Released 7/08/29 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Director: William Nigh; Producer: Hunt Stromberg; Screenplay: Ann Price and Byron Morgan, from a story by Byron Morgan; Cinematography: Henry Sharp; Film Editor: Ben Lewis; Art Director: Cedric Gibbons;
Titles: Joe Farnham; Wardrobe: David Cox; Musical Score: Dr. William Axt; 9 reels (7872', some sources say 7783'); Print Source: Library of Congress, UCLA Film Archives (both have short fragments)
CAST: Lon Chaney (Grumpy Anderson), Phyllis Haver (Zella Maybelle), James Murray (Tommy Anderson), George Duryea (Jim), Frances Morris (Molly), Wally Albright, Jr. (Davey)
SYNOPSIS: A huge blizzard has gripped the midwest from the Rocky Mountains to Chicago. The Northwestern Limited Engine 2329 is scheduled to arrive 28 minutes behind schedule, the first time that Grumpy Anderson has ever brought his train in late. "Keep the trains moving" is the motto of the cantankerous, but lovable, engineer. Grumpy tells his son Tommy, working as fireman for the engine, that he will make up the time somehow, and the two pile on the coals to keep the train at top speed. Grumpy is furious when he is flagged down at an unscheduled stop and told to hook up Sidney Van Pelt's private car. One of the passengers in the car is Zella, a chorus girl, who tells Grumpy that she has to get to Chicago or she will miss her show. She climbs into the engine and flirts with Tommy, and despite the delays and her pestering of Grumpy, they bring the train in on time. Grumpy and Tom live with Tom's brother Jim, his wife Molly, and their son Davey. That evening Tommy sneaks out to the Paralta Night Club where he meets Zella backstage. The next day, Tommy invites Zella to the house to meet the family. Jim is called back to the train yard just after finishing a long shift, and while coupling some cars, he slips and falls into the path of an oncoming engine and is killed. While taking the train with Jim's coffin out on the next run, Tommy blames Grumpy for pushing Jim into overworking for the railroad, and the two get into a fight. While fighting their train crashes into an oncoming engine. Grumpy is blamed for the crash and dismissed as engineer, but is given a job in the locomotive repair shop. Tommy refuses to visit Grumpy in the hospital, but Zella comes to see him, and tells him that Tommy is giving up railroading. In the locomotive shop, Grumpy sets to work on his disabled engine, and soon the 2329 is in working condition again. A newspaper reports that levees are overflowing in the south, and that terrible food and medicine shortages have put the population in grave danger. Ten trains are put together to rush supplies to the area, and Tommy reluctantly agrees to take one of the trains. Grumpy's 2329 is pressed into service, and Tommy is assigned to it as fireman. Grumpy and Tommy put aside their differences and agree to take the train through. With flood waters raging around the train, the engine barrels through, bringing supplies to the Red Cross relief camp. Molly and Davey are caught in the flood area, and Zella and her troupe are also trapped by the rising waters. All the relief trains are stopped by the floods, but Grumpy says he can take the 2329 through. They race over a bridge that collapses just as the train reaches the other side. They reach the stranded town with the supplies, where Tommy finds Zella dishing out food in a bread line and kisses her. Grumpy goes back to oiling his engine, ready to make the return run.
"Yesterday afternoon's audience seemed to find THUNDER a good picture, even though it did appear now and then that coincidence was playing a larger part in the railroad than the safety signal system...When the picture gets away from railroad procedure, Mr. Chaney seems admirable. But railroad men the country over will view some of the scenes with a jaundiced eye." ---The New York Times
"Lon Chaney does an exceptionally fine characterization, without the aid of any special makeup aside from slightly greyed hair and moustache...William Nigh's direction was very satisfactory; and the story by Byron Morgan is out of the usual run of railroad melodramas and finely developed." ---Motion Picture News
"Second Lon Chaney picture lately with that player of bizarre roles doing a straight character old man. Poor stuff from all angles...Chaney fans don't want him as a serio-comic, semi-heroic old man. And fans of all kinds, don't want marathon melodramas leading up to trick mechanical climaxes...A dull picture used to fill in for a dull summer week." --- Variety
NOTES: THUNDER was a fairly big production. At a production cost of $352,000 it ranked second only to TELL IT TO THE MARINES in budget for one of Chaney's MGM films, and took nearly as long (56 days) to shoot. Both U.S. and foreign sales were good, but due to the higher costs, the picture earned only $272,000, the lowest profit on any of Chaney's films since 1926. One has to wonder if the accountants were scrutinizing the balance sheets for Chaney's pictures, watching the downward trend for five pictures in a row. Still, Chaney's pictures were considered solid money makers for the studio, earning less than Garbo's pictures, but THUNDER earned far more than Buster Keaton's SPITE MARRIAGE or John Gilbert's early talkies HIS GLORIOUS NIGHT and REDEMPTION released the same year.
The film was shot silent, but had a music and effects track added for the final release. In an era when all the majors were now cranking out all-talking pictures, the death-knell on silents had clearly rung, and Chaney finally agreed to make his first sound picture.
Though officially a lost film, a few fragments of the film turned up in the late 1990s resulting in about 5 min of surviving footage...just enough to whet one's appetite to see what looks like it was a fine picture.
Also, check out this Swedish poster in my Poster Gallery.
© 2000,2008 Jon C. Mirsalis
Return to Filmography