15th May

Night Train to Montrose

The opening shot is of a flat, cold, grey expanse of water with the dawn coming up. Everything is still and peaceful, just the call of a gull and the sound of wings flapping on the water. And then the camera pans slowly, revealing the railway viaduct and the town silhouetted against the brightening sky, with a train steaming across the viaduct into the little station by the water, the Montrose Basin. The platform is deserted except for a porter and a trolley loaded with mailbags and when the train stops the guard’s van door opens and the guard steps down and the porter starts heaving the bags in like he’s throwing in bodies, and even if you don’t know what’s coming, that’s what you think of, bodies. And I believe I’m right in saying that the number of mailbags is exactly the same as the body count in the film. And while this is going on nobody else gets off the train.

Then the guard looks along the platform and you can see he’s about to blow his whistle and at that moment a carriage door swings wide and a man in a fedora steps down. This is Skinner, who’s been away for years and has come back to settle some scores. Who was it played him, Robert Ryan? I think it was Robert Ryan. Anyway, he slams the door and at the same time the guard blows his whistle and the train lets off steam and begins to move, and that’s the cue for all the ducks and other birds in the Basin to take off in a huge commotion of noise and movement, darkening the sky.

Skinner looks at the porter but the porter turns away and then you see the three brothers, the McFees, walking in a huddle along the road to the station. They’ve been hired to stop Skinner before he even starts. They look tough and mean but you’ve already seen Skinner’s eyes and you know they haven’t a chance. And everything goes from there.

It is a great film, but completely neglected now. There was a sequel too, Bad Day at Brechin, but that never did a thing.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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