Title: The Great Locomotive Chase (1956; unrated)
Director: Francis D. Lyon
Major Themes: American Civil War, Trains
Synopsis: A retelling of the true story about Union soldiers that stole a train from behind Confederate lines and attempted to destroy the Confederate supply lines by burning bridges.
What a story! I don’t even remember what originally triggered our discussion months ago about The Great Locomotive Chase, but someone in our family ended up looking up the historic event online and found a series of Youtube clips from a movie about it. We didn’t watch the whole thing, though, since some of the videos had been removed. However, we got the gist of this intriguing true story, and recently one of my brothers purchased the DVD so we could see the whole thing.
Did you know that during the US Civil War a band of Union soldiers broke through the Confederate lines, stole a train engine, and attempted to break the Southern railroad connections by burning bridges? I didn’t either—until I was introduced to this movie!
A Union spy, Mr. Andrews, headed the mission, leading about twenty other men into the south. Although told from the point of view of one of the men in his company, this is the tale of a courageous (or else extremely crazy!) patriot. Once in the south, the men first acted as passengers on a train called the Little General, but at an out-of-the-way stop when the conductor, train helpers, and most of the passengers left for breakfast, they quietly uncoupled the remaining passenger coaches, and pulled out of the station! After making good their escape, they stopped several times to cut telegraph wires and pry up short sections of railroad to hinder—and hopefully derail—all following trains. However, the conductor of the Little General quickly realized what was going on, and set off after the men. Was he able to recover his train, or did the Union soldiers under the leadership of Mr. Andrews win a decisive victory by breaking up the Confederate army’s supply line?
The Great Locomotive Chase is a fascinating story, based on true historical fact. Although some details have been changed for the screenplay, the gist of what happened is still there. The whole story is a comedy of errors, and the courage (or else sheer determination) of the real conductor of the train is quite humorous. In all, this is a good movie about a little part of the Civil War, one that would be beneficial added to a curriculum. Also useful if you’re interested in history.
WARNING: There are two scenes you may want to censor: Between 1:11:25 and 1:12:00, the men are trying to escape from Confederate soldiers. Then from 1:21:16 to 1:24:14 there is an all-out fight with men punching each other and wielding guns (some gunshots in the distance). Near the end, we hear (but do not witness) that several men will be hanged. As far as other warnings, there is quite a bit of lying through the story as the men try to cover their identity. There are a few words used that we don’t use. Also, the men are kept in prison and the guards are slightly rough with them at times.
Ages 10 – 12, 12 – 15, 15 and Above, Adults, Family Friendly