Great Locomotive Chase [1956]

Disney's Great Locomotive Chase relates a true Civil War story about the Andrews Raiders, a team of 22 Union spies. In 1862 they snatched a train out from under the normally watchful eyes of Confederate troops based near Atlanta in a daredevil attempt to wreck the track and bridges of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. It was a high-stakes operation with a huge payoff. If they succeeded, they would effectively win the war; if they were caught, they were sure to be hanged. This 1956 feature shores up the suspense of the scheme masterfully. We watch, transfixed, as the relentless Confederate train conductor, William Fuller (played by the all-business Jeffrey Hunter) roars through a bevy of Southern stations hot on the heels of his hijacked locomotive. Will James Andrews (Fess Parker), leader of the Raiders, outrun him? History buffs won't need to keep watching for long, but they'll want to anyway--the portrayal of the Raiders' gumption and against-all-odds heroics pushes the basest, most human of audience buttons. It's not that The Great Locomotive Chase is a simple but well-done film about good vs. evil. Instead, it explores both sides' motives and draws gentle conclusions about honor, and it does so at an invigoratingly high clip. In that way, it's a movie worth sharing with kids 8 and older--there's no blood and only a sprinkling of violence here, but as with all war stories, tragedy plays a prominent role. --Tammy La Gorce

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