train headed for Trieste and Zagreb, where he will sell the diary to the highest bidder. Also embarking on the high-speed journey are amateur adulterers George (Derrick DeMarnay) and Joan (Rona Anderson), inscrutable French inspector Jolif (Paul Dupuis),
pompous author MacBain (Finlay Currie), MacBain's harried secretary Mills (Hugh Burden), and lawyer George's ex-client Tom Bishop (David Tomlinson), whose insufferable meddling ruins George and Joan's tryst.
After refusing to share quarters with overly curious Jolif, Poole stashes the stolen journal in another compartment, which he is forced to relinquish to stuffed-shirt celebrity MacBain. Although Valya and Zurta initially have difficulty locating ex-comrade Poole, Bishop's insistence on Poole's
participation in a card game forces him out into the open. Sweating through several poker hands, Poole can't shake Zurta. Later, trying to hide out from Zurta in George's compartment, Poole defiantly refuses to vacate the room, leading to a scuffle. After Poole conks out George, Zurta enters and
kills Poole before he can learn of the diary's whereabouts.
Subsequently, George and Joan are grilled by Inspector Jolif after a purser discovers Poole's corpse. Zurta's caught ransacking MacBain's compartment; his thwarted search enables tight-fisted MacBain to appropriate the journal. Only when his secretary threatens him with exposure does MacBain turn
over the diary in a false display of magnanimity. When a passenger blows Zurta's alibi about his activities during Poole's slaying, Zurta grabs a guard's gun and leaps off the train--right into the path of an oncoming express. Clearing George and Joan of suspicion, Inspector Jolif takes Valya into
personal custody after cracking the case of the purloined political journal.
The above synopsis overlooks several extraneous, droll subplots (e.g., a snooty French chef trains an English cook with no flair for haute cuisine; two French coquettes coax male passengers to declare some of their purchases for them to avoid the travel tax; a Yank soldier can't get rid of an
insipid, bird-watching, travel companion). None of these comic sidebars figures in the plot at all, and one wishes the scriptwriter had at least factored these peripheral characters in as eyewitnesses to the proceedings. Aside from these dated interruptions good only for a few chuckles, SLEEPING
CAR TO TRIESTE picks up sufficient speed for a breathtaking climax. As slippery traitor Poole shuffles in and out of various hiding places, the viewer almost pities him because he's no match for the professional ruthlessness of Zurta. The film's chief strength lies in the war of nerves played out
by its principals; it even deftly counterpoints the political chicanery indulged in by Valya and Zurta with the thwarted rendezvous of George and Joan. By the time the noted Inspector Jolif rounds up these suspects and grills them in classic Hercule Poirot fashion, the audience is held in thrall.
Here, then, is a crisply performed, smartly directed progenitor of the all-star Agatha Christie mysteries that were reborn with MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974. A godsend for Anglophiles, SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE leaves no loose plot-ends, individualizes even minor characters, and entertains
in a civilized style that's practically a lost art. (Violence.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: This remake of ROME EXPRESS (1932) is a real treat for lovers of British mysteries. Boasting equal parts humor and intrigue, SLEEPING CAR TO TRIESTE may have outlived the usefulness of its comic interludes, but the impact of its suspense remains undiminish… (more)