Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin) is traveling from San Francisco to New York to spend the Christmas holiday with her aunt. Just before the train gets to Grand Central Station the train stops. Looking out the window Nikki sees an elderly man arguing with someone in through the window of a building across the tracks. The other man has his back to her so she can’t see his face. He pulls the shade down and Nikki sees his shadow pick up a crowbar and kill the older man. The train starts up again.
When the train pulls into the station she races to the nearest police station to report the crime. When the sergeant sees the detective novel she has been reading he thinks she is a kook and ignores her. Not to be put off Nikki goes to see Wayne Morgan (David Bruce), the writer of the detective novel she had been reading, to enlist his help. She ends up following Morgan and his fiancée Joyce Williams (Patricia Morison) to a theater still pestering him to get his help. In a newsreel she sees the report of the death of the man she saw murdered. The murdered man was Josiah Waring and the newsreel says he died accidentally.
Knowing this isn’t true Nikki goes to the Waring estate to gather evidence. Nikki is mistaken for Waring’s fiancée Margo and sits in on the reading of the will. She then finds out that Margo inherited the entire estate. Prowling around the house she finds the bloody slippers that Waring had been wearing when he was killed. It takes some doing but she manages to take them away with her.
Two minions involved in the cover up, Danny (Allen Jenkins) and Mr. Saunders (George Coulouris) know that Nikki got away with the shoes. Danny tracks down her hotel and manages to steal the slippers back. Nikki’s only clue to finding who is involved is the real Margo Martin (Maria Palmer). Margo is a singer at a nightclub called The Circus. Margo shows up at the club and finds herself in the middle of more murders. Morgan also ends up at the club and finds himself not only in the middle of the murders but also falling in love with Nikki.
“Lady on a Train” was released in 1945 and was directed by Charles David. It is a crime mystery and a film noir. It’s also a comedy and a bit of a musical.
Even though it’s not your normal noir it is a well done film full of humor and smart dialogue. The pace is good and the acting is great with some well seasoned character actors. What makes the film noir are the greed and the woman in peril themes that run through the film.
I grew up watching Deanna Durbin movies and if you are at all familiar with her you know that if she is in a film, there will be singing. Noir or not. Deanna Durbin was a Canadian born singer and actress who could sing anything from pop tunes to opera. Known as “Winnipeg’s Sweetheart” she sang in over twenty films in the thirties and forties.
Make no mistake “Lady on a Train” is not some dark and deep surreal Hitchcockian melodrama with hardboiled characters but it is fun and engaging. If you like your noir Mickey Spillane or Dashiell Hammett style you may not care for this, but if you like your mysteries humorous and don’t mind a little singing on the side this might be enjoyable to you.