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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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