I suppose I'm out of touch,
but the supersized, atom-powered choo-choo in this NBC series isn't my idea of train travel at all.
My adventure fantasies about trains derive from old Hitchcock
movies, with somberly lit Pullmans that rumbled through the night, the rhythm of the wheels at once restful and ominous, as
the suspense built subtly in meaningful glances between strangers, until the body tumbled out of the coat locker. People
used to eat on those trains-trout, usually-and even sleep, tossing in fitful dreams.
Nobody eats or sleeps on Supertrain. They're
too busy discoing and fist-fighting. Everything here is bigger, gaudier and noisier, including the passengers.
The design and special-effects people have had a good time,
and the train is quite a marvel, cinematically--a gleaming, two-story behemoth complete with gym, swimming pool and fancy
suites, and it rockets along through desert and prairie most convincingly. The control booth has video monitors and
the disco has cocktail waitresses in silver hot pants.
As we might expect, the stories are less impressive than the
gear. It's the usual triumph of technology over art.
In the long, two-hour premiere, Steve Lawrence was a talent
agent and gambling addict, in debt to a gangster named Big Ed. Aboard the Supertrain, someone kept trying to put Lawrence
away-by planting a suitcase bomb in his room, dumping him unconscious into the pool, locking him in a steam room with buddy
Don Meredith. Our attention was called to several suspects: a lurking criminal type who turned out to be a traveling
salesman, a brutish gangster who whiled away the time abusing his girl friend. This one moseyed on interminable; sometime
in the second hour I wanted to get off and catch a bus home.
One episode shamelessly swiped the plot of Hitchcock's "Strangers
on a Train." Dick Van Dyke was the smiling psychopath, apparently out to kill the wife of a stranger, to repay a favor.
In a final twist, Van Dyke turned out to be a harmless eccentric, which made no sense but possibly eased the writer's conscience
about stealing the rest of the plot.
When early ratings proved disappointed, NBC took the series
off the air for emergency surgery. The "All New Supertrain" appeared April 14, looking remarkably like the
old Supertrain except that the blustery chief operations officer (Edward Andrews) shipped off to recover from
mumps and replaced by a fun couple, Joey Aresco as the new chief and Ilene Graff as a singing social director. Zsa Zsa
Gabor's jewels were stolen. Our new regulars, with security guard Abe Vigoda, tracked down the obvious suspect.
This tale d-r-a-g-g-e-d even more than previous episodes, despite the attempt to glamorize it with models in bikinis and Peter
Lawford playing his usual shopworn sophisticate.
I have an idea that may cut NBC's losses: let Salvage-1
haul that train away and sell it for scrap.