Western Pacific Agent

The newest, most streamlined train in the nation, the Vista Dome California Zephyr continued to find itself in the spotlight after its inauguration when in December 1949 it provided the background for the filming of Lippert Productions fast moving mystery story "Western Pacific Agent.”

Action scene in Vista-dome car shows Vera Marshe, with camera, while Kent Taylor and Sheila Ryan look on.

Passengers on train #18, the eastbound California Zephyr on December 14, 1949, found themselves part of a traveling movie set as the production crew moved heavy sound and camera equipment aboard to film actual scenes for their forthcoming railroad thriller. Using a documentary approach, much of the film's footage was shot aboard the crack Western Pacific train while it sped along on its San Francisco to Chicago run.

The crew and cast were flown from Hollywood to Oakland by chartered plane. There they boarded the new Vista-Domed streamliner, which had been placed at their disposal as a set. Once everyone was on board the train departed Oakland towards the Feather River Canyon where some of the most majestic scenery in the United States would be skillfully blended with the fast moving railroad crime story. Just outside of Oroville, in the center of the Feather River area, the film people debarked. The train was run up and down a few times while the cameras turned, and then movie making began in earnest.

Left to right, facing camera: Sam Newfield, director: Archie Dalsell, cameraman: Ernest Miller, director of photography.

Under the direction of production supervisor, Bert Sternbach, the huge cameras and lights had been set up for filming, first in the dining car, and then in the lounge car and one of its Vista-domes. Western Pacific's general electrical supervisor, Richard F. Carter, was on hand to assist with operation of the heavy duty movie equipment from the train's electrical system.

The picture, starring Kent Taylor and Sheila Ryan, and supported by Robert Lowery, Mickey Knox and Morris Carnovsky, revolves around the railroad's efficient special agent department which protects passengers, freight and company property.

Tough, young hobo Frank Wicken (Mickey Knox) returns to his father's store in the Feather River country of northern California after a year of "bumming". His father, Joe Wicken (Morris Carnovsky), tries to reform Frank, but the youth wants to make some fast money. He murders a bridge tender, elevates the bridges and then holds up and kills railroad paymaster Bill Stuart (Robert Lowery) as he is stopped by the bridge. Frank escapes with the $50,000 payroll and returns to the hobo jungles that dot the railroad right-of-way. The Western Pacific Railroad assigns Rod Kendall (Kent Taylor), its ace agent, to the case. Rod visits Martha Stuart (Sheila Ryan), sister of the slain paymaster, and the two of them begin following the trail of the murderer. The payroll, in new currency with the numbers of the bills circulated to all area merchants, becomes useless to Frank.

Betty Pittske, Zephyrette, is shown operating the radio and public address control board aboard the California Zephyr.

Frank becomes desperate and returns to his father’s store where he assaults his father and steals some money. Rod, getting a clue from local slightly slaphappy Elmer (Sid Melton) trails Frank to a shack where he is held at bay by Rod and the police. Joe Wicken and Martha arrive at the shack and Joe appeals to his son to surrender, but Frank shoots his father down in cold blood. During the melee, Frank attempts to escape but his path is blocked by the raised bridge. He climbs the steel, girders and drops to his death after a fiery gun duel with police.

Many scenes were shot in the Vista-dome while the train sped up the Feather River Canyon, and the passengers aboard the train all seemed to thoroughly enjoy watching the efficient way in which the action was filmed in the limited space available; the deft stance of the sound man who rested the microphone boom on top of his head as he kept it out of camera range but still close enough to the cast to catch their lines, and (for a few) getting into the action as atmosphere.

Betty Pittske, Zephyrette aboard the train, was even given a speaking part in the cast and, according to Sternbach, turned in an excellent performance.

At Portola a chartered bus met the party to carry them to Reno airport, where their plane waited for the return to Hollywood.

While preparing the script, Lippert Productions conferred at length with Western Pacific's chief special agent, Arthur D. Thatcher, gathering authentic data and color concerning the activity of the company's railroad police.

Produced by Sig Neufeld and directed by Sam Newfield, the picture was released on March 17, 1950.

Biographies from the Press Release kit;

KENT TAYLOR: one of Hollywood's handsomest and most capable leading men was born in Nashua, Iowa, and after an apprenticeship in stock and a debut on the New York stage, started in the film industry in the early 1930's. Kent, currently playing the title role in Lippert Productions "Western Pacific Agent", made many a film for Universal and in recent years has become one of the industry's most in demand players. His performance in the tense, taut story of a railroad detective's unrelenting hunt for a kill-crazed young hobo is one of his best to date, according to Hollywood press critics.

MICKEY KNOX: destined to be one of the movie's top names if predictions come true, was born in Brooklyn on Christmas Eve of 1921. He went to Brooklyn public schools, and later went to high school in Washington after his family moved to the nation's capital. During the war he was a GI in Europe and there first made his debut as an actor in an Army show. After VE day he attended the Army's school in Biarritz where he studied acting. After marrying a pert French girl, Mickey returned to the United States and tried Hollywood. He wasn't long waiting, since Hall Wallis signed him just two weeks after he arrived on the coast for a featured role in "I Walk Alone". Then came "Killer Mc Coy", "The Accused", "Knock on Any Door", and a big role in "City Across the River". In "Western Pacific Agent", his most important part to date, Mickey plays a tough young hobo who becomes the object of a gigantic manhunt after committing murder and robbery. SHEILA RYAN: who has a fine dramatic and romantic role in "Western Pacific Agent", the thrilling new Lippert Production, was born in Topeka, Kansas, but she has lived in California long enough to almost qualify as a "native daughter". She received her grade school education in Hollywood and then attended Hollywood High School. About that time the fist television station in the nation was doing its first experimental broadcasts from a mountain back of Hollywood and they needed an actress who could "stand by" for any occasion. Sheila got the job. There were mighty few television receiving sets in those days, but a film director happened to be looking when Sheila was putting on an act and her talent intrigued him. A few days later she was filling her first screen role. Later she won a term contract at 20th Century-Fox, but when this was completed she elected to free lance and is now one of Hollywood's busiest stars.

MORRIS CARNOVSKY: long one of Hollywood's most competent character actors is currently co-starring in Lippert Productions "Western Pacific Agent" with Kent Taylor, Sheila Ryan, Mickey Knox and Robert Lowery, was born in St. Louis, Mo. on Sept. 5, 1900. He started his acting career while in Washington University, going into New York stock following graduation. One of the original members of the Theatre Guild, Mr. Carnovsky played in many Broadway hits before he was brought to Hollywood to play in "The Life of Emile Zola". Since then he has been featured in such pictures as "Our Vines Have Tender Grapes", "Rhapsody in Blue", "Cornered" and "Miss Susie Slagle's". ROBERT LOWERY: co-star of "Western Pacific Agent", was born October 17th in Kansas City, where he was educated in public schools, was graduated from high school and finally had to chose between becoming a Golden Glove champion and accepting a stage career. He chose the latter and eventually landed a contract with Sam Goldwyn. Later he went to nth Century-Fox, but when his contract was over, he decided to free lance and today is considered one of the busiest leading men in Hollywood's independent field.