Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin) is on the train from San Francisco to New York, planning a visit for the Christmas holidays, and engrossed in a murder mystery novel by one of her favourite authors. However, just as she reaches the denouement she happens to glance outside, seeing the train has paused as it has entered the environs of the city, and notices a scene played out through a window in a warehouse. She is shocked to realise what she is witnessing is a murder as an older man is knocked to the ground by a younger one - but who will possibly believe her?
Deanna Durbin was still one of the most famous - and highest paid - women in the world when she made Lady on a Train, but by this time she was getting restless, and the tension between her wish for more mature roles and the legacy of her teen star days was wearing on her. If you were aware of this, you would notice that here she would switch from being a grown up Nancy Drew in some scenes, all peaches and cream innocence, then in the next she was exercising that celebrated voice to croon a more sultry tune, this a mere ten minutes after a butter wouldn't melt in her mouth rendition of Silent Night. It's little wonder that as she was now an adult, she was having problems with her image.
Three years later she was not only retired, marrying and settling down in France with the director of this, Charles David, but never so much as cameo'd in another movie, nor made another appearance in public. Aside from her cult of fans which would diminish with each passing year, she got her wish to be forgotten, and in a rare interview some time after her fame she claimed she was never comfortable as the idol to millions, mainly because she believed it was the parents who were so fond of her and audiences her own age had nothing in common with her. That said, during the war years she may have been Winston Churchill's favourite movie star, but she was also Anne Frank's - a photo of Durbin graced her attic hideaway.
So perhaps Deanna's appeal went further than she realised, and watching her in Lady on a Train she positively glowed with star quality no matter if her image was somewhat confused as to who it was aiming at by that stage judging by the glammed up variety of hairdos and swanky outfits she donned here. She did get to sing three songs, one the carol down the telephone to her father (a scene she can't have enjoyed no matter how radiant the photography makes her look), then the next two when she poses as a nightclub chanteuse. Why was she doing that? It's safe to say this was a plot that didn't bear close scrutiny, but essentially Nikki latches onto the idea that the man she saw being killed was the patriarch of the wealthy Waring family, and one of them made sure he was dead.
Or possibly all of them: they're a grim bunch with Aunt Charlotte (Elizabeth Patterson) cracking the whip, son Jonathan (Ralph Bellamy) in a weird, subservient and rather too close relationship with her, and seasoned screen heel Dan Duryea as Arnold, the most roguish of them taking a keen interest in Nikki. Convolutions see that she has to steal a pair of carpet slippers which belonged to the deceased as evidence, and as this was a comedy there were a few amusing moments, nothing to have you roaring but enough for goodnatured giggles. Also appearing were a proto-Blofeld George Coulouris as a nightclub owner forever stroking a white cat and Allen Jenkins as the chauffeur and resident Waring heavy, though for charm David Bruce as Nikki's favourite author was second only to Durbin, making you wish he'd tried more roles in this vein instead of his tendency towards playing victims. Lastly, Edward Everett Horton ran after Nikki as her supposed guardian - but Deanna had grown out of needing one. Music by Miklos Rosza.