Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Titfield Thunderbolt

(UK, 1953)

There seem to be two sorts of British comedy, things they do better than anyone else. One is the wild, over-the-top insanity best expressed by Monty Python, the sort that grew out of the silly British institution of “panto.” The other is the gentle, understated humour of the Ealing comedies of the 1950s, of which this is a good example. It is the first one to be made in colour, and it was a wise choice, with its panoramas of the English countryside and the charming little toot-toot engines and cars puttering about at 25 mph. One of them (actually the Lion, playing the Thunderbolt) was over 100 years old even back then. It could actually only achieve 15 mph, and had to be pushed to go any faster. The story concerns the efforts of a small town to save its little branch railway, which was to be shut down and replaced with buses. A lot of that going down in Britain in those days of nationalization and “efficiency,” just as GM was bribing city governments to tear up the streetcar lines in the US. It’s a charming little story with few belly laughs but a lot of grins.