Union Station

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Rudolph Maté

REVIEWED: 02-01-99

This unsung noir classic features Holden (who starred with Nancy Olsen in Sunset Blvd. that same year) as Lt. Calhoun, the chief of railroad police in Chicago's Union Station. He gets wind of a kidnapping scheme involving a blind heiress, using the station as a drop point for the money, and sets out the police dragnet in the vast building. Calhoun must contend with the crisis without setting the station building into a panic, however. The city police, headed by Inspector Donnelly (Fitzgerald), are brought in when the kidnapper slips through station security with the victim. One of the kidnapper's accomplices is chased into the Chicago stockyards, where gunfire sends cattle into a stampede that tramples the crook. Another henchman is apprehended on one of the station's concourses and dragged onto a deserted platform to be roughed up by detectives. A sharp punch to the kidneys doesn't bring about the desired results, so the police simply threaten to throw him in front of an oncoming train, pulling him back at the last possible moment. The police arrive at the gang's hideout moments too late, as the crooks have already made off with the girl. The kidnapper's girlfriend tells the cops of the plan to murder the girl after the ransom is paid, raising the stakes and earning the girlfriend a bullet for her treachery. The chase winds up in the maze of tunnels that crisscrosses downtown Chicago, amid electrical cables and puddles of stagnant water. On the surface, Union Station is a fairly routine action film for 1950, with its high level of suspense, strong-arm police procedural tactics, and caper-film trappings. However, a definite noir outlook is belied by the fact that the police play as rough as the bad guys, blurring the lines of good and evil. Audiences are used to seeing Barry Fitzgerald as a kindly Irish priest in most roles; during the scene on the empty platform, though, Fitzgerald's Inspector Donnelly tells the cops in his most charming Father O'Flaherty voice, "Make it look accidental." That's one of the more chilling moments of noir, more suited to James Ellroy than Fifties Hollywood. Director Maté also helmed the classic D.O.A in 1950.

--Jerry Renshaw

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