The Great Locomotive Chase (1956)
Civil War Disney style. Where heroism takes place and not a drop of blood is spilled.
While I am no civil war buff I must admit to loving the films that focus on the war between the states. Shenandoah comes to mind. I’ve even taken the family to Gettysburg on a road trip. So there’s definitely an interest.
Which brings me to this Disney production with their favorite leading man of the era, Fess Parker. Parker stars as a Union spy who along with a troop of undercover soldiers ventures into the south to uproot the rail system of the confederacy in hopes of shortening and hopefully winning the war.
Joining Parker are the likes of Harry Carey Jr. and Don Megowan. It’s while on the train they intend to steal that Parker meets the man who will prove to be his pursuer in Jeffrey Hunter.
Once Parker and his cohorts get possession of Hunter’s train they head for the northern borders. On route they stop repeatedly to remove rail ties and cut the telegraph wires in order to throw the south into disarray. A mustached Hunter will not let anything get in his way as he seeks vengeance against Parker who has embarrassed him through his skullduggery.
A good majority of the film is dedicated to Parker and his men riding the rails and Hunter along with Kenneth Tobey in pursuit.
There’s a slight skirmish here and there but it isn’t until the film’s final few minutes that any actual fighting takes place. There’s a few punches thrown but not a single musket ball finds it’s mark. Remember this is a Disney film, not The Horse Soldiers.
There are some decent character actors that turn up here but are sadly underused. The previously mentioned Harry Carey Jr., Slim Pickens and making his first foray into films Mr. Morgan Woodward. For me Woodward will always be The Man With No Eyes from Cool Hand Luke.
I think I would have preferred a more realistic approach here with someone like Raoul Walsh behind the camera and a bit more realism for overall effect. As it stands it’s a Disney take on this true tale of civil war heroism from director Francis D. Lyon with a decent group of actors turning up.
On the plus side is the fact that real trains are used here as opposed to trains of the scaled down model types. Strings of Dixie play over the soundtrack to good effect as well in this color production with Fess Parker at the height of his fame coming off the Davy Crockett series of shows from Uncle Walt’s production company.