“Why’d you do it? You must have been mad.” “No, only annoyed.”
The Rome Express is a train that runs from Paris to Rome. On board are an assorted group of travelers. Zurta (Conrad Veidt) and Tony (Hugh Williams) board the train at the last minute. Zurta, who at one point had planned on stealing a valuable painting by Van Dyck, is looking for Poole (Donald Calthrop) who is in possession of the stolen picture.
Tony’s old flame Asta Marvelle (Esther Ralston), an American Film Star, is traveling with Sam (Finlay Currie), her publicist. His claim to fame is that he was once press agent to Tom Mix’s horse. Asta has a past that Tony is aware of. When the jewelry store she worked at was robbed her picture was in the paper. It jettisoned her into becoming a film star; however, she and Tony had been involved in the robbery of the store.
Mrs. Maxted (Joan Barry) and George Grant (Harold Huth) are also on board. They are a couple having an affair. George runs into his annoying neighbor Tom Bishop (Gordon Harker). Now they need to pretend they don’t know each other. Poole happens to be seated at their dining table so George tells Bishop that he is traveling with Poole. Poole goes along with it because he can see what’s going on and he needs to find another compartment since in his is M. Jolif (Frank Vosper), a French police inspector traveling to Rome.
Finally we have Alistar McBane (Cedric Hardwicke), a skinflint pompous ass businessman and his extremely harried assistant Mills (Eliot Makeham). Alistar had tried to buy the Van Dyck at one time.
Poole and George get roped into a poker game by Tom. Poole is in a panic when he finds that the others in the poker game are Zurta and Tony. With no excuse to leave he is stuck playing cards with the people he’s been trying to avoid. Mills comes in and sits at the next table. He has a briefcase that looks exactly like the one Poole has been clutching since he got on the train. When Mills gets up to leave the waiter hands him the wrong briefcase. When Poole manages to leave the game he takes what he thinks is his briefcase and goes back to George’s compartment.
George is expecting Mrs. Maxted to return to the cabin but Poole, knowing Zurta is looking for him, refuses to leave. When George tries to put him out Poole hits him over the head with a bottle and knocks him out. Zurta, having followed Poole confronts him in George’s compartment. Zurta threatens to toss Poole out the train window. Poole pulls out a knife and ends up stabbed with it by Zurta. When Mrs. Maxted sneaks into the compartment she finds George coming around and a dead Poole.
A train attendant finds out that Poole is dead. Police Inspector Jolif is called on to find out what happened. Jolif takes a lot of twists and turns trying to make his way through the statements of everyone who had contact with Poole to get to the truth.
“The Rome Express” was released in 1932 and was directed by Walter Forde. It is a British film produced by Gaumont British. The movie is an Adventure Crime Drama and was based on a story by Clifford Grey. The film was remade in 1948 as “Sleeping Car to Trieste”.
There really isn’t any mystery here as to who stole the painting and who did the killing. The enjoyment of the film is in the unfolding of the circumstances around the events that took place on the train. The acting is quite good. Veidt at 6’2” is a great villain. Towering over most other actors and with his German accent he is very intimidating even when he smiles. He is easily the best actor in the movie and one of many reasons to watch the film. Veidt is known for his portrayal of Major Strasser in “Casablanca” 1942 and for his silent films “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” 1920 and “The Hands of Orlac” 1924.
The way the story is told is another reason. Although there is little mystery the way the movie flows is a tribute to director Walter Forde and screenwriter Sidney Gilliat. Gilliat is the same screenwriter that did “Night Train to Munich” 1940 and Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Lady Vanishes” 1938.
The Palatino Express or Rome Express was an express train that ran between Paris, France and Rome, Italy. The train had been running since 1890. The train operated daily until interrupted by the Second World War. The service was resumed after the war in 1952. In 1969 is operated under the name Palatino Express. The Palatino Express was discontinued in 2011. It was revived in 2012 but discontinued again in 2013.
If you’re looking for a good movie that takes place on a train, this is it.