Monday, July 12, 2021

CITIES WITHIN CITIES: Union Station, 1950


Cities within cities fascinate creators and audiences. Consider the nightclub in Piccadilly, 1929, the business complex in Skyscraper Souls, 1932, and the transportation hub in The Terminal, 2004. The transportation mecca for our feature's setting is the Chicago Union Station, with the conveniently located Los Angeles Union Station playing the part.


Nancy Olson, William Holden

Lt. William "Tough Willy" (Don't call him "Willy!") Calhoun is the top cop at Union Station.

Calhoun: "It covers over six acres. Counting commuters, we handle about 80,000 people a day. That doesn't include the people who are just wandering through. You know, using the station for a shortcut."

Joyce Willecombe is a young woman, a witness, involved in a kidnapping case closely tied to Union Station. 

Joyce: "The job, your railroad station, that's all that counts. ... Yesterday you called yourself an ordinary citizen, but you're not. You're a policeman, 24 hours a day."

William Holden (Stalag 17) stars as Calhoun and Nancy Olson (Pollyanna) as Joyce. The Paramount Pair can be seen in four films released in a two-year period. Also from 1950 is Billy Wilder's acclaimed Sunset Blvd. which gave both Olson (supporting actress) and Holden (lead actor) Oscar nominations. 1951 would see the release of two war pictures, Submarine Command directed by John Farrow and Force of Arms directed by Michael Curtiz.

Joyce is an observant young woman, a secretary to wealthy Henry Murchison played by Herbert Heyes (A Place in the Sun). Joyce reported suspicious men on a train to the conductor who passed the information along to Calhoun at Union Station. Further investigation revealed that the men had kidnapped Murchison's daughter Lorna played by Allene Roberts (The Red House). Lorna's blindness adds a complication to the circumstances.

Union Station Headquarters

The case becomes a joint operation between the Union Station police and the City police led by Inspector Donnelly played by Barry Fitzgerald (The Sea Wolf). The Inspector has years of experience and a mouth full of clover. He speaks comfort to Mr. Murchison and jaded cynicism to those he commands. Nonetheless, every effort and then some are put into the investigation. 

Lyle Bettger, Allene Roberts

The mastermind of the crime is Joe Beacom played by Lyle Bettger (The Greatest Show on Earth). He is one of life's losers who spent five years in prison planning every detail of his "big score." The kidnapping requires the human element in that he must have underlings for grunt work and his girl Marge played by Jan Sterling (Ace in the Hole) to help with Lorna. The human element always means there is room for mistakes and in these conditions, mistakes can be deadly.

Union Station adopts some of the docudrama style popular at this time and it is fascinating to watch the tailing of a suspect through the elevated train system and to see the number of people and businesses being transacted at the station. Crooks making their living and the police patrolling and rounding them up. The passengers and passers-through are not aware of half of what is going on around them.

Barry Fitzgerald, William Holden

The film is not all work, although it occupies the thoughts and actions of all the characters. As a fan of actors working with props, I enjoy a scene at Donnelly's apartment where he fixes hot toddies for himself and Calhoun as they discuss the case, war, wives, and work. 

Donnelly: "Were you ever pinned down by mortar fire? In my time it was cannonballs, the kind they have on monuments now. But even then there was always someone, some foolish man who stood up and walked into it. That's how wars are won."

Sidney Boehm's (The Atomic City) screenplay was based on a story by Thomas Walsh (Pushover). Rudolph Mate, a five-time Oscar nominee for cinematography (Cover Girl) turned director (The Dark Past). His cinematographer's eye brings us many interesting angles from which to see the story, but not in the artsy way that they overwhelm the script.

Thomas E. Jackson

Union Station
clocks in at just over 80 minutes which is filled with interesting scenes, absorbing characters and it all leads to an exciting, action-packed finale. Along the way, you will note many familiar faces including Edith Evanson, Queenie Smith, Kasey Rogers, Douglas Spencer, Byron Foulger, Ralph Byrd, Trevor Bardette, Harry Hayden, James Seay, Parley Baer, Dick Elliott, Robert Easton, and Robert Cornthwaite. The last time I watched the movie I spotted Thomas E. Jackson (Little Caesar) as a sharp-eyed detective.

The next time you have the opportunity to stroll through your city's Union Station to catch a train or watch the people, you'll think of this well-made movie and your imagination will work a little overtime.


Nancy Olson turns 93 on July 14th
Happy Birthday!











18 comments:

  1. The setting is what makes this movie work! In fact, the sprawling station becomes a character in the film. I also like that its running time is a concise 80 minutes. Too many movies seem to pad their plots to reach 100 minutes or longer. A film's length only needs to be long enough to tell its story. Thanks for reminding me about Union Station again.

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    1. My pleasure. When I got my local programming reminder a while back, I was thrilled to revisit this tidy thriller.

      I sometimes like losing myself in an epic film, but it is the well told story that doesn't take up an entire day that has my undying admiration when done this well.

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  2. Thanks for highlighting this one. It's a very solid crime/nor picture and the cast is terrific.
    I find it especially pleasing that Nancy Olson is about to celebrate her 93rd birthday. She made a number of excellent movies with Holden, but I reckon Force of Arms is the best of them, it's easily the most affecting.
    Hope to see you posting as regularly as you can again!

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    1. Thank you. I feel truly welcomed back and I hope to get into a regular writing routine. Life is better that way.

      Union Station is certainly a movie that feels as if it reached its creators expectations and first-time viewers are sure to welcome a return visit to the transportation hub.

      It is grand knowing that Nancy Olson is here to accept our appreciation for her work and presence.

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  3. Paddy Lee, so happy that you are back. I hope everything is going well with you.

    UNION STATION(1950) is a really good movie, which I've always enjoyed ever since I first saw it on Memphis, Tennessee's WHBQ Channel 13 TUESDAY NIGHT MOVIE in 1971. The Los Angeles Union Station is a character in this movie and I think, we as the audience, tend to enjoy this. Times were changing during the post World War II years and movies were starting to be filmed more on location, to look more realistic.

    Look forward to your next write-up. Best wishes, Walter S.

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    1. Thanks so much, Walter.

      Audiences were looking for something that was different and yet shone a light on the world they knew in a different way. Filmmakers were certainly up to the task and I enjoy movies from this era more and more.

      I am far from one hundred percent but am feeling very optimistic that I will get closer to optimum as time goes by. Rehab was very helpful.

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  4. "Cities within cities..." what a great theme for a blogathon. I like that you've hung this post on that perspective. It's a fascinating movie, and you've reminded me I need to revisit it. Glad you're back in the station with us.

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    1. I was very happy to pull into the station after all this time. This well done movie is always worthy of a revisit. I would be interested in a re-do. Union Station in Toronto has undergone years of renovation and feels more like a setting for such a crime drama.

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  5. PARLEY BAER and DICK ELLIOTT! They both played mayors on THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Dick played MAYOR PIKE and Parley played MAYOR ROY STONER. I haven't seen Dick in very many things but I am a fan of Parley Baer. One of the things that I know him from is the DISNEY movie THOSE CALLOWAYS with BRIAN KEITH and VERA MILES.

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    1. Those Calloways always comes up as a favourite of ours!

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  6. I knew Holden and Olson had made another movie together; I didn’t know they had made four movies together. This one sounds pretty good.

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    1. It is, as my dad used to say, "a dandy." If you come across it, it is well worth the time.

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  7. I agree: Union Station sounds like a good. I keep thinking that I have already seen it because I hate to miss a film, a film noir (!), with William Holden. And maybe when I get the DVD and start watching, I'll realize that I have seen it before. But it won't matter: I know I'll want to see it again.

    I hope all is well!

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    1. There are a lot of movies like that in my life. I'll be going along watching something new and then there will be one scene or line of dialogue and the memory kicks in, and you are right, it doesn't matter.

      Things are moving along as they should and we are remaining optimistic.

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  8. I admire movies that can trim off the fat and keep the run time to what's needed to tell the story. It sounds like this film is a good example of that.

    Also: Welcome back! So glad to see you here again!

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    1. Thanks. Glad to be here.

      I am certain this a movie that you will be happy to see.

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  9. It would have been a a good solid movie anyway but the setting definitely lifts UNION STATION into must-see territory.

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    1. Definitely. Some movies take us to the familiar and make it new to us.

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