End of the Line 1987 train heist dramedy was filmed in Pine Bluff with assistance from the Cotton Belt Historical Society and the Cotton Belt 819 train engine.
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The film End of Line is a heartwarming dramatic comedy set in the fictional town of Clifford, Arkansas. It focuses on the working class, tackling how the loss of a small town's main industry affects the local job market and its citizens. The film boasts an all-star cast that includes Wilford Brimley(a notable cowboy film actor and general inspiration for the Western film genre), Arkansas natives Levon Helm and Mary Steenburgen, Holly Hunt, Kevin Bacon, and Clint Howard. The film was also directed by Arkansas native Jay Russell, who went on to direct popular films like Tuck Everlasting, Ladder 49, My Dog Skip, and The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.
Both the talents and lives of Levon Helm (drummer for The Band, recording artist and actor) and Mary Steenburgen ( film and TV star) are displayed through memorabilia displayed along with other inductees at the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame located in Pine Bluff at the convention center.
In a press release for the film, Steenburgen, who also served as the film’s executive producer, stated that “The word around Hollywood is that Arkansas is the place to go for location filming.” This was quite true since several films have been partly or entirely shot in Arkansas going back to the 1920s. End of the Line was filmed in or near Little Rock which helped set the tone and character of the film.
The film tells the story of Will Haney (Wilford Brimley), a railroad brakeman who works for Southland Shipping in Clifford, Arkansas. Haney and his coworker Leo Pickett (Levon Helm) arrive at work one day to find the Southern Railroad Line closed as the executives at Southland Shipping have suddenly decided to use air freights instead of railroads. The closing of the Southern Railroad Line proves too much for both men as the railroad is the lifeblood of the town, and both men feel entitled to better treatment as they have spent their entire lives working for the railroad company. As they make their way across the country to confront the leader of this powerful corporation, we learn more about each of them and their respective families.
The film never takes itself too seriously, playing to the absurdity of a cross-country train heist. Unlike other train heist movies, it acknowledges the difficulty of stealing a train that can only follow a fixed path using this difficulty as a source of humor and character development.
Mary Steenburgen plays Leo’s wife, while Barbara Barrie plays Haney’s wife. The two women complement each other well as they display differing degrees of concern over their husbands’ mission. Holly Hunter plays Haney's daughter, while Kevin Bacon plays her on-again-off-again husband, who is also an officer trying to stop Haney and Leo.
End of the Line features the Cotton Belt 819 disguised as the “Southland Railroad” 4-8-4, along with the Cotton Belt Historical Society and Pine Bluff residents dressed in railroad garb. In the credits, the film thanks the Cotton Belt Historical Society for its assistance in providing this essential service in filming.
The movie saw its world premiere in Little Rock on August 28, 1987. Steenburgen and Russell dedicated the film to railroad workers like their fathers.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard