Danger Lights

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Danger Lights
Video cover
Directed by George B. Seitz
Written by James Ashmore Creelman
Starring Louis Wolheim
Robert Armstrong
Jean Arthur
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date(s)
  • November 15, 1930 (1930-11-15) ( Premiere-Chicago)
  • December 12, 1930 (1930-12-12) (U.S.)[1]
Running time 71 min. (original)
55 min. (television)
Country United States
Language English

Danger Lights is a 1930 film starring Louis Wolheim, Robert Armstrong, and Jean Arthur.

The plot concerns railroading on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, and the movie was largely filmed along that railroad's lines in Montana. The railway yard in Miles City, Montana was a primary setting, while rural scenes were shot along the railway line through Sixteen Mile Canyon, Montana. Additional footage was shot in Chicago, Illinois.


Louis Wolheim plays the boss of the railroad yard in Miles City, Montana. The film opens with a landslide across the tracks in Montana, and a repair crew is dispatched to clear the tracks. Several hobos are lounging nearby and are put to work helping the repair crew. One of the hobos, played by Robert Armstrong, is discovered to have been a former railroad engineer who lost his job due to insubordination. He is given a new job for the railroad by the yard boss, but quickly falls in love with the boss's fiancée, played by Jean Arthur.

Jealousy grows between the two over the affections of Arthur with both of them attempting to win her in marriage. Things come to a head during a fight in the railroad yard between the two, during which Wolheim is hit by a train and injured. To save his life, Armstrong must transport him in record time to Chicago for surgery.

Screenshot from the film.


Film versions[edit]

Danger Lights was filmed during a period when some movie studios were experimenting with various widescreen film formats. As part of this trend, two versions of the film were created. One used standard 35mm film and Academy ratio, the other used an experimental 65mm widescreen format at a 2:1 aspect ratio. This latter process was called "Natural Vision" and was invented by film pioneers George Kirke Spoor and P. John Berggren. The Natural Vision print of the film was reportedly screened at only two theaters, and no copies of it are known to exist today.

The film's original release on 21 August 1930 by RKO Radio Pictures ran 74 minutes in length. A shortened release for television runs 55 minutes.

Historically significant footage[edit]

Danger Lights features rare footage of a tug of war between two steam locomotives, actual documentary footage of the activities in the Miles City yard, and what is believed to be the only motion picture footage of a dynamometer car from the steam railroad era in the USA. Similar footage may have existed in MGM's Thunder (1929), with Lon Chaney but that film is now lost.

The portion of the film that was filmed in Montana was part of the electrified Rocky Mountain Division of the railroad, with the 3000 volt direct current trolley and the 100,000 volt alternating current "highline" plainly visible in several shots. Despite the fact that the railroad often touted the power and reliability of its straight electric locomotives, none are seen in the film.

In 1958, the film entered the public domain in the USA due to the copyright claimants failure to renew the copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.[2] It is available for streaming or download at Internet Archive.


  1. ^ "Danger Lights: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  2. ^ Pierce, David (June 2007). "Forgotten Faces: Why Some of Our Cinema Heritage Is Part of the Public Domain". Film History: An International Journal 19 (2): 125–43. doi:10.2979/FIL.2007.19.2.125. ISSN 0892-2160. JSTOR 25165419. OCLC 15122313.  See Note #60, pg. 143

External links[edit]