Lady on a Train (1945): Deanna Durbin Star Vehicle–Murder Mystery

A star vehicle for popular actress Deanna Durbin, Lady on a Train is a murder mystery, with some touches of film noir, directed by Charles David.

Based on a story by Leslie Charteris, the film concerns a woman who witnesses a murder in a building from her train window. When the police dismiss her story, she turns to a mystery writer to help her solve the crime.

When Nicki Collins goes to visit her aunt in New York, her father’s employee, Haskell, is expected to meet her. Before reaching its destination, the train makes a brief stop. Nicki looks up from reading a mystery by novelist Wayne Morgan, witnessing a murder in a nearby building.

Upon arrival, she goes to the police, but the sergeant assumes she imagined the crime. Holding that Wayne Morgan could solve a murder, she pesters him to get involved. Following Morgan and his fiancee into a theater, she sees a newsreel about the “accidental” death of shipping magnate Josiah Waring, and recognizes him as the murder victim.

Nicki sneaks onto the grounds of Waring’s mansion, where she is mistaken for Margo Martin. When Waring’s will is read, his nephews Arnold and Jonathan receive a token $1 inheritance, while the estate goes to Margo Martin, his trophy fiancee, who’s a club singer. Nicki the takes away a pair of bloody slippers that disprove the story of an accident. Two conspirators in the murder fail to stop her: Saunders, the nightclub’s manager and another heir, and the chauffeur Danny.

Nicki makes another attempt to involve Morgan, pretending a man is attacking her, not realizing that Danny is about to do the same. She then makes another call to her father and sings to him the tune “Silent Nights.” Danny spots the slippers and departs, attacking Haskell and Morgan.

At the nightclub, Nicki speaks to Margo and becomes suspicious. She locks Margo in a closet, goes on stage, and sings in her place. When freed, Margo tells Saunders she was never interested in the plot and later she is later murdered.

Saunders and Danny admit their involvement in the murder and threaten her, but Morgan breaks into the room and Nicki takes the slippers back. Nicki escapes back to the stage and sings again. Morgan realizes that one of the men—Arnold, Jonathan, and Wiggam—must be the murderer. Meanwhile, Morgan’s fiancee, feeling betrayed, dumps him.

Nicki and Morgan leave with the slippers, but they are arrested based on false information from Danny. Nicki tries to present the slippers, but Morgan’s valet has them.

Arnold, Jonathan, and Haskell arrive at the jail to pay Nicki’s bail. Arnold says the Warings would like to meet her and drives her to their company’s offices, but nobody is there. He admits that he had motive, but so did Jonathan, Wiggam, and especially Saunders.

Nicki tells Jonathan that Arnold is the murderer. They hide in a room, which is the scene of the crime she saw from the train. Jonathan, the real murderer, confesses and threatens to kill her and frame Arnold.

In the final scene, Nicki and Morgan are newlyweds on a train. She enjoys reading his book so much she tells the porter not to make up their beds until she finishes reading.

As noted, there are several songs in the film: “Silent Night,” “Give Me a Little Kiss,” and the famous Cole Porter tune, “Night and Day.”

Oscar Context:

The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound, but did not win.