Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Union Station (1950)

UNION STATION is a solidly made, entertaining suspense film about an observant secretary who teams with the police to solve a kidnapping.

Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) is riding on a train when she notices two men engaging in odd, menacing behavior. She alerts the conductor, who is skeptical but agrees to notify William Calhoun, the head detective at Union Station (William Holden). It soon becomes clear that the men have kidnapped the blind daughter (Allene Roberts) of Joyce's employer and are holding her for ransom. Calhoun and Police Inspector Donnelly (Barry Fitzgerald) race against time to save the kidnapped girl.

The film runs a tense, well-paced 81 minutes. I very much enjoy "police" films, which provide an interesting window into this period's crime-solving techniques. The movie was partially shot on location in Union Station of Los Angeles -- standing in for Chicago's Union Station -- which adds to the feeling of authenticity. The station, where most of the film is set, provides an interesting, high-energy setting.

UNION STATION reunited Holden and Olson, who costarred in SUNSET BOULEVARD, released the same year as UNION STATION. In 1951 Holden and Olson worked together yet again in SUBMARINE COMMAND and FORCE OF ARMS. They make an excellent team. I particularly liked the scene where Detective Calhoun visits Joyce's home and her mother (Edith Evanson) fusses over him, as well as their last scene together, which hints charmingly at a future relationship.

The rest of the cast, led by Fitzgerald, is excellent; the actors playing police officers and detectives all look the part and add to the sense of realism. Lyle Bettger plays the criminal mastermind, and Jan Sterling is his girlfriend.

My one criticism of the film is that I would have wished to see far fewer scenes with the kidnap victim, which I found disturbing. I much prefer the "police procedural" aspect, watching the teamwork as the police attempt to solve the crime with a positive outcome.

UNION STATION was directed by Rudolph Mate, who directed D.O.A. the same year. Prior to directing, Mate was a cinematographer who did superb work on films such as Hitchcock's FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) and the Rita Hayworth classic GILDA (1946).

The cinematographer of UNION STATION, which was effectively shot in black and white, was Daniel Fapp, who won the Academy Award for WEST SIDE STORY (1961); he had several other Oscar nominations to his credit, including ONE, TWO, THREE (1961).

UNION STATION has been released on video. It does not appear to have had a DVD release.

UNION STATION can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs April 18, 2009.

The trailer can be seen at the TCM website here.

Some other recommended police procedurals and mysteries: KID GLOVE KILLER (1942), BOOMERANG! (1947), HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), MYSTERY STREET (1950), and PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950).

2010 Update: UNION STATION is now available on DVD.


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