The Last Train from Madrid (1937)

Dorothy Lamour, Lew Ayres, Gilbert Roland, Karen Morley,
The story of seven people: their lives and love affairs in Madrid during the Civil War.
  • 6.3 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Louis Stevens, Robert Wyler, Paul Hervey Fox, Elsie Fox, Writer:
  • James P. Hogan, Director:
  • George M. Arthur, Producer:

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6 / 10

The city besieged

Seeing this film over 75 years after it came out you had to wonder about how Hollywood treated this film as history. During the time we cannot tell who's occupying Madrid and who's being a traitor to who. That word is flung about in The Last Train To Madrid. But if you know nothing about the Spanish Civil War you would not know it was the Loyalists that occupied Madrid. Loyalists/Republicans held the Spanish capital and two years later the surrender of Madrid signaled the end of the War in a Nationalist triumph. Two years after this film was seen by our movie-going public.

In 1936 the war started as a revolt of the army against the duly elected Republican government. It is discussed by historians to this day as to whether they were justified. But they did it and when Lionel Atwill calls Anthony Quinn a traitor I'm not sure who was betraying what. Part of the plot calls for Quinn to aid his old friend Gilbert Roland who's with the other side escape Madrid. But I can only guest that Atwill is part of the army Nationalist Revolt and Quinn has betrayed it and Roland even more so by being loyal to the Spanish Republic.

The Last Train From Madrid has the city besieged and there will be a last train going out before the tracks are destroyed. Passes will be issued on a limited basis and they become as valued as those famous Letters of Transit in Casablanca. The film is the story of those trying to leave Madrid and how successful they are.

A bit of Grand Hotel, a bit of Shanghai Express is the best way to describe this film. It would rate higher with me if it was more explicit.

7 / 10

Conventional melodrama with cliché characters and situations...

Before America's involvement in the Second World War, Hollywood's attitudes towards events in Europe were, to say the least, ambiguous? Greed (the fear of losing foreign markets), and the threat of backlash from powerful isolationist groups within the country meant that the films tended to avoid the controversial issues of fascism? Hollywood as a whole ? though there were a few dedicated anti-fascists ? prided itself on not taking sides?

Two films claiming to be about the Spanish Civil War somehow managed to evade mentioning who the combatants were and what the fighting was about?

'The Last Train From Madrid' is a conventional melodrama about the plight of a group of people waiting to board the last train out of a besieged Madrid? The war has no other function here than to provide the element of suspense? More serious is 'Blockade,'1938 directed by William Dieterle? The film stars Henry Fonda as a Spanish peasant who reluctantly takes arms to defend his country

6 / 10

Remember Casablanca? Now it's Madrid.

Why Hollywood placed a story amid the Spanish Civil War is beyond me. They couldn't commit to either side; consequently, we don't know who is on whose side or what the sides are. Pathetic.

The Loyalists occupy Madrid, but you won't get that from the movie. They surrendered Madrid and the Nationalists won. You won't get that either

The Last Train From Madrid concerns the last train leaving the city before the tracks are destroyed. You need a pass in order to board. And people are desperate to get them.

An incredibly young Anthony Quinn plays Alvarez, who helps a friend, de Soto, to escape capture. De Soto is apparently on the opposite side that Alvarez is supposed to be on. Alvarez is then accused of being a traitor by his superior, Col. Vigo (Lionel Atwill).

De Soto runs to the home of his former lover Carmelita (Dorothy Lamour), only to learn that she is otherwise engaged and not leaving Madrid alone. He then has to find another way to escape.

Cummings plays a young soldier, Ramos, who can't bring himself to execute a man; when he is transferred to the front line, he deserts. Lew Ayres plays a newspaperman who gives a female hitchhiker, Maria (Olympe Bradna) a ride - she's also a deserter. De Soto's pass finally comes from a woman (Karen Morley) who pays a high price for getting him one.

Someone compared this to Grand Hotel. In a way, yes, with a war as the background, albeit a confusing one.

7 / 10

Far Better Film Than I Expected! Engrossing When It Shouldn't Be!

I had not seen "The Last Train from Madrid" since I was a child when it was broadcast regularly on KTLA-5 in Los Angeles. I watched it tonight, not expecting anything beyond a B film. I watched it because I like Lew Ayres' acting and I didn't realize that he was in this film.

I watched it and, although the film put a disclaimer about not taking sides in the Spanish Civil War (which was a recent world event and going on when this film was made), the script displayed enough anti-militaristic messages and a sense of dread offer a muted, veiled support of Republican Spain. Nonetheless, the film states that it is focusing on the dramas that play out in times of war among people.

Many commentators are judging this film with 21st Century eyes. No one can go back in time and redo the film to suit subsequent historical research and people's sense of justice. It was made in 1937 and reflected the largely isolationist attitudes that most Americans had about the war. It was writers and actors, in and out of Hollywood, that were committed to tell Americans about the horrors of the civil war. To be fair, no other film industry was making films with the Spanish Civil War as a theme.

Nevertheless, I was engrossed way beyond my expectations by the story written by Robert and Elsie Fox, writers that I had never heard of before but I will research them now that I've seen one of their scripts produced. While there are elements of "Grand Hotel" and "Shanghai Express" in this film, the interweaving of characters surviving to get out of the Spanish Civil War was done masterfully and, with the exception of Dorothy Lamour's character, the other characters were compelling individuals, within the constraints of an 87-minute running time and plausibility. Although I felt that Robert Cummings displayed the weakest acting of the entire cast, I was taken with the complexity of behaviors displayed by Karen Morley's, Lee Bowman's, Helen Mack's, and Anthony Quinn's characters. They were as three dimensional as such a film would allow in that period about so complex a topic. Anthony Quinn was impressive in his acting and in the fact that, only a year acting in films, he gets and commands a lion's share of importance to the plot and characterization. He carried the weight of this film beautifully. Although Lee Bowman played a stock character, his short time onscreen was effective and nuanced, displaying, once again, what an underutilized actor he was by studios, showing an acting range that was rarely utilized and developed. See his portrayal of Gary Mitchell in the Doris Day musical "My Dream is Yours" to show how he had presence to carry a film. Gilbert Roland displayed more acting range than he was usually allowed, making his story suspenseful and intriguing. If anything, the script left me wanting to know more about Roland's character of Eduardo de Soto and his friendship with Capt. Alvarez, Anthony Quinn's character. A fine ensemble chat!

The cinematography is pure 1937 Paramount and that's, overall, a good thing. The cinematography at Paramount during this period was still being influenced b Lee Garmss and Leo Tover, who were influenced by one of Paramount's premier directors of this period, Josef von Sternberg. Whenever a Paramount film of this period had a foreign locale, the black and white photography gave a sensual, exotic, hothouse effect that was both inappropriate for realistically portraying a place and time but it was also exciting to watch, making it easy to immerse oneself in the world the Paramount cinematographers created. This has the virtue of really placing me in a world I would never otherwise experience but it does make the scenes of the film involving Lola's lover being shot dead or Maria escaping the march to Cardoso jarring in their artificiality. To the credit of director James Hogan, the bombing scenes filmed at Paramount had almost-seemless intercutting with newsreel footage of the bombings in Spain during the war.

All in all, this film, while not of the top tier of classic films, is fascinating as a time capsule, better-than-expected characterizations, and good acting from a true ensemble cast that gave some of these actors one of their best roles. It was an effective story of suspense and character. "The Last Train from Madrid" does need critical reconsideration, greater opportunities to view it, and deserves far more recognition than it currently has.

5 / 10

Fleeing from the unknown best describes this movie

There are several well schooled and effective actors in The Last Train From Madrid. They all give performances which, for this era of movie making, are consistent with a high level of accomplishment. Unfortunately, due to the lack of real life detail about the Spanish civil war that is the background for the movie, it does not get an overall good rating from this 21st century commenter (who has made use of the contemporary historical writings that are now available about the Republican/Francoist civil war). Although this film is made early in the career of Anthony Quinn his part, such as it is, gives a 21st century person some evidence of why Mr. Quinn's career grew so rapidly. Some actors labor for years, crafting an image that eventually rises to a level to be appreciated by the general public. When one looks at the complete works of Anthony Quinn it is evident that he also worked hard at the craft of acting and developed a manner of presentation that became more and more effective as the years progressed. However, from the very early Anthony Quinn presentations one sees a persona that, even though a work in progress, carries the strength of actors who had much more experience and schooling in the trade.

Another commenter lamented that the movie did not have any big name actors. I guess the performances of Dorothy Lamour, Gilbert Roland, and Robert Cummings were somehow missed by the commenter. While without historical merit, the film is entertaining and provides a window into the acting methods of early 20th century film making.