Directed by Eugene Forde; produced by Sol M Wurtzel
Private detective Mike Shayne (Lloyd Nolan) has what should be a simple assignment: escorting a trial-witness by train from Denver to San Francisco. But the witness (Mary Beth Hughes) is barely co-operative, Shayne’s old girlfriend (Lynn Bari) is aboard with her fiancé and newswoman’s instinct, and certain parties are interested in keeping the witness from testifying. Needless to say, it will likely be a sleepless night for Shayne.
This is the second of seven films, shot and released quickly over three years, starring Nolan as the investigator, Michael Shayne. I haven’t seen the others but, if Sleepers West is typical of the series, they were competently if inexpensively produced, decently written and well-performed.
Nolan was already a veteran of many movies by the time he was cast as the lead here, and his natural, almost diffident manner makes it easy to see why. His fellow performers are all good supporting actors, most with credits as numerous as Nolan’s, though mostly in small bits. Even so, they are all capable.
The writing is a surprise, as it delves rather deeply into the personalities of two supporting characters, who threaten to eclipse the leads. A minor but significant sub-plot features the train’s driver who has a schedule to keep, regardless of safety. Detective Shayne is depicted as tough, but far from hard-boiled. In fact, he seems as much determined to win back his former love as he is to succeed in his assignment. He has a fine sense of humour, which, fortunately, the script was able to display (it’s a dismal feature of many movies to be told that a character is this or that, only to have no evidence shown to support the claim) and the reporter/girlfriend is able to match him.
The plot is quite simple. There is no actual detection done here; this is a more or less straightforward action/adventure yarn. This is of course acceptable if other elements make up for the deficiency, and in Sleepers West they do. The movie isn’t a classic, of course, but as a light-weight (and light-hearted), entertaining crime story, it does what it no doubt intended to do.
(Another poster to note here. This one has a kind of art deco train and three people, only one of whom looks like the actors involved. In fact, the man seems to me to resemble George Raft more than Lloyd Nolan...)