Railroaded! (1947)

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When a holdup goes wrong, Sheila Ryan has to clear her innocent brother by getting involved with scary bad guy John Ireland. 

“Women should be struck regularly like gongs. That’s from Oscar Wilde, you know.”

“Give it back to him.”

Not counting Oscar Wilde, Anthony Mann’s Railroaded! has some of the hardest boiled dialogue you’ll ever hear; this 1947 film wastes no time and spares no feelings telling the story of a bookie joint holdup gone bad, a robber shot and a policeman killed, some beauticians who must be silenced (the joint was in the back of a salon), and a scapegoat who gets framed. Sheila Ryan plays the tough sister of the scapegoat (Ed Kelly), comes from a family who doesn’t think much of cops and now has all the more reason to be resentful of the law.

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Hugh Beaumont plays the detective who knows the family from school days, and comes down hard on Kelly but also comes to believe he’s innocent. Sheila Ryan decides to use her feminine wiles to get closer to crooks John Ireland and find the evidence that will clear her brother, caring little for her own safety and trusting less in the police’s ability or desire to help her brother. Beaumont takes the high road, pursuing the truth with shoe leather and forensics, while keeping an eye on Ryan, because he’s sweet on her. As their paths cross, Ryan starts to recognize Beaumont’s care and concern, and they both end up in a tight squeeze (different types of squeezes for each) with the dangerous Ireland.

railroaded2Sheila Ryan is good in her role, a nice girl next door type who might be underestimating the trouble she’s getting into but, admirably, has no second thoughts about charging into battle. Beaumont is always fun to watch, you get a different look at him in these movies he made before becoming better known as Ward Cleaver, model dad. Here, he’s rebuffed by Ryan but persistent, authoritative and reasonable, and plays this role like John Payne might do, with a weary goodness and a patient, sometimes playful charm. Jane Randolph gets a great part as the inside vixen at the beauty salon; she gets sucked in, used and then tossed aside by Ireland. As much of a bombshell as Lana Turner, Randolph has sass that jazzes up a tough little noir like this, while also eliciting sympathy for getting tragically tangled up with Ireland.

railroaded3Those folks are all good but the star of this show is Ireland, a human machine gun with laser focus, firing off one word commands and spitting insults like ammo, with women getting the worst of it. The gimmick of Ireland perfuming his bullets is something truly unique, though not very smart from a forensic standpoint. It’s also not very butch, which combined with his distrust and hatred for women makes you wonder what kind of weird complex his character has. When Randolph and Ryan have a catfight, Ireland watches from the dark, clearly enjoying himself and following their movements with his pistol. Ireland makes for a thoroughly creepy figure who’d give both Lawrence Tierney and Richard Widmark the shivers. He just steamrolls on, terrifying, unstoppable and totally unfeeling, not even pausing for dramatic effect when gunning down his Wilde-quoting accomplice, or displaying a smidgen of feeling for anyone.

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Mann didn’t work with his best known director of photography John Alton on this movie, so it lacks his signature dramatic lighting (the darkness is overwhelming but effective here), but Mann uses many nice dolly or long shots and camera angles that bring this quickie to life. It’s pure grit with not one lick of glamour, a raw piece of meat that doesn’t need to rely on big stars but has the material to make them. Like its one-word title, like Ireland’s favourite speech pattern, Railroaded! is short and sweet and hits the mark.

A version of this article was previously published in The Dark Pages Directors’ Issue.

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16 thoughts on “Railroaded! (1947)”

    1. Me too, he’s another one of those really good, solid movie actors (I’m thinking of Raymond Burr here too) that went on to be a TV icon, and people kind of overlook the film work they did.

  1. A lesser known Mann noir that I’m pleased to see highlighted. I agree that John Ireland has an excellent part – he really could play menacing so well when the occasion arose – and it’s a good, tight movie overall.

    1. He really could and did a fine job being so evil. I love these types of noirs, the quick and efficient ones that impress and have great roles. I’m such a Mann fan…

    1. It is, love Mann’s movies in general and his noirs are so good. Ireland does a fine job, reliable is the word, always interesting to watch. Thanks!

    1. That’s right, Mann is one I always bring up when making my argument that noir and western are not really that different. His noirs are so great, nice, simple tough crime gems.

  2. Another movie I added to my ever expanding Netfilx Queue. I need to take a year off to watch all these great films. Thanks for the review.

    1. A year off AND a clone to help you watch. 🙂 that’s what my “to watch” list needs. Luckily lots of these older movie are short so you can see more of them. Thanks for reading!

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