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  Union Station Off The Rails
Year: 1950
Director: Rudolph Maté
Stars: William Holden, Nancy Olson, Barry Fitzgerald, Lyle Bettger, Jan Sterling, Allene Roberts, Herbert Heyes, Don Dunning, Fred Graff, James Seay, Parley Baer, Ralph Sanford, Richard Karlan, Bigelow Sayre, Charles Dayton, Jean Ruth, Paul Lees, Harry Hayden
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: Joyce Willecombe (Nancy Olson) is the secretary to a wealthy businessman, but one of her main pleasures in her job is looking after his blind daughter Lorna (Allene Roberts), who is wont to bemoan her lot as the doctors continue to seek a cure for her affliction, but Joyce sees through this to the vulnerable girl Lorna really is. However, one day, after their chauffeur drops her off at the station, Joyce boards the train carriage and notes two men get on who make her shudder a little, and when she notices one of them is carrying a gun she grows alarmed. The conductor is sceptical, but has her contact the police anyway for her peace of mind - just as well, when the men are kidnappers...

And not only that, but they have kidnapped Lorna! This was not a case of our heroine turning Nancy Drew and solving the crime herself, as the cops send William Holden as Lieutenant William Carson, a no-nonsense sort who is initially as sceptical as the conductor, but soon realises the girl has been taken by some very nasty people indeed. Union Station marked one of the early moves to drift away from the film noir form as the decade of the nineteen-forties had become obsessed with in Hollywood thrillers and towards the police procedurals that marked the fifties. One film could be blamed for this style, The Naked City, the 1948 police drama that tried very successfully for realism.

Union Station was very much in that vein, to the extent that it was close to a rip-off in places, though the film noir influence was evidently difficult to shake off entirely and this is often identified within that genre, no matter that it was aiming for a gritty authenticity. It also shared a star with The Naked City in Barry Fitzgerald, the twinkly, diminutive Irish character actor who essayed the role of Holden's boss, bringing integrity and a degree of warmth to what was a rather cold experience as the lawmen were very much stick to the business of getting the job done types, so while before Holden and Olson would have seen a romance brewing between their characters, now there was no time for that.

Well, not until the final thirty seconds at least when apparently they felt after that grimness it needed a more uplifting coda to see the audience leaving with a more optimistic outlook than the relentlessly dour eighty minutes that made up the rest of the movie. Fair enough, it was not every scene that was hard-hitting, but they were the parts with the most impact, especially when there was a villain played by Lyle Bettger who threatened to steal the entire movie away from the other actors. He was beginning his career on the screen, but his role in this set him on a path of playing the bad guy because as you would witness with this, he could be an excellent bastard, thinking nothing of killing off the blind girl after securing his hundred-thousand-dollar ransom, which is what Carson realises is all-too-possible.

Bettger was so convincing as a vile piece of work with no redeeming features that he almost overbalances the movie, a truly intimidating performance that typecast him for the rest of his life, but it is gems like that which make vintage movies worth mining. The station of the title was the genuine location, that kind of authenticity away from the confines of the studio another indication things were changing in the thriller genre, and the script threw in distractions that mingling around the hoi polloi would have done for the cops trying to do their job and save the girl. Holden was fine as the straight arrow cop, though not so straight that he is above roughing up a suspect - another reason there was a sense of urgency running through the movie, since you really feel there is so much as stake, and Olson was the prim but strong-willed secretary to a tee, a strong combination against the forces of evil, who included Jan Sterling hardboiled as ever as Bettger's moll. Not top rank, then, it was a shade derivative for that, but a good show nonetheless.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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