The Phantom Express

The Phantom Express is a 1932 American pre-Code mystery crime-drama directed by Emory Johnson and based on the Emory Johnson story. The film stars William Collier, Jr. as Bruce Harrington, Sally Blane as Carolyn Nolan and Hobart Bosworth as Mr. Harrington. [1][2] It was commercially released on August 15, 1932 by Majestic Pictures.

The Phantom Express
Movie Lobby Card
Directed byEmory Johnson
Produced by
Written by
CinematographyRoss Fisher
Edited byS. Roy Luby
Emory Johnson Productions
Distributed byMajestic Pictures
Release date
  • August 15, 1932 (1932-August-15)
Running time
6 reels 70 minutes
CountryUnited States
English intertitles


This story starts with engineer D.J. 'Smokey' Nolan played by J. Farrell MacDonald speeding down the tracks at full throttle when he spies an oncoming train directly in his path. He quickly applies the emergency brakes, the train starts screeching to a halt but then derails. Several passengers are killed. An investigation cannot find any trace of the oncoming train that caused the derailment. Smoky is fired for negligence.

We come to find out Smoky has a beautiful daughter, Carolyn Nolan played by Sally Blane. We also learn the CEO of the Southwest Pacific Railroad, Mr. Harrington played by Hobart Bosworth has a playboy son - Bruce Harrington played by William Collier, Jr..

Because of the derailment and other ill fortunes, Mr. Harrington has decided to sell the railroad for a fraction of its worth. He will sign the papers at midnight. In the meantime, Bruce meets Carolyn and finds out she is the daughter of the fired engineer. They instantly bond, then decide to set out together and solve the mystery of the phantom express.

During their investigation, they uncover a diabolical scheme concocted by a network of bad guys. They find out the President of a rival railroad company played by Huntley Gordon has intentionally caused all of the accidents on the Southwest Pacific Railroad in order to drive the stock price down. The rival president figures after the stock plummets, he can buy all of the railroad's rolling stock at a reduced price.

Bruce discovers the plot just hours before his father, Mr. Harrington, is going to sign the railroad over to the bad guys. He tried to telegraph his father but a storm has caused the telegraph to fail. In fact, the storm has knocked out all forms of communication.

In a twist of fate, the only way Bruce can advise his father not to sign the papers is to fire-up have train number 101, bring Smoky Nolan and his fireman out of retirement and somehow try to highball back to the central office to prevent his father from signing. The train travels through the storm-savaged countryside encountering floods, landslides, and other hazards. Bruce arrives just in the nick of time, advising his father to nix the deal. He exposes the plot by the rival railroad including how the bad guys constructed a piece of equipment and disguised it as an engine with headlights. They placed it on a nearby track causing Smoky to think he was heading towards a collision with an oncoming train. Hence, the name - the phantom express.

During their investigation, Bruce and Carolyn fell in love. They decide to get married. After they tie-the-knot, they honeymoon on the train.


Actor Role
William Collier, Jr.Bruce Harrington
Sally BlaneCarolyn Nolan
J. Farrell MacDonaldD.J. 'Smokey' Nolan
Hobart BosworthMr. Harrington
Axel AxelsonAxel, the fireman
Lina BasquetteBetty
Eddie PhillipsDick Walsh (posing as Bruce)
Robert EllisReynolds
Claire McDowellMa Nolan
David RollinsJackie Nolan
Tom O'BrienRed Connelly Telegraph Operator
Huntley GordonPresident of a rival railroad company
Brady KlineSlim - a henchman
Jack PennickBubba - a henchman
Jack Mowera gang leader
Allan Forresta henchman


The main theme of the plot bears close similarity to The Ghost Train (play), a movie version of which was produced in England the previous year, viz. The Ghost Train, but that source is not acknowledged in the credits. There was a prior silent American film also entitled The Phantom Express (1925), which may also have been influenced although uncredited by the original play. The film is sometimes confused with the earlier film with the same name. The earlier version, released in November 1925 starred Ethel Shannon and George Periolat. [3]

The film is a talkie, and was the last Hollywood film to be directed by Emory Johnson.

Preservation status

This movie can be viewed on YouTube.[4]


  1. The Phantom Express The AFI Catalog of Feature Films
  2. "The Phantom Express".
  3. "Pre-release Reviews of Features". Motion Picture News. Motion Picture News, Inc. December 12, 1925. p. 2840.
  4. The Phantom Express on YouTube
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