Year: 1950

Director: Rudolph Mate

Cast: William Holden, Nancy Olson, Barry Fitzgerald, Jan Sterling

“Union Station,” an early police procedural, holds your interest throughout due to a tight story and a nice performance by William Holden. Made in 1950, and starring Holden and Nancy Olsen, who starred together the same year in Billy Wilder’s classic “Sunset Boulevard.” The cast also includes Barry Fitzgerald as Inspector Donnelly, a crotchety Irish cop, a role that Fitzgerald has made a career out of. Also in the cast are Lyle Bettger as the head kidnapper and Jan Sterling in a small role as his girlfriend.

Union Station police officer Lt. William Calhoun is told by a young woman, Joyce Willecombe (Olson) that she believes two men who were on her train may criminals planning to do something. She saw one of them carrying a gun. It turns out that the daughter of her boss, a blind girl, has been kidnapped, and the kidnappers have picked Union Station for the exchange. Calhoun (Holden) and Inspector Donnelly (Fitzgerald) spend the rest of the film battling the clock to identify and capture the kidnappers before they kill the girl.

The film was directed by Rudolph Mate who also made “D.O.A.” that same year. Mate’s career was mediocre though he made a couple of decent Westerns, “Branded” and “The Violent Men,” both with Glenn Ford. “Union Station” is a tough police thriller, especially if you are considering the year it was made. Halfway, through the film the police capture one of the kidnappers and in an attempt to get him to talk; he is smacked around, threaten with physical harm, bullied and almost thrown on to the tracks of an oncoming train. These cops would have been in good company with Harry Callahan. Notable in the cast is Lyle Bettger who plays Joe Beacom, a borderline psycho, who is the brains behind the kidnapping scheme. The final scenes in the belly of the Station are a visual treat. The script, though a bit unbelievable due to too many coincidences, still keeps you going. Written by Sydney Boehm whose credits include “Side Street,” “Violent Saturday,” “Rouge Cop” and Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat.”

1950 was a breakout year for Holden who had been in films since the late 1930’s but really came into his own with two Billy Wilder pictures, the previously mentioned “Sunset Boulevard” and his Academy Award winning performance in Wilder’s “Stalag 17.” Nancy Olson was also nominated for her role in “Sunset Boulevard” and would go on to make four films with Holden as her leading man. While Olson has continued acting into the late 1990’s her career took second place during her marriage to lyricist Alan Jay Learner in the 1950’s and never recovered.

I always have had a special affection for train movies. Films like this, “Union Depot,” “The 39 Steps,” “Strangers on a Train,” “Night Train to Munich” have always fascinated me, as do movies with a newspaper theme. “Union Station” has never been released on video so you need to keep a lookout for it on TCM.

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