Union Station, starring William Holden, Nancy Olson, Paramount Pictures Studios, 1951
No question I am a film noir aficionado. Recently I have been on a tear reviewing various film noir efforts and drawing comparisons between the ones that “speak” to me and those that, perhaps, should have been left on the cutting room floor. The classics are easy; films like Out Of the Past, Gilda, The Lady From Shang-hai, and The Big Sleep need no additional comment from me as they stand on their own merits. Others, because they have a fetching (or wicked, for that matter, femme fatale to muddy the waters also get a pass, or as in Gilda a double nod for the plot and for the femme fatale. Be still my heart, at the name Rita Hayworth. I have even tried to salvage some efforts by touting their plot lines, and others by their use of shadowy black and white cinematography to overcome plot problems. Like The Third Man (and, in that case, the bizarre zither-drenched musical score as well). And that brings us to those films, like the film under review, 1951s Union Station, starring William Holden and Nancy Olson that have no redeeming film noir qualities.
Now I mentioned the stars and the year of this film for a purpose. 1951 also saw this pair in one of the great film noir, no, flat-out great films of all time, Sunset Boulevard, so it is not the acting capabilities, although Brother Holden may have been a little tired from playing Norma Desmond’s pet or maybe just a little bloated from being in that swimming pool too long. What is missing here is though is any spark in order to get interested in actors or plot.
The plot line, in any case, is rather conventional. A con, or rather ex-con, who had plenty of time on his hands up in stir, decides that from here on in he is going to live on easy street and so whiled away those lonely prison cell hours devising a plot to get, what else, some serious dough. Easy street, after all, is no place for chump change. So naturally the idea is to kidnap a wealthy guy’s daughter (who is also blind, so a conveniently easy target), hold her for ransom, and easy street here we come (of course, said con has a moll, a moll who in the end he does wrong as such bad guys will do out of habit, a blonde moll, although such molls are not always blonde).
So you see, a pretty conventional plot, played out very conventionally. See said con used to work at, where else, Union Station (Chicago version), and so the swap (dough for daughter) is to take place there. What brother con did not figure on was that head railroad detective Willy Calhoun (the part played by William Holden, but don’t call him Willy to his face, okay) is like some avenging angel-god when criminal hijinks take place in his precinct. A fatal mistake, a very fatal mistake, for brother con. But it takes time, too much time, for him to learn that sad lesson. Oh, and along the way, Willy (remember don’t’ call him that to his face) “falls” for Joyce (played by Nancy Olson), who is the one who tipped him to the possible criminal enterprise that was looming at his place of work. I will take any five minutes, no, any two minutes of Sunset Boulevard over this whole one and one half hour stew. I guess Willy (oops, William)and Nancy needed dough that year themselves.