Union Pacific (1939)
May 11, 1939
THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Cecil Be De Mille Continues His Historical Roadwork With 'Union Pacific' Opening at the Paramount--'Hotel Imperial' Is Shown.
Cecil B. DeMille's production of "Union Pacific," a labor, we understand, only slightly less herculean than the building of the railroad itself, has come to the Paramount the veriest bit behind schedule. "Dodge City" beat it to the Times Square terminal, so did "Stage Coach," "Let Freedom Ring" and "The Oklahoma Kid." (We won't mention "Jesse James" in the same breath with railroads.) Inevitably these other arias from the horse opera have made the song of the great open spaces unduly familiar. Still and all—and there is a great deal to its all—Mr. DeMille's little opus is a mighty fine movie, colorful, spectacular and of distinguished ancestry. "The Iron Horse" sired it. Certainly it won't be dammed in this morning's column.
For Mr. DeMille spares nothing, horses or actors, when he turns his hand to Western history. He may not be one of our more subtle directors; his touch has been known to crush a location troupe down to the last assistant director. But he has learned a few things during the years about action and camera. Even when nothing is happening he manages to keep his screen alive. He stages a romantic dialogue on a hand-car hemmed in by grunting bison, a tender farewell in a caboose surrounded by whooping redskins, his sentimental death scenes in a gambling hell and beneath the smoking fragments of a wrecked locomotive. When he has a chance for real action, of course, the sky's the limit—Indian raids, shooting scrapes, brawls, fist-fights, train robberies, fires, chases and trestle-breaks.
Say that for the picture: it is an encyclopedia of frontier adventure in which every anticipated peril is hazardously encountered, every predictable plot-turn affably realized. In fact we hesitate to speak of the story at all, so confident are we that you already know everything there is to know about the building of the first transcontinental railroad. Need we mention, for example, that Brian Donlevy has been paid by a banker named Barrows to entice the honest workingmen from their jobs by gambling, liquor and sequined ladies? That Joel McCrea is the durable trouble-shooter assigned to Mr. Donlevy's frustration so that the UP reaches Ogden before the CP's tracks are there? Or that his Civil War buddy, Robert Preston, is in the enemy camp? Or that Barbara Stanwyck's romantic presence is explained by having her play the Irish engineer's tomboyish daughter?
No, there shouldn't be any need, any more than you would bear reminding that Mr. De Mille's penchant for "character-comics" has been amusingly exercised by his choice of Akim Tamiroff as a mule boss and Lynne Overman as a 'backy-chawing hand. These are the basic ingredients of any, and every, epic of the iron horse; and when Mr. De Mille insists he has history on his side—demonstrating it by the complete documentation of every spike, shovel, costume, engine number and war-bonnet in the film—we know he is thinking of screen history, too. For he is one of our favorite traditionalists and we would not have him otherwise.
His picture has been generously and interestingly staged, so that its plus-two-hour running time seems not too long, and the performances are almost uniformly good. If any of the players must be singled out for special mention, they would be Miss Stanwyck for a lively and surprisingly convincing characterization of the Irish spitfire and Mr. Preston (a newcomer) for his portrayal of the reckless Dick Allen. So there it is—a big, old-fashioned De Mille show, and easily the best he has made in years.
UNION PACIFIC, from a story by Ernest Haycox; adaptation by Jack Cunningham, with screen play by Walter DeLeon, C. Gardner Sullivan and Jesse Lasky Jr.; directed and produced for Paramount by Cecil B. DeMille. At the Paramount.
Mollie Monahan . . . . . Barbara Stanwyck
Jeff Butler . . . . . Joel McCrea
Dick Allen . . . . . Robert Preston
Fiesta . . . . . Akim Tamiroff
Leach Overmile . . . . . Lynne Overman
Sid Campeau . . . . . Brian Donlevy
Jack Cordray . . . . . Anthony Quinn
Barrows . . . . . Henry Kolker
Mrs. Calvin . . . . . Evelyn Keyes
Casement . . . . . Stanley Ridges
Barker . . . . . Syd Saylor
Monahan . . . . . J. M. Kerrigan
Dusky Clayton . . . . . William Haade
Al Brett . . . . . Harry Woods
Paddy O'Rourke . . . . . Regis Toomey
Cookie . . . . . Fuzzy Knight
General Dodge . . . . . Francis MacDonald
Sam Reed . . . . . Richard Lane
Gambler . . . . . Hugh McDonald
Shamus . . . . . Joseph Sawyer
Rose . . . . . Sheila Darcy
Mrs. Cassidy . . . . . Ruth Warren
Dollarhide . . . . . Lon Chaney Jr.
Indian Chief . . . . . Richard Robles
Fanny . . . . . Bobbie La Salle
Lulu . . . . . Evelyn Luckey
Maggie . . . . . Calla Waltz
Dinty . . . . . William Pawley