Sunday, January 02, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Union Pacific (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Thanks to Kino Lorber several very enjoyable films from director Cecil B. DeMille were released on Blu-ray in 2021, including the previously reviewed FOUR FRIGHTENED PEOPLE (1934) and UNCONQUERED (1947).

Kino Lorber has also released DeMille's UNION PACIFIC (1939) on Blu-ray. It's an exciting film with a terrific cast including Joel McCrea, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Preston, and Brian Donlevy.

I most recently saw UNION PACIFIC as part of UCLA's DeMille series in 2015, and I enjoyed returning to it after half a dozen years. It grabs viewer attention from the minute the opening credits begin streaming up the screen in a visually arresting fashion.

McCrea plays Jeff Butler, a railroad troubleshooter tasked with stopping incidents which continually slow down the building of the Union Pacific Railroad.

The trouble comes from Sid Campeau (Donlevy), who's being paid to delay the construction by a financier (Henry Kolker) who will profit if another railroad is completed first. Campeau is aided by Dick Allen (Preston), who turns out (of course!) to be Jeff's former Army pal.

Jeff falls hard and fast for Mollie (Stanwyck), a railroad postmistress who is also the daughter of an engineer (J.M. Kerrigan). Naturally, Dick also loves Mollie. Mollie loves Jeff but eventually finds herself agreeing to marry Dick to save Jeff's life. (It's a long, tense story involving a stolen payroll...)

As is typical for DeMille, the film runs a long 135 minutes, but he knew how to keep the action going, and there are numerous exciting action set pieces spread over the course of the film. I was reminded of the UCLA introduction, in which historian Mark Vieira told us that DeMille had exhorted the screenwriters to find "a snake under every bed!"

The cast is great, starting with the oft-teamed McCrea and Stanwyck, who have also been reviewed here in the Kino Lorber releases INTERNES CAN'T TAKE MONEY (1937) and THE GREAT MAN'S LADY (1942). They believably convey their affection for one another, often in looks more than words.

Preston is also effective as a man who's only half-bad, to the point that one rather feels sorry for him getting the short end of the stick where Mollie's love is concerned.

Lynne Overman and Akim Tamiroff are marvelous as Jeff's sidekicks, providing comic relief and reassurance when needed. The role struck me as somewhat atypical for Overman, who I associate with more sophisticated characters, but he's completely believable -- and engaging -- as Jeff's observant righthand man.

The deep cast also includes Anthony Quinn, Robert Barrat, Regis Toomey, Stanley Ridges, and Richard Lane. Other familiar faces include Fuzzy Knight, Lon Chaney Jr., Emory Parnell, Harry Woods, Joe Sawyer, Sam McDaniel, Don Beddoe, Byron Foulger, and Joseph Crehan. Look for Evelyn Keyes as the telegraph operator's wife late in the movie.

The film was shot in black and white by Victor Milner. The script was by Jesse Lasky Jr., Walter DeLeon, and C. Gardner Sullivan, adapted by Jack Cunningham from a story by Ernest Haycox, who also wrote the stories which inspired classics such as STAGECOACH (1939) and CANYON PASSAGE (1946).

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a very nice-looking print with a strong soundtrack. I don't believe I ever saw this film on DVD so cannot offer a comparison, but I was pleased with the Blu-ray quality and recommend it.

Extras on the Blu-ray disc consist of the trailer; and 11-film Kino Lorber trailer gallery; and a commentary track by Eloise Ross and Paul Anthony Nelson.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, good write-up of UNION PACIFIC(filmed 1938-39, released 1939), which is a favorite Western Movie of mine ever since I first viewed it on the WREC Channel 3 Memphis LATE MOVIE in 1973. As you write, "It grabs viewer attention from the minute the opening credits begin streaming up the screen in a visually arresting fashion." That is so true and I remember that it grabbed my attention right off bat and never let up.

I really enjoyed UNION PACIFIC as a grand spectacle Historical adventure(loosely Historical), which is an action-packed story of the people who built the Union Pacific Railroad, linking the East with the West. This movie is a good entertainment and Cecil B. DeMille was an old hand at knowing what would entertain movie audiences. I'm envious of you getting to see this movie on the big screen at UCLA.

A month later, after viewing this movie for the first time, I was reading about it in Frank Manchel's CAMERAS WEST(1971), which was the first book about Western Movies that I remember reading, other than biographies of Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Gary Cooper.

The wonderful character actors Lynne Overman and Akim Tamiroff would portray similar characters in DeMille's NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE(filmed 1939, released 1940). I first viewed this movie on the WREC Channel 3 LATE MOVIE in 1972.

Thank you for triggering my memories.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Walter! I so enjoyed your thoughts, thank you! How interesting that the opening credits remained in your memory. They're eye-catching!

I'm not familiar with CAMERAS WEST and need to look out for it! I also need to see NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE, that's great info that Overman and Tamiroff were also paired in that one.

Best wishes,

11:19 PM  

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