Tag Archives: Parley Baer

Chattanooga Choo Choo (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Must arrive on time.

Bert (George Kennedy) is an unscrupulous, conniving owner of a football team who’s having an affair with the beautiful Maggie (Barbara Eden) whom he promises to marry once the father (Parley Baer) of his wife Estelle (Bridget Hanley) dies. He’s hoping to get a large chunk of the will, but finds that it comes with one big stipulation: he must restore the historic locomotive, the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and take it from New York City to Chattanooga, Tennessee within 24-hours and make sure that it arrives precisely on-schedule and if not he’ll lose out on a million dollars.

Producer George Edwards inadvertently struck gold in 1977 when he produced a film based on a hit song, Harper Valley PTA, that did marginally well, so he decided to try his luck with another one, but this time the attempt is an embarrassing failure. Part of the reason is that at least with the Tom T. Hall ditty it had a plot already in the lyrics, but this one doesn’t and the lame scenario that gets written around it is both threadbare and corny.

While Kennedy manages to be amusing he’s also unlikable and the viewer has no interest in seeing him achieve the challenge. For the story to have been more effective the character should not have already been rich, but instead poor and needing the money to help his family survive, which would’ve built more of an emotional interest at seeing him succeed.  Kennedy should’ve also driven the train himself, which would’ve created more comic scenarios instead of just seeing him basically sit back in the diner car doing nothing but nervously glance at his watch while others do the actual work.

Eden is a bore and speaks with in an annoying accent that makes her seem like a floozy from the streets. Bridget Hanley overdoes it with her caricatures of nouveau riche wife that is irritatingly cliched although it’s interesting to note that she did costar with Eden 17 years earlier in a season two episode of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ titled: ‘My Master, the Swinging Bachelor’.  Jineane Ford, a former Miss USA winner who spent 16 years as a news reporter for KPNX-TV in Phoenix, gets exploited by being forced to play a stutterer, which the filmmakers apparently thought should be a source of amusement, but it isn’t and shouldn’t have been implemented.

Watching Parley Baer’s dead body entombed inside a large box car, which then gets lowered into a giant grave is the film’s one and only original moment. Some may also find Tony Azito as a double-jointed waiter whose never dropped a drink amusing too, but everything else falls flat. More focus needed to be spent on the train scenario, like having it run into a storm, which could’ve threatened its arrival time, or dealing with mechanical problems, instead of dwelling in silly juvenile escapades that are both unfunny and pointless even for mindless escapism.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 41 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Bruce Bilson

Studio: April Fools Productions

Available: VHS