Hell-Bound Train (1930)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

Alternate title:  Hellbound Train

USA, 1930.  Screenplay by Eloyce Gist, James Gist.

Pioneer African-American filmmaking couple James and Eloyce Gist made this film to be presented at a religious gatherings, its presentation of the wages of sin somewhat similar to the more recent American phenomenon of “Hell Houses” meant to keep Christians on the straight and narrow. The main motif is a train chugging along on its tracks with the devil as its engineer, played by an actor in a terrific costume complete with pitchfork. Each car of the train focuses on a different terrible sin that could ruin a person’s chances for eternal salvation, such as dancing to jazz music, gambling, excessive drunkenness, and then we are told the vulnerabilities that these choices could leave one open to (being robbed, taken advantage of sexually). The train keeps moving forward to its eventual destination, crashing in the fiery pits of hell, and it is up to the passenger to decide if they will get off before they too lose their souls forever. Made with very little money and shot with what look like resources at hand (volunteer performers, available light), the film is a morality lesson that is actually quite similar to what a religious leader will still hand out today, but its being expressed in this particular format is a fascinating time capsule.

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