Ladies Night Presents Mystery Train (1989)

Hello folks. Before I turn it over to the Ladies of the Lair, I want to issue an apology. For some reason I cannot determine Google Friend Connect a.k.a Followers has stopped working with any Internet Explorer under 8.0. I know this is a problem that has cropped up on many sites, but not all. I honestly don’t understand the ins and outs of HTML enough to fix it, so, for now; I’ve had to remove it. I hate it, and it pisses me off. The community if people that read my site are one of the things that keep me motivated, and I enjoyed being able to see all your lovely faces on the site. At any rate, when it gets fixed or I figure it out, it’ll be back. For now, just know that I appreciate all of you. Now on to the Ladies. 

Mystery Train (1989) starring Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kuhoh, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Nicholetta Braschi, Steve Buscemi, and Joe Strummer. Directed by Jim Jarmuch. 

Mystery Train is comprised of three stories that take place over the course of the same night in the same part of Memphis. The three journeys may be different, but they all lead to the Arcade Hotel. Manning the front desk is the clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) and bellhop (Cinique Lee) who are in for one hell of an interesting night. The three tales, a duo of Japanese tourists from Yokohama, an Italian widow who has visions of Elvis, and three locals filled with alcohol and rage trying to pull off a crime, weave together as the Mystery Train rides into the night. 

Tid Bits

--Jim Jarmusch is the founder of “The Sons of Lee Marvin”, a semi-secret society for men who either by looks or by status could possibly be the son of Lee Marvin. No girls are allowed for obvious reasons, and other members include Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Richard Boss. 

--Bellhop Cinque Lee is the younger brother of filmmaker Spike Lee.

--Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is an R&B singer most well known for his song “I Put a Spell on You”. Mystery Train also features a cameo by singer Rufus Thomas known for the hits “Walkin’ the Dog” and “Do the Funky Chicken”.

First, I would like to confess that I am a rabid Tom Waits fan. He is my favorite musician of all time, and he is how I came to know about Mystery Train in the first place. Waits only appears here as the voice of the late night radio DJ in each of the stories, but I liked the film so much I had to see more Jarmush. This brought me to seeing such great films as Down by Law, Night on Earth, and Stranger than Paradise. I was a happy girl. 

Then a few years back the Bugg’s parents gave me a present that I will always cherish. It was a VHS containing two episodes of the series Fishing with John. What is that you ask? Well, it was a fishing show on PBS hosted by John Lurie, the musician who was often tasked with the score for Jarmush’s films including Mystery Train. So why would a girl love a fishing show so much? Well, when the first episode features Jim Jarmush going shark fishing and the second Tom Waits in Jamaica after crashing a car, you quickly find out how great a fishing show could be. 

Now back to the task at hand, Mystery Train, Jarmush is not just a guy with a camera and an idea. He is more about the art of film making, and what beautiful art it is. The camera work was perfect and made the stories flow so nicely. From the Japanese tourists debating the merits of Elvis vs. Carl Perkins, to the widow’s close encounter with a spectral king, to the mistakes of the drunken trio, I was hooked. Tying the film together in a neat little bow were Hawkins and Lee at the hotel desk. These two almost steal the show, and their scene with the Japanese plum is just brilliant. 

Bottom line, I love Mystery Train. Of the three stories, Far from Yokohama is my favorite, but all of them are wonderful. At no point did I feel there was anything unnecessary or that the film could have been cut for time. As always, this film is a captivating experience from beginning to end. I most definitely recommend this film to anyone. Even if you think this is not your thing, I say try it and you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.  

Train Rating

   The face of the small city I live in has changed much in the last 2 decades. It all started innocently enough. One big European company moved in. Then one after another more companies came, and all the sudden we were multicultural city. The boom was super awesome. We got Target and Starbucks and Whole Foods. Fifteen years before you could not make a Martha Stewart recipe as written from what you would find in our grocery stores here, now when I go to the deli counter I have to pick which Gouda I want. There is one thing about it that unsettles me about all the change. My whole city had this newfound respect for culture, but just not their own. 

With all the excitement of the new influences, we have failed to remember what the whole world knows. Folk music lead to country and blues, which lead to jazz, which lead to rock and roll, which lead to Elvis. That doesn’t make us the best country, I’m not saying that. What I am saying is it makes us the coolest and the globe knows. Too bad Americans don’t, and Mystery Train makes this point in spades. 

The film opens with the young Japanese couple longing to see the birthplace of rock and roll. The streets of Memphis become a character in the film as they explore them. In a couple of shots you can see the shiny skyscrapers from the forgotten downtown. They keep on walking without a clear plan except they must get to Sun Studios and Graceland. The second story is about an Italian woman trying to get home with her dead husband. Having to make arrangements with the airline she gets stuck in Memphis. She gets conned, and almost mugged just trying to survive her layover.

    These stories seem to be the two sides of the American coin to me. The first is a pilgrimage. The second is an exile.  Both are executed very well on all fronts. It seems to beg the question how are we seen. As the movie winds down to the last story the answer seems to be who's looking and where are they looking from. 

   The last act is about lost love and murder. It ends by bringing all the stories together with one gunshot, seen and heard by all. It does tie up the loose ends, but I wouldn’t say the point of the three acts is plot. It seems the smaller details grow together like pretty weeds, poetry or a song. We start with Elvis and end with Johnny Cash, with Roy Orbison’s high lonesome tenor in the middle.
   The irony of this movie is it’s about lost art, and it may become lost art. It is rather long and subtitled in parts. Some audiences could easily lose patience with it. While it does have comedy, the movie is mostly dramatic in nature. All the action is at the end. That makes it slow, but not from bad story telling, just because it must be. It would be much harder to get the feeling of a forgotten place and time otherwise.
    The cast is fantastic so the acting is never an issue. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins does a shockingly good job. In my viewing experience sometimes the best musicians over act, but not here. Also I wanted Tom waits to be a DJ so bad after the credits rolled. Someone at XM, get on that. 

   While it only has 2 bullets and very little blood, I am all for this movie. I will warn that it is a character and dialog driven film, and just like the early music of the city it is based in, full of love, loss, and angst. It reminds the viewer that when rock and roll started it was about what all music of the people is about, simple human need. As the world gets smaller and global art fuses together, that’s a good thing to remember. Maybe it’s time to put some Carl Perkins on your Ipod.
Train Rating

Plus I found Fishing with John on YouTube so here's part one of the Jarmush episode.


  1. Mystery train is a cool little film, but I think Down by Law beats it to my favorite Jarmusch flick. fun times. The third story probably has the finest drunk acting ever filmed.

  2. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobMay 22, 2009 at 7:54 AM

    all i remember about this film is the reference to "lost in space".


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