Union Station (1950) Rudolph Maté
Olive Films Blu-ray
A woman (Nancy Olson) watches as two men board her Chicago-bound train, both looking a bit suspicious. She notices one of them concealing a pistol, which causes her to alert the authorities at Chicago’s Union Station. The head of railroad security, Lt. William Calhoun (William Holden), is initially suspicious, but decides to check it out.
It turns out the woman was onto something. Calhoun discovers that the daughter of a local millionaire has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom. But that’s just about all Calhoun does know.
Union Station is a taut, tense noir that suffers only from the fact that we’ve seen its like before in the “find-the-kidnappers-before-they-kill-the-abductee” category. Yet the rest of the film is solid, especially in the way Maté handles the police procedural aspect of the film. Early on we see Calhoun as supremely confident and in control, a man who neither wastes time nor suffers fools lightly. When he overhears one of his men referring to him as “Willie,” Calhoun asks him how long he’s been on the job. The man says it’s been about four weeks. “You’ll never make it to see a pension,” Calhoun tells him and we believe he’s going to start writing the guy’s pink slip immediately.
I can’t think of anyone better suited for the role than Holden (who had just finished Sunset Boulevard shortly before this film). He has a kind of confidence that’s not quite a swagger, but it’s close. He doesn’t have to bark orders – all he has to do is say the word and his men jump to it. Most of the time he doesn’t even have to talk, relying on a head nod or a glance while tailing a suspect.
The procedural aspect of Union Station is one of its strengths and Maté presents it in a quasi-documentary style, somewhat similar to Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948). The stylistic contrasts (especially in lighting) between the mostly well-lit interiors of the Union Station offices and the shadows of the kidnappers’ hideouts are striking and effective. Also effective is the performance of Lyle Bettger as Joe Beacom, the cold-blooded mastermind of the kidnapping plot.
Barry Fitzgerald as the stereotypical Irish police inspector wears a bit thin, but he’s good in the role. The ending also leaves something to be desired in the believability department, but by that point, Union Station has already solidified itself as a sturdy film noir that earns its keep.
The Blu-ray from Olive Films looks and sounds quite good. Unfortunately the disc contains no extras, and since this is my first Olive Films disc, I don’t know if that’s standard procedure for them. Still, the release is impressive enough for me to seek out other Olive releases.