Cast & Crew
At a suburban train station, private secretary Joyce Willecombe bids farewell to her wealthy boss's blind daughter, Lorna Murchison, and boards a train bound for the city. After the train gets underway, Joyce notices a car chasing it to the next stop, where the car's male passengers, Gus Hadder and Vince Marley, then separately board the train. Joyce notifies the conductor when she notices one of the men carrying a gun, and the conductor wires ahead to Union Station to arrange for station police lieutenant William Calhoun to meet her on arrival. Although Bill expresses his doubts about her claims, Joyce's suspicions are heightened when she sees Hadder and Marley deposit a suitcase in a locker and mail the key in an envelope. Bill retrieves the suitcase, which Joyce identifies as belonging to Lorna. Bill realizes that Lorna must have been kidnapped and sends for Inspector Donnelly from the city police, and Lorna's father Henry Murchison, who, although he has not yet received a ransom demand, does not want the police involved. Joyce becomes angry because the kidnappers manage to escape, so she stays at the station to help identify them when they return. When the kidnappers finally make first contact with Murchison at the station, Joyce identifies them. Bill and his men surreptitiously follow Hadder on the elevated trains to a freight depot, but Hadder becomes suspicious and runs into a cattle stockyard, where he is killed by a stampede of cattle frightened by the police gunshots. Donnelly and Bill stifle news of Hadder's death so as not to alarm the other kidnappers, and then set up plainclothesmen in the station to watch Murchison's arranged meeting. Although the kidnappers fail to make contact at the appointed hour, Joyce sees Joe Beacom, the mastermind, whom she recalls as the driver of the car, and follows him. She then writes down the license plate number of his car, while the police capture Marley. Terrified when the police threaten to push him in front of a train, Marley reveals the address where Lorna is being held. Beacom, meanwhile, tells his girl friend, Marge Wrighter, that he intends to kill Lorna after he gets the ransom. By the time the police raid his apartment, he, Marge and Lorna have gone. When Bill visits Joyce to let her know that Lorna is alive, Joyce finds herself caring for him, even though he once seemed more interested in the logistics of the kidnapping than in actually saving Lorna. That same night, a patrolman identifies Beacom and attempts to arrest him, but Beacom kills the policeman and ruthlessly shoots Marge, leaving her in the street as he escapes with Lorna. In the hospital, Marge tells Donnelly, Calhoun and Murchison about Beacom's plan to kill Lorna. Beacom, meanwhile, takes his terrified captive into the municipal tunnels below the city, which feed into Union Station. After placing her in a freight cart where she is in danger of being electrocuted by live wires, Beacom wends his way up to the station, dressed as a conductor. Murchison arrives in the morning for the next ransom drop off, and Beacom quietly takes a parcel clerk hostage. Murchison then receives a telegram advising him to give the suitcase of money to the messenger, who then drops off the suitcase for the parcel clerk. When the clerk appears to send the messenger away with the same suitcase, both Bill and Joyce notice that the suitcases have merely been exchanged. Beacom then shoots Bill and escapes into the tunnels. Despite his injury, Bill follows Beacom into the tunnels, and shoots the kidnapper in the process. Using a utility phone, Bill gives Donnelly and the police his location. Bill then wounds Beacom a second time, and the kidnapper drops the money and staggers toward Lorna. Bill kills Beacom as the kidnapper aims for Lorna, and she is saved. As father and daughter are reunited, Joyce tends to Bill's shoulder wound, and announces her intention of looking after him for a long time.
Parley E. Baer
Robert R. Cornthwaite
Howard J. Negley
Thomas E. Jackson
Mike P. Donovan
C. Kenneth Deland
Mary Kay Dodson
G. E. Donnatin
Daniel L. Fapp
Richard L. Johnston
H. H. Mckenna
Lieut. E. W. Smith
Union Station - William Holden & Nancy Olson in the 1950 Noir UNION STATION on DVD
On a train bound for Union Station, secretary Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) notices two armed men acting suspiciously. When she reports the behavior to Union Station police Lieutenant William Calhoun (William Holden), they discover that the men have just kidnapped Joyce's employer's blind daughter Lorna Murchison (Allene Roberts). The wealthy Murchison (Herbert Heyes) implores the police not to intervene in the ransom arrangement, but Calhoun and Inspector Donnelly (Barry Fitzgerald) keep a sharp eye on the Union Station locker used by the kidnappers. Joyce accuses Calhoun of placing police interests ahead of Lorna's rescue. Deranged criminal mastermind Joe Beacom (Lyle Bettger) abuses both his sightless captive and his own girlfriend Marge (Jan Sterling). One of the kidnappers is killed in a wild police chase in the stockyards. A second cooperates after the police threaten him with death, but nothing is gained and two more killings occur. When Beacom instructs Murchison to drop off $100,000 in cash in Union Station, the entire force is ready for him. But Beacom once worked at the station and is familiar with the miles of tunnels that connect it with other parts of the city ... and has a unique getaway plan.
For all normal purposes Union Station is a generic cops versus kidnappers suspense thriller. The noir taint shows through in certain attitudes and behavior. After William Calhoun mentions the railroad's desire not to be sued for false arrest, Joyce Willecombe worries that the authorities are only concerned with their public image. Even the colorful Irish Inspector Donnelly is pessimistic about the helpless Lorna's chances for survival. Union Station is most commonly singled out for a scene in which Calhoun and Donnelly strong-arm the captured kidnapper, telling him they're going to throw him under a train and make it look like an accident. Although this situation illustrates an extreme case, before modern criminal rights legislation American police had much more latitude in their treatment of suspects. The issue has reappeared in today's fear-driven Homeland Security environment, in arguments that urge the abandonment of hard-won civil rights.
Lt. Calhoun already runs his train station like a police state. Calhoun personally nabs thieves and con men; when trouble brews he can blanket the station with stern-faced plainclothes detectives. Director Maté stages several impressive scenes with large crowds of extras in Los Angeles' Union Station, an impressive achievement considering that the production could not interfere with the train terminal's normal operation. Although scenes filmed on an elevated train and inside an enormous cattle stockyard suggest New York or Chicago, Union Station doesn't indicate a specific city. The use of an elaborate small-gauge underground train system provides an exciting, unique setting for the tense conclusion. When the sightless, panicked Lorna comes close to touching the train system's high-voltage power rails, the film's sense of jeopardy doubles.
Working against the noir ambience is Union Station's desire to please general audiences. Nancy Olson and William Holden develop an amusing relationship despite the grave circumstances. Olsen's Joyce Willecombe gets laughs by accidentally stumbling onto Lt. Calhoun's hated nickname, "Tough Willie". Barry Fitzgerald's Irish brogue isn't used for easy sentiment until the fade-out, when the filmmakers exploit the actor's impish smile to give audiences a "feel good" lift. Paramount's noirs were usually heavy-duty star vehicles, and in between Union Station's convincing action scenes, we're always aware that the studio is hoping to strike sparks with Holden and Olson as co-stars.
Frequent noir Bad Girl Jan Sterling is given very little screen time. She's once again stuck playing a gun moll who does little more than tie up the kidnap victim, and plead with her boyfriend to let the girl live. The talented Ms. Sterling would make an indelible noir mark one year later in Billy Wilder's caustic Ace in the Hole.
The film's bit parts contain some special surprises. Familiar faces Douglas Spencer, Queenie Smith, Byron Foulger, Dick Elliott, and Robert Cornthwaite pop up, some only for a few seconds. Seen even more briefly is actress Kasey Rogers, a.k.a. Laura Elliott, a talented contract player with some of the worst luck of the 1950s. Paramount loaned Rogers out to Warner Bros., where she distinguished herself as the unforgettable murder victim Miriam in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Strangers on a Train.. But because Paramount didn't want to spend money on publicity for an actress in a picture not its own, and because Warners didn't want to publicize a Paramount actress, Ms. Rogers' good work earned her nothing, career-wise. In Union Station Kasey Rogers can be seen as a clerk in one of the very first shots on the station floor.
Olive Films' DVD of Union Station is a fine encoding of a B&W picture element in almost perfect condition. The transfer flatters Daniel L. Fapp's moody camerawork as well as Paramount's process photography specialists, who as usual do excellent work creating a number of near-flawless rear-projected scenes. No extras are included.
For more information about Union Station, visit Olive Films. To order Union Station, go to TCM Shopping.
by Glenn Erickson
Union Station - William Holden & Nancy Olson in the 1950 Noir UNION STATION on DVD
True to its title, the story kicks into gear on a train, where Joyce Willecombe, the personal secretary of wealthy businessman Henry Murchison, notices a series of small but suspicious things: a car racing the train to the next station, the car's occupants boarding the train while pretending they don't know each other, and a hidden gun one of them is carrying. Joyce reports on this to a conductor, who treats her as a nuisance but finally gives in and calls the cops, one of whom is William "Tough Willy" Calhoun, chief of the Union Station police. Skeptical at first, Calhoun becomes a believer when further sleuthing by Joyce reveals a suitcase secreted in a locker, containing the belongings of Lorna Murchison, the blind daughter of Joyce's businessman boss. Lorna has evidently been kidnapped, but her dad spurns assistance from the police as a possible threat to her life; he'd rather obey orders, pay the ransom, and get her back safe and sound, assuming that the abductors get around to sending a ransom note and then live up to their bargain. Joyce and Calhoun stay on the case anyway, joined by hard-boiled Inspector Donnelly and additional officers at various points in the story, which goes on to include everything from one crook's death in a cattle stampede to another's ruthless murder of his girlfriend. All this happens in the general vicinity of Union Station, which didn't see this much excitement again until Brian De Palma made it a centerpiece of The Untouchables (1987) almost forty years later. The climax takes place in the catacombs under the station, always a trusty location for suspense, as demonstrated by movies as different as The Phantom of the Opera (especially the 1925 and 1943 versions) and The Third Man, which had opened in US theaters earlier in 1950.
The punchy visuals of Union Station are easy to explain. It was photographed by Daniel L. Fapp, whose career brought in seven Academy Award® nominations and a win for the 1961 musical West Side Story. And it was directed by former cinematographer Rudolph Maté, who apprenticed with Alexander Korda, worked in Europe with Karl Freund and Carl Theodor Dreyer, then relocated to Hollywood in 1935 and became a director in 1947. He was even busier than Holden in 1950, starting the year with the weepy No Sad Songs for Me and turning out Union Station between D.O.A., a major noir classic, and Branded, an Alan Ladd vehicle. Maté gives Union Station a sense of propulsive movement in every scene that counts, keeping the action quickly paced and coherent no small feat in a movie with so many momentary subplots and minor characters that it's been likened to multiple-storyline dramas of the Grand Hotel (1932) variety. Its ancestry has also been traced to Jules Dassin's classic The Naked City (1948), released two years earlier; its most famous descendant may be The French Connection of 1971.
Set in Chicago and shot in Los Angeles except for a few long-distance shots of a New York elevated railway, Union Station is based on Thomas Walsh's novel Nightmare in Manhattan, which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post under the title Manhattan Madness and went on to win the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best first mystery, bestowed by the Mystery Writers of America in 1950. Ladd and John Lund were reportedly considered for the Calhoun character before Holden reluctantly signed on; an extra benefit of recruiting him was the opportunity to pair him again with Nancy Olson, who'd played the aspiring writer Holden's character befriends in Sunset Blvd. and seems equally at ease portraying Joyce, the conveniently single woman who sets the Union Station story rolling. The cast's other standout is Barry Fitzgerald, a Naked City veteran who puts his Irish-American persona to good use as Donnelly, a seasoned cop who supplements his muscle-work with an occasional prayer.
Film noir had its heyday between 1940 and 1960, starting as an edgy extension of the German expressionist style (Maté had shot Vampyr for Dreyer in 1932) and turning in more offbeat directions as World War II receded in memory and newer, murkier anxieties invaded Americans' dreams. A police procedural at heart, Union Station is just what you'd expect at the midpoint of the cycle, combining the shadowy images and restless pacing of '40s noir with the growing cynicism and anger of the '50s variety, crystallized most intensely in a remarkable scene where the cops bully a crook into confessing by dangling him over the tracks and swearing they'll toss him under an oncoming train if he doesn't cough up what they want in the next few seconds. Reviewers have treated the picture respectfully, with the New York Times calling it "a tense crime thriller," the Chicago Reader describing it as a "nail-biter" directed by "one of the better...American neorealists" of the period, Time Out London deeming it "a sharp, brilliantly staged thriller," and Variety saying that while Holden seems rather "youthful in appearance" for his top-cop job, he is "in good form" nevertheless. These critics are right. More than half a century old, Union Station holds up well.
Producer: Jules Schermer
Director: Rudolph Maté
Screenplay: Sydney Boehm, based on Nightmare in Manhattan by Thomas Walsh
Cinematographer: Daniel L. Fapp
Film Editing: Ellsworth Hoagland
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick
Music: Irvin Talbot
With: William Holden (Lt. William Calhoun), Nancy Olson (Joyce Willecombe), Barry Fitzgerald (Inspector Donnelly), Lyle Bettger (Joe Beacom), Jan Sterling (Marge Wrighter), Allene Roberts (Lorna Murchison), Herbert Heyes (Henry Murchison), Don Dunning (Gus Hadder), Fred Graff (Vince Marley), James Seay (Detective Shattuck), Parley E. Baer (Detective Gottschalk), Ralph Sanford (Detective Fay), Richard Karlan (Detective Stein), Bigelow Sayre (Detective Ross), Charles Dayton (Howard Kettner), Jean Ruth (Pretty Girl), Paul Lees (Young Man Masher), Harry Hayden (Conductor Skelly).
by David Sterritt
Nothin's done right unless Tough Willy does it himself.- Patrolman
How long you been working here?- Lt. William Calhoun
Four weeks tomorrow, Lieutenant.- Patrolman
You need twenty-five years before you're eligible for a pension...and you won't make it. Not if you ever call me Willy.- Lt. William Calhoun
The people you have to deal with are lice. They never keep their word to anyone about anything; they won't to you.- Inspector Donnelly
Gonna send that kid home, aren't you, Joe? I mean after we collect.- Marge Wrighter
She'll go home...they ever fish her out of the river. Let's have the coffee, huh?- Joe Beacom
Thomas Walsh's novel was originally published in The Saturday Evening Post under the title Manhattan Madness. The working titles of this film were Manhattan Madness and Nightmare in Manhattan. According to a pre-production Los Angeles Times news item, John Lund was at one time considered for the lead role. Hollywood Reporter news items reported that Alan Ladd was initially considered for the lead, and Wandra Hendrix was cast as "Lorna." Union Station marked the feature film debut of character actor Robert Cornthwaite (1917-2006), who was billed as Robert R. Cornthwaite. Technical advisor E. W. Smith worked as a lieutenant in the Los Angeles police force.
Many scenes were shot on location in and around Los Angeles, most notably Union Station, and the L.A. Union Depot and Stockyards. Other locations included Griffith Park in Los Angeles, Saugus, a train station in Pasadena, which doubled for the "Westhampton" station in the film, and an East Los Angeles station. The Los Angeles Times review noted that "actually, so many of the sequences were shot here (or in a reasonable facsimile thereof) that it will come as something of a surprise to Angelenos to find an L [sic] train and stockyards suspiciously like those in Chicago popping up suddenly in the same city. To be sure, Paramount never says 'This is L.A.' in so many words, and an early reference to a suburb as 'Westhampton' should be the tip-off that it isn't."