Paradise Express (1937)

US / 53 minutes / bw / Republic Dir: Joseph Kane Pr: Nat Levine Scr: Jack Natteford, Betty Burbridge Story: Allan Vaughan Elston, Paul Perez Cine: Jack Marta Cast: Grant Withers, Dorothy Appleby, Arthur Hoyt, Maude Eburne, Harry Davenport, Donald Kirke, Arthur Loft, Lew Kelly, Anthony Pawley, Fern Emmett, John Holland, Bob McClung, Bruce Mitchell, Guy Wilkerson, George Cleveland, Horace Murphy, Ralph McCullough.

The Moon Valley Short Line Railroad is on its last legs, despite the efforts of its curmudgeonly boss, Jed Carson (Davenport), and his feisty granddaughter Kay (Appleby). Both of them initially loathe the receiver the company’s creditors have appointed, Lawrence/Laurence (the movie gives both spellings) “Larry” Doyle (Withers):

Kay: “[He wants] more dismissals? It’s a pity someone can’t dismiss Mr. Lawrence with a well aimed sledgehammer.”

The trouble is that the Armstrong Trucking Corp., led by slimeball Armstrong (Kirke), is undercutting the railroad’s prices and even its transit times.

Dorothy Appleby as Kay and Grant Withers as Larry.

Yet Larry proves to have the railroad’s interests at heart. He soon earns Kay’s devotion and eventually wins over even old man Jed.

If the railroad can prove to the local Farmers’ Co-Operative it can offer better service on the route to the local hub, Paradise, while matching Armstrong’s prices, its future will be assured. Armstrong, his sleazy fixer Glover (Loft) and their covert dirty-tricks operators Stymie (Pawley) use sabotage to try to scupper the railroad’s chances, being undeterred even when their efforts result in the deaths of railroadmen Tom Wilson (Kelly) and Gus (Holland).

Harry Davenport as Jed Carson.

There’s not really a whole lot to say about this fast-paced little Republic B-feature. The effects—especially when a group of railroad types stand atop a racing train, passing huge blocks of ice forward to keep the boiler supplied—are surprisingly ambitious for a movie whose budget must have been doled out peanut by peanut.

Donald Kirke as Armstrong.

Anthony Pawley as Stymie.

Dorothy Appleby had lots of small parts in small movies, eventually earning a minor reputation as a comedienne in shorts. That she never established herself as a B queen is, on the evidence of Paradise Express, a loss to B-movie fans everywhere. Grant Withers, by contrast, made a name for himself in major movies only for his career to take a downward trajectory, until he was reduced to playing support parts or even bit roles in countless minor movies. His greatest claim to fame may have been his elopement in 1930 with Loretta Young; as she was just 17 at the time, it’s hardly surprising the marriage was annulled within a matter of months. Withers, who thereafter played opposite John Wayne in a number of John Ford Westerns, committed suicide through a barbiturates overdose in 1959 at age 54: “Please forgive me, my family. I was so unhappy. It’s better this way.”

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