Disney Film History: The Great Locomotive Chase


During the 1950s, Walt truly showed his love of other things beyond animation. Walt’s love for history came into account on the Disneyland television show on ABC when Davy Crockett became a huge hit. He would later go on to make other historical films and even dream up the idea of the Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln show featuring the first human audio animatronic. With such a foot in the past and a foot in the future, it’s not a surprise that he shot a full length cinemascope feature in full color about the Civil War, The Great Locomotive Chase.

The Great Locomotive Chase tells the story of James Andrews, a spy for the Union, who stole a train, “The General”, from Atlanta and brought it back to Tennessee all while destroying train tracks and stations. The film starred Davy Crocket himself, Fess Parker, which is also no surprise. Lawrence Watkin wrote the screenplay. He had previously worked on Treasure Island and The Adventures of Spin and Marty for television. Francis Lyon, who had been the director of Spin and Marty also directed The Great Locomotive Chase. Jeff York, who had played Mike Fink in an episode of Davy Crockett. This whole production was generally put together with stars and crews from the Disneyland TV show.

locomotive 1

Wanting to stay true to the historical events, Walt Disney took a chance in keeping the film from being overly dramatic. Due to this fact, the film didn’t do as well as Walt had hoped. The film only made $1.7 million at the box office which is barely better than the lackluster The Littlest Outlaw, which had only been released a few months previously. Even the Davy Crockett film had made over $2 million and it had been previously shown on television. Despite some critical success, the films flop was mostly related to the lack of true excitement and drama. It’s true to life format also proved that the heroes of the film also fail and were even killed in the end, including Fess Parker’s James Andrews character. That wasn’t what audiences wanted at the time and they expected Walt Disney to give them that happy ending. With Davy Crockett, he gave them a false ending showcasing a more heroic Crockett, but here the film stayed true to real life.

locomotive 2

I would also add that like the previous film, The Littlest Outlaw, this film lacks due to Walt’s attention being in other places like Disneyland. The content of films lacked as well since the Disney company was putting out so many a year versus what they had done in previous years. After this film, which was released in June 1956, the next film was released only a month later. That’s oversaturation if you ask me. It was also a big risk to do a film about the kidnapping of the Locomotive considering that Buster Keaton’s The General was a classic film from the 1920s at this point. There didn’t need to be another film portraying the exact same event in the exact same way again, even if it did star one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in Fess Parker. People would have rather seen him as Davy Crockett than being killed as a Union spy. Luckily for audiences, they wouldn’t have to wait long until Crockett returned to the big screen as it was the film that followed only a month later and the film we will be talking about next time!

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Littlest Outlaw
Next Film: Davy Crockett and the River Pirates


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Posted on October 15, 2014, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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