For Reel


Union Depot (1932)
August 22, 2012, 5:06 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Alfred E. Green

The opening sequence of Alfred E. Green’s Union Depot is among the most remarkable to come out of Hollywood in the early 1930s. Sol Polito’s camera drifts through a train station, weaving through civilians while their conversations fade in and out of the soundtrack (one can’t help but be reminded of Wim Wender’s much later classic, Wings of Desire). It is almost seven minutes into the picture before star Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is introduced, miscast as a homeless man who has just been released from prison and intends to live large for a day. He chances upon Joan Blondell, a jobless chorus girl who is fleeing from a pervert, and promises to help her pay her train fare to Salt Lake City where a job temporarily awaits her. No other major studio in the early years of sound produced more risky pictures than Warner Brothers, and Union Depot is a remarkable example of their authorship – championing a common thief as the hero, as well as a woman who has resorted to prostitution, it is a film that could not have been made in Hollywood only two years later. Fairbanks’ casting was ill-conceived – he is too handsome, young, and well-spoken to be playing a cynical bum – but Blondell was always reliable as a fallen woman with a heart of gold. Polito’s camera is the true star of the picture, using elaborate crane shots that include the aforementioned opening long take in which he tracks from the exterior of the station through its entrance and beyond.

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