SLEEPERS WEST. Twentieth Century Fox, 1941. Mike Shayne #2. Lloyd Nolan (Michael Shayne), Lynn Bari, Mary Beth Hughes, Louis Jean Heydt. Based on the novel Sleepers East by Frederick Nebel and the character created by Brett Halliday. Director: Eugene Forde.
To answer your first question first, yes, they changed the title of the film from that of the book, but there’s an easy explanation. In the book the train all of the characters are on are going to New York City from someplace in the Midwest, Ohio perhaps, and in this second filming of the book, they’re going from Denver to San Francisco.
And, yes, they changed that, too. Instead of PI Mike Shayne home base being either Miami or New Orleans, as the books he was in would have it, they made it San Francisco. And, truthfully, I see no resemblance between Brett Halliday’s character and the one Lloyd Nolan plays in this movie. (I am somewhat reluctant to point this out, since he does such a good job playing a PI trying to escort a young blonde witness across country without anyone knowing about it that I am willing to forgive and forget and just go along for the ride.)
And if you enjoy detective mysteries taking place in the movies on trains, then this is the movie you have you see, if you haven’t already. Well over two-thirds of the movie takes place on a train, and until a crazed engineer trying to make his last run come in on time causes a huge accident, I think the whole movie could have taken place on it.
Jamming up the works for Shayne is Lynn Bari’s character, a former friend of Shayne who’s now a reporter for a Denver newspaper. Playing the young blonde witness-to-be is Mary Beth Hughes, who really couldn’t care less about being a star witness in an upcoming trial.
There are more complications in this movie than there are in most other detective movies of the same era, including the friendship the young blonde witness surreptitiously makes with a man who is also looking for escape from a live he longer wants to live.
The only flaw in this film, to my way of thinking is how quickly it wraps up and ends. I could have watched another 15 to 20 minutes of this one, easily.