Mystery Train is one of my top ten favorite movies (actually, there's 11 on the list). Those are the movies I can watch over and over. Films make it onto my list for a variety of reasons, but all of them speak to me personally on some level. Having said that, I can't quite get a grasp on why this movie speaks to me. Is it the specter of Elvis and his music that looms over the whole production or is it something else? I really can't decide, but there's something in Mystery Train that makes me want to watch it again and again.
Mystery Train is three vignettes, all tied together by one cheap hotel on the wrong side of the tracks in Memphis. The first story is about a couple of young Japanese tourists, who are exploring the music cities of the United States. The second story is about an Italian woman who is escorting her dead husband's body back home, but is stuck in Memphis for the night. The third tale is about Johnny, an Englishman, who has been nicknamed Elvis and has lost his job and girlfriend, all in one day. All of these lives intersect at the cheap hotel, although none of the main characters ever meet each other.
During the course of the film we see several musicians, the first being Rufus Thomas at the train station, bumming a light from the Japanese tourists. The hotel the tourists check into is run by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, who is so good in his role, makes me wish he had done more acting. The final musician we see is Joe Strummer, the Englishman with the nickname Elvis. Strummer and his problems are the major plot points of the third story. If you noticed, on all these musicians I stated the word "see", and that's because Tom Waits is a disc jockey who is only heard on the radio in all three segments, but never actually appears in the film. Also, I could never be sure, but I think Clarence Gatemouth Brown is shown walking down the street; however, I can find no evidence of this being him or not being him, it may just be the cowboy hat tricking my mind.
Each episode has its own story to tell and each one can stand on its own without having to watch the other segments. Part of the fun in watching the movie is seeing how the stories and some of the characters overlap and little details in each segment refer to other segments. Mystery Train really shows off the talent of director Jim Jarmusch. While this is one of my favorite films, these stories slowly unfold and I would caution those who aren't into films based on characters, you might not be as enthralled as I am with Mystery Train.