Last Clear Chance is a 1959 Glurge-fest brought to you by Union Pacific, that shows just how stupid people get around trains.
Idaho State Patrol Trooper Hal Jackson (played by William Boyett), concerned over automotive and train safety, visits with a local family (established as friends), whose youngest son has recently received his license. Through a series of scenarios detailing bad driving etiquette, unsafe driving — one story ends in the death of one of the kid's friends — and ignorance of safety around railroads, Jackson's goal is to impress upon the young lad the need to observe safety and driving laws all of the time.
But has his grim lesson sunk in, or will innocent people perish under the wheels of our mortal enemy, the train? (Answer: Yes.)
While maligned by some as too narmish particularly for a reactionary scene near the end of the film, where one railroad worker asks why some drivers fail to heed basic safety rules it was lauded by many others as a sobering effort to instill safe driving in young drivers. The movie itself was filmed in southwestern Idaho, with some footage also filmed in northern Colorado.
Last Clear Chance contains examples of these tropes:
- Ambiguous Situation: The short never states whether Betty survived the accident. The only real hint is that we see paramedics loading her into an ambulance, while poor dead Frank Jr. is left on the scene.
- An Aesop: Observe traffic laws all of the time, and be aware of the specific hazards that come with railroad crossings.
- Ask a Stupid Question...: The question Trooper Hal says many drivers ask if they are fortunate enough to survive a car-train collision: "Where did the train come from?" The answer, of course (as he says), is "the railroad tracks."
- Based on a True Story: The story of a farm family that is ultimately shattered by tragedy is based on a real-life family's experiences, as can be seen in the book "The Field Guide to Sponsored Films."
- Behind the Black: During a long shot of an approaching train, the narrator tells us to notice how close the train has to be before we hear it. Seconds later, there is a mild Jump Scare when a train headed in the other direction emerges from the right side of the screen.Narrator: Now where did that train come from?
- Bloodless Carnage: Betty's body is remarkably untouched considering she was just in a train collision.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Alan tells Trooper Hal he just got his driver's license, after which Hal reveals that he saw him driving in town just a few days earlier. Most of the lecture that follows is meant to impress upon Alan that minor trespasses can be fatal, especially in a car and especially around trains.
- Chase Scene: Trooper Hal describes a car chase, involving a 17-year-old boy an acquaintance of young Alan speeding in a hot rod. The crash ends tragically when the boy loses control of his car on a winding, gravel road and plummets down the side of a hill; the boy is killed instantly when the car lands on top of him.
- Clueless Aesop: Although the message of "pay attention while driving" is one that more people need to take to heart, this short presents it ham-handedly. After an entire lecture about how little mistakes behind the wheel can be fatal, a character goes out and does something insanely stupid on purpose, effectively throwing his life away.
- Could This Happen to You?: The film ends with the police officer reminding the viewers of what happened to Frank Jr.
- Downer Ending: A distracted Frank drives into the side of a train, killing himself and possibly his fiancée, while his brother helplessly watches.
- Failed a Spot Check: Frank is too busy driving while waving at his brother behind his car to notice the train crossing the road in front of him. His girlfriend, the only other passenger, is similarly distracted.
- Foregone Conclusion: We know someone will die during this short, since it opens with Trooper Hal outside of a cemetery, telling us that the son of a family friend has died.
- Frank's mother expresses concern at the end of the conversation with Hal about her son Frank. Jr's driving and she and her husband decide to talk to him about it after he returns home. He dies in a train crash within moments.
- In the full version the short opens with Frank Jr. gunning it across railroad tracks barely missing a train.
- Idiot Ball: Frank Jr. dies and Betty is seriously injured because they're looking backwards and waving at Al instead of watching the road. They could have crashed into literally anything.
- The various deaths depicted in the film from people's reckless driving.
- Jump Scare: (after a train emerges from Behind the Black) "Now where did that train come from?"
- Match Cut: From a car wheel to a roulette wheel, to illustrate the metaphor of "playing roulette with your life."
- Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Trooper Hal.
- Nostalgia Filter: The state trooper reminisces on the technological advances of the time in the rural parts of America. It also turns the film into an unintended period piece to modern audiences.
- Railroad Tracks of Doom: The main point of the film, as the sponsor is Union Pacific Railroad, who wanted to reduce the amount of train-car collisions in the country (for obvious reasons).Mike: (regarding the importance of trains keeping to schedule) It has no time to wait for you corn-shucking crackers!
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Trooper Hal's ending monologue is essentially this to those who he pull over because they weren't following the rules.Hal: My place was out on the road. Out on the road, I can at least try to keep people from killing themselves in their car. So, if the next car I stop happens to be yours, don't tell me you were only "speeding a little", only "breaking the law a little", only doing something a little bit wrong; save that for someone else, brother! Because I've seen too many "little follies", and they end up with someone "a little bit dead''.
- Safe Driving Aesop: A cop drops in on a farm family to explain to the youngest son — who just got his driver's license — that he shouldn't bend the rules, especially around railroad tracks. Because they live in a cruel, merciless world, the older brother crashes his car into the side of a moving train — killing himself and possibly his fiancée — not ten minutes later.Railroad employee: Why don't they look, Ralph? Why don't they look?
- Scare 'Em Straight: Although it contrasted with many other driver's ed films of the era — less preachy (it used a drama presentation, plus Boyett's natural conversational-style narration vs. the lecturing of other safety films) and less graphic (many driver's ed films prior to the 1970s showed graphic carnage of actual accident victims and destroyed cars) — it still made its point: Get careless behind the wheel and you risk becoming a statistic.
- In-universe, it's a certainty that Alan will never be reckless around trains. If reading the accident report that killed his friend didn't do it, witnessing the crash that killed his brother certainly will.
- Starts with Their Funeral: The opening scene is of a funeral procession, which we later learn is for Frank Jr.
- Tonight, Someone Dies: Foreshadowed with the opening — a state patrol trooper stopping at the entrance to a cemetery but too shamed to go inside. He almost immediately reveals that the son of a close friend has died.
- Too Dumb to Live: Hey, look! Someone's desperately gesturing to look directly ahead of us at the oncoming train! Let's wave back!Servo: Hey, the cop never said anything about doing intensely stupid things!
- Truth in Television: People are stupidly careless around railroad crossings even to this day. Operation Lifesaver exists for a reason. Even the tragedy in this short was based on a real incident.
- Wham Line: "Why don't they look?"
- Whole Episode Flashback: Following the opening scene of a funeral procession, Trooper Hal reflects back to just a few days earlier, when he stopped at the farm place of a family friend to visit and advise their youngest, newly licensed son, about driver safety.
- Women Drivers: A woman driver reads a map instead of paying attention to the road. Used as a punchline for a joke on Mystery Science Theater 3000.