“Anything could happen in Baltimore — it’s a nest of secessionists!”
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
… and it’s no spoiler to say, of course, that he survived this initial attempt at taking his life — but the storyline remains surprisingly gripping until then, despite knowing this outcome. Mann (working with DP Paul Vogel) creates an impressively claustrophobic atmosphere on board the train, with shadowy figures literally lurking around every corner, and violence a possibility at all times.
We don’t quite understand at first who each of the characters is or what they stand for, but this suits the narrative perfectly: only gradually do we understand the complex web of deceit being carried out (thank goodness for Powell’s tenacity!).
A subplot involving a slave (Dee) is handled especially well, allowing her to give a surprisingly nuanced performance for such a minor role.
Meanwhile, smarmy Menjou is perfectly cast as a supportive colonel with more up his sleeve than he first reveals:
… and Bates is memorable as a blunt-speaking abolitionist who thinks nothing of asking Dee outright, with gleeful anticipation, “Tell me, my dear: how does it feel being beaten? They did beat you, of course?”
Perhaps most eerie of all is how powerfully the storyline here echoes our current polarized political landscape:
It’s easy enough to believe in a story of complex sedition like this given… Well, given recent events. Enough said.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: