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Sean and Cody, back from an unplanned hiatus, are joined by The Industry podcast host Dan Delgado for a look at the rarest of birds: an actually good film from schlocky 1980s grindhouse studio Cannon Films! In Runaway Train, prison lifer Manny (Jon Voight) is joined by a whiny shoeless sidekick Buck (Eric Roberts) for a poop-scented breakout from Alaska’s most notorious hoosegow. But their brilliant escape goes terribly wrong when the engineer of the freight train they stow away on croaks from a heart attack, and no one in the entire Alaska Railroad system seems to know how to slow down the train. Environmental issues discussed include the impact of the railroad, a harebrained early 1900s scheme to turn Alaska into Scandinavia, and how perennial Green Screen podcast villain Tricky Nick Nixon swindled Native Americans out of their land for, you guessed it, oil.
How, when, and why were railroads built across Alaska, and how was that process different from how train infrastructure developed in the rest of America? What was “recapitulation,” whose idiotic idea was it, and how did it manage to be both environmentally disastrous and crudely racist? What did President Warren G. Harding really die of? Why did so many of the Cannon films star Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson? How did famed Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa get involved in this movie? Why is “600” the magic number for Eric Roberts’s career? Should Golan and Globus have just shelved the idea for this film and concentrated by putting more money into Superman IV: The Quest For Peace? How did Danny Trejo parlay a life of crime into a successful film, philanthropy and restaurant career? All these questions and more are waiting to jump the track in this, the third-to-last regular episode of Green Screen.
Big thanks to Dan Delgado of The Industry podcast for joining us on the show.
Original 1985 trailer for Runaway Train.
In Runaway Train, vicious convict Manny (Jon Voight) and his sidekick Buck (Eric Roberts), who have just broken out of prison, jump on the first train that passes by. To quote another movie, “He chose…poorly!”
Alaska train engineers come to realize they’ve got a runaway out of control, while on board Manny and Buck are coming independently to the same conclusion. Note the very 80s sexist attitudes!
Jon Voight as Manny gives some harsh life-lesson advice for big-dreaming convict Buck during an interlude on the speeding train. Voight was nominated for an Academy Award for this performance, but lost to William Hurt.
SPOILER ALERT: the final scene of Runaway Train sees Manny get his revenge against the sadistic warden (John Patrick Ryan), and also calmly meet his fate. Here’s the “Russian literature” aspect of the story on display.
Additional Materials About This Episode:
Environmental History: Alaska
William H. Wilson, “The Alaska Railroad and the Agricultural Frontier,” Agricultural History, Vol. 52, No. 2 (April 1978):
Larry Gedney & Merritt Helfferich, “Voyage of the Manhattan,” Alaska Science Forum, December 19, 1983 (Archive.org link):
Peter A. Coates, The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Controversy: Technology, Conservation and the Frontier (Lehigh University Press, 1991) (Archive.org link):
Sean Munger, “Scandals, Burnt Letter and Bad Crab Meat: The Death of President Harding,” Sean Munger’s History and Culture Dispatches, August 23, 2021:
The Movie and People Involved
AFI Catalog entry on Runaway Train:
Maya Makismovich, “Konchalovsky: Ukrainians Will Soon Realize That They Will Never Get to Europe,” Replyua.net, October 1, 2017 (in Russian):
“Russian Director Pulls Film From Festival Over Navalny Nomination,” Times of Malta, April 6, 2021:
Dennis McClellan, “Edward Bunker, 71: Ex-Con Wrote Realistic Novels About Crime,” The Los Angeles Times, July 24, 2005:
Amanda Jackson and Braden Walker, “Danny Trejo Comes to Aid of Baby That Was Trapped in Overturned Car,” CNN, August 8, 2019:
Where you can find Runaway Train: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/runaway-train
Runaway Train (1985) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089941/
Runaway Train (1985) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/runaway-train/
Next Movie Up: The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)