Barreling through the stark landscape, the train takes on a life of its own in Wellman’s romantic and comic tragedy. The characters’ lives are structured around its regularity and impassive power, while remaining less predictable and more vulnerable. Assisted by the early appearances of an electric James Cagney and snappy Joan Blondell, Grant Withers’ Bill, an engineer and irresponsible playboy, is generously taken in by his best friend Jack, who has a little country home and a very charming wife, played by a good-natured Mary Astor. With his special brand of eccentric naturalism, Wellman luxuriates in both the gritty train yard and the country oasis, detailing his characters’ flaws and their concealment as they take carefree pleasure in camaraderie and everyday tasks. Once a forbidden love switches the plot’s gears, the cruelties of life begin to mount one on top of another until one of the friends makes a dramatic sacrifice to recover some kind of happy homeostasis.