Trains and the Silver Screen

Words by Belmond Editors

Trains and the Silver Screen

A couple dressed elegantly in coats and hat walk by the side of the carriage. Behind them gold-trimmed stewards carry bags

The cinematic allure of train travel has been a Hollywood obsession for decades, from murder mysteries to romantic comedies. We explore the romance of the rails.

All Passengers for Hollywood

“Don’t you find respectable people terribly... dull?” Marlene Dietrich says huskily in the 1932 film Shanghai Express. Shadows wax and wane across her face in a darkened sleeping car, revealing curls, jewels and a knowing, arched eyebrow. It’s true that her role as the temptress Shanghai Lily benefited from the looser morals of Pre-Code Hollywood, the time before censorship began in 1934. But the atmosphere is all the more enchanting thanks to the setting: a train.

Even when high-end train travel was more common, directors still found trains to be an exciting setting for their plots. Romances could be slowly teased out; stories could develop in hidden compartments; sparks could fly across carriage tables. But are these experiences banished to the past, leaving us only dreaming of being rocked to sleep in a gilded cabin? Are these movies with train travel the closest we can get to living out our own Dietrich fantasy?

Not at all. The opulence of Shanghai Express can be experienced today aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express, A Belmond Train. Drawing inspiration from the Far East, the train travels between Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Its historic carriages were designed by Nippon Sharyo in Japan then remodelled in Singapore. Decorations include Thai silks and Malaysian embroidery. Rumbling past famed landmarks and lush jungle, a journey transports you back to an era that still enchants on the big screen.

All Change

The popularity of movies set on trains helped make celebrities of its actors. Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave shot to fame after playing stylish travelers in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes. The pair must team up when a woman goes missing on their journey from an unknown European country to London. Darting in and out of carriages to unearth hidden clues, the pair tease, scold and flirt with one another. The British humour—dry, quick and with a touch of nonchalance —makes this one of Hitchcock’s most charming comedies. The Lady Vanishes represents the excitement of train travel: what hijinks will unfold? Will there be crime-busting, or will you meet with a handsome stranger? Such is the film’s comedic allure that Orson Welles reportedly saw it eleven times.

Though we hope no murder plots unfold aboard our Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train, it’s certainly a trip that will provide lifelong memories. As you are whisked away from your departure station and back in time, you’ll experience many of the cherished traditions of train travel. Connect with strangers; listen to the stories told by liveried stewards; marvel at stunning craftsmanship in every nook and cranny. Who will you encounter as you take your seat in historical Bar Car 3674? Will the meeting be as fateful as the one in North by Northwest, where Cary Grant meets a mysterious femme fatale aboard a sleeper train? Or will you simply marvel at the snow-capped Swiss mountains framing your route into Italy?

Next Stop

The train in Brief Encounter, the second best British film of all time according to an expert poll, is almost a character in itself. The classic love story sees a married woman, Laura, fall in love with a handsome stranger at a railway station. She has something in her eye, he helps remove it—a classic movie meet cute. Her train journey from the peaceful English countryside into town to meet her beloved is an inner journey, too. Striking shots of Laura gazing out of her carriage window reflect both her excitement and the wistful allure of the unknown. This characterizes train travel: its unhurried approach allowing you to reflect, to take things slow, to collect your thoughts.

Aboard the British Pullman, A Belmond Train, unhurried journeys allow you to travel through England countryside just like Laura. Departing from London, experiences range from steam-hauled trips to murder mystery lunches and quintessentially British afternoon teas. The restored 1920s carriages have themselves seen action on the silver screen, such as in Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave and Paddington 2. The train’s history is palpable, from the legacy of the statesmen who graced the carriages to the art deco furnishings. Lush pastures roll past your window, inviting you to daydream in blissful comfort.

With travelers becoming increasingly eco-conscious and indeed nostalgic, train travel is enjoying a boom in popularity. Perhaps it’s a collective yearning to experience something brand new after a year of routine and familiarity. Who could you meet aboard a luxury train? Will your new companion be a stylish socialite like Gene Tierney, who enchants the protagonist aboard a train journey in Leave Her To Heaven? Or will laughs-a-plenty be the soundtrack to your trip, like Carole Lombard’s zany adventures in Twentieth Century? The treasures of train travel are waiting to enchant, entertain and inject much-needed vitality back into your wanderlust.

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