By Joseph Stachler

At TM, we've always known how photogenic toy trains are, especially in film and video. Coincidentally, Hollywood occasionally feels the same way. There have been more than several movies that have given Lionel trains a respectable cameo. Many of these films are classics and the list spans decades going all the way back to the prewar era.

Most of the film's layouts are powered by the mighty ZW, which is just as photogenic as the trains themselves.

Lionel trains have made it to the small screen many times as well, in both made for TV movies and shows. These include The Addams Family, Dallas, Amazing Stories and Chicago Hope. Mr. Bill of Saturday Night Live was once run over by a Marx train at Christmas. But seeing a toy train on a big screen gives them that larger than life appearance one can only get in a movie theater. Below are ten of the most memorable films Lionel has co-starred in.

Fourís A Crowd, 1937

Streamliners were the rage and Warner Bros. wanted to get in on the action. This film didnít have the budget for the real thing so they settled for a Lionel model.  Stars Errol Flynn as a young Romeo pursuing Walter Connollyís daughter. Connolly plays an eccentric millionaire who tells Flynn he can go out with his daughter if Flynn is able to beat Connollyís prize model train in a race. Turns out Connolly has an outdoor layout featuring Lionel O gauge track. It must never rain in that town. The prized train is the Lionel Rail Chief headed by a scale Hudson. Flynn shows up with the new M10000 Streamliner and while no one is looking, spreads butter over the loop on which the Hudson travels. As the two trains come neck and neck around the O-72 curve, the Hudson hits the butter, starts spinning its wheels, and the UP wins. The film is in black an white and there is a nice close-up of the 700E Hudson standing almost still, its wheels spinning ferociously. These shots are cut with Connolly looking exasperated while the lecherous Flynn is eyeing Connollyís bemused daughter.

Holiday Affair, 1949

Electric toy trains and Christmas are an inseparable combination. "Holiday Affair" uses this combination as a backdrop for an amusing love story between Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. The film starts out with a 2343 Santa Fe pulling some Irvington cars. The cars have been re-named "Rocket Flyer" instead of Lionel Lines. Mitchum works in the toy section of a department store, selling trains. Janet Leigh is competition pricer for another store. This film was re-made for cable in 1996 and Lionels were again used, complete with Command Control.

The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951

This film is a science fiction classic that was conceived as a metaphor for the "Red Scare" of the 1950s. A visitor from outer space, Klaatu--played by Michael Rennie, warns the people of earth that continued aggression and nuclear arms races will mean the violent end of all life on earth. In order to get to know what life is like on earth, Klaatu poses as an out-of-towner in Washington D.C. and stays at a boarding house. There he makes friends with a boy named Bobby, who as it happens owns Lionel O-27 trains set up on a board that rolls away under his bed. His collection includes a 256 Station, an 1121 switch and a small steamer freight. Klaatu says to Bobby, "remind me to tell you about another kind of train, the kind that doesn't use tracks."

 

The Godfather, 1972

One of the greatest American films ever made. Lionel makes a cameo in this film as "The Turk" Sollozzo quietly grabs the Consigliore of the powerful Corleone Family, Tom Hayden (played by Robert Duvall), who's been Christmas shopping. The trains and accessories can be seen in the store window, happily racing around amidst a moderately tense scene.

Arthur, 1981

Dudley Moore plays a cackling spoiled rich drunk named Arthur Bach. Among the many toys he owns is a huge layout of Lionel trains from the Fundimensions era. A Southern Crescent passenger train and The General both race around the layout which is situated behind his bed. All kinds of accessories are operating as well. There are crossing gates, station platforms and street lights covering the layout which was built by the late Boyd Mason.

 

 

Risky Business, 1983

Tom Cruise became a star with this film about a clean-cut high school senior who grows up a bit. While his parents are away, he falls into a money-making scheme that turns his family's home into a house of ill-repute. Amidst the business trans-actions upstairs, Cruise retreats to the basement to unwind and run some Lionels. His collection includes a Pennsy EP-5, a Northern Pacific U36B, and the re-issue of the Newsstand. Rebecca DeMornay comes downstairs and makes him an offer...the rare type that makes playing with trains second best. "Ever make love on a real train?" she whispers, so they go for a ride on the Chicago El train.

 

The Addams Family, 1991

The original show had Lionel trains in some episodes. Gomez always enjoyed crashing them into each other. The film version is not too different. Raul Julia plays Gomez, who plays with the trains while wearing a wicked grin. The action is so quick it's impossible to identify what the trains are...especially after he crashes them up.

Nothing But Trouble, 1991

Originally titled "Valkenvania", this film was directed by Dan Aykroyd. It starred his fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus Chevy Chase, and the striking Demi Moore. Aykroyd plays a bizarre old judge of a ghost town. John Candy plays his sherrif/nephew who arrests Chase and Moore and the judge holds them prisoner. During an amusing dinner scene, Aykroyd flips a switch and up pops a train set in the middle of the dinner table. Many of the pieces on the layout are Marx as well. The various rolling stock provides the condiments for the grotesque hot dogs the judge serves for dinner. One of the 022 switch controllers activates a giant barrier to keep Chase and Moore from escaping.

Clockers, 1995

Spike Lee adapted this Richard Price novel into a film. It was originally going to be directed by Martin Scorsese. The main character is Strike. He sells crack cocaine for a living around the clock (ergo, clocking) and collects and operates Lionel trains for a hobby. His profanity-laden explanation of the history of Lionel trains to a younger kid is certainly interesting. Strike's world is falling down around him, and he lets off some steam, so-to-speak, by crashing his trains head-on a-la Gomez Addams. Thanks to the compassion of a cop played by Harvey Keitel, he gets a train trip out of town. His Lionel trains go to the young kid whose life he almost ruined. The layout used in the film was built by The Train Station in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. David Shaw was product manager and Rich Roman worked on the layout.

"It was a real neat experience to watch a feature film come together," recalls Rich. "I had to design a crash scene. I worked with the special effects people to make the scene more dramatic. We cut the rails, installed an air cylinder with an activation switch, and installed sparklers and smoke machines. On action I ran the trains and had to time them perfectly as they headed for each other. The point of impact is where the air cylinder was installed. On impact the air cylinder was activated to throw one locomotive onto the other with sparks and smoke everywhere. It was pretty cool. If you watch that scene in the movie, I think you can see the track in the air where the cylinder was activated."

The Rat Pack, 1998

Even though this was made for cable, it was premiered on a big screen and hey, it deals with Lionel aficionado Frank Sinatra. Everyone who saw it probably noticed the blatantly modern era trains Ray Liotta as Sinatra was running and it's supposed to be 1962. My guess is when filmmakers are telling such an incredible story, making sure the trains used will be acceptable to the hobbyists viewing the film is probably number 1,943,241 on their list of concerns. Note: this was Liotta's second time co-starring with Lionel. The first time was in Corinna, Corinna.