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Film / Last Clear Chance

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"Why don't they look, Ralph, tell me? Why don't they look?"
Railroad Employee

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, 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 die this day at the hands 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.


For the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version, please go to the episode recap page.

Last Clear Chance contains examples of these tropes:

  • An Aesop: Observe all traffic laws all of the time, and be aware of the specific hazard that comes with railroad train 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."
  • Bloodless Carnage: Betty's body is otherwise uninjured despite her having died in train collision.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Alan tells Trooper Hal he just got his driver's license a few hours earlier, after which Hal reveals that he saw him driving in town just a few days earlier and scolds him for it.
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  • 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 a good one that more people need to take to heart, it's made rather stupidly. The entire short is about how even minor distractions can be dangerous or even fatal. However, when the big accident does end up happening, it's because the driver was doing something so insanely stupid that even someone who'd never seen a car before could probably tell you it was a bad idea.
  • Could This Happen to You?: The film ends with the police officer reminding the viewers of what happened to Frank Jr.
  • Downer Ending: Frank and his fiance die in a train crash due to carelessness as his horrified brother is only able to watch.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Frank is too busy driving while waving at his brother behind his car to notice a massive train coming towards him. His girlfriend, the only other passenger, is similarly distracted.
  • Foreshadowing: 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.
  • Go Out with a Smile: But only because Frank and Betty are oblivious to the danger of the oncoming train. They are presumably still waving back at Alan and smiling at the instant the train strikes the car.
  • Idiot Ball: Frank Jr. and Betty die 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: "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 and for obvious reasons they were personally invested in reducing the amount of train-car collisions in the country.
  • "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—all the ways he could die horribly if he drives carelessly. Especially if he drives carelessly near railroad tracks. And then, because they live in a cruel, merciless world, the older brother crashes his car into the side of a moving train—killing himself and his fiancee—not ten minutes later.
    Railroad employee: Why don't they look, Carl? 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: Obey all safety rules all of the time or you risk becoming a statistic.
    • In-universe, Alan reading the accident report that killed his friend and then witnessing the car-train crash that killed his brother and sister-in-law-to-be, it can be implied, is enough to instill safe driving habits in him for life.
  • Starts with Their Funeral: The opening scene is of a funeral procession, which we learn is for Frank Jr.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: Foreshadowed with the opening – a state patrol trooper stopping at the entrance to a cemetery but declining to go inside. He almost immediately reveals that the eldest son of a close friend had 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 do all these things and more around railroad crossings, even to this day. Operation Lifesaver exists for a reason. As well, the family in the short and what happens to them was based on a real family that went through a similar experience.
  • 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.


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