First National Pictures
I think I heard the word, “swell” about a dozen times in this movie…which made me giggle. It’s kind of corny, but relevant slang for the times. Now, before I get too carried away here, I want to thank Danny at the Pre-Code.com blog for tipping me off about this movie. His review of this flick was a great inspiration and help in understanding what the heck was going on.
For a picture mostly filmed in the studio, Union Depot had a respectable train allotment including two Southern Pacific steam locomotives I could identify, a named Pullman 12-1 sleeper and the pre-LAUPT Southern Pacific Central Station to name a few. And let’s not overlook the enormous Union Depot set itself built in the studio — which would be re-used in many more upcoming movies.
Joan Blondell (Yowza!) plays chorus girl Ruth Collins alongside the rakish Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as hobo/bum Chick Miller who cleans up nicely (literally) before he meets his gal pal.
Let’s go down to the station and see what’s happening. All Abooooooarrrrd!!!
Joan turns on a dazzling smile as she and Doug discuss travel plans. In the background is the Union Depot soundstage which included offices, a cafe, bathrooms, waiting room with wooden pews, numbered gates to trains and columns. Lots of columns.
Extra! Extra! Read all about it! A newsboy hawks papers headlining the latest scandal as the camera enters the depot; Overhead crane shots of the station set.
Out on the platform a would-be starlet shows some leg to the press; Conductor waves a highball with his lantern; Wifey says goodbye to her Pullman porter husband; As the train pulls out, we clearly see a name “Rayner” on the car.
The 12-1 Pullman sleeper Rayner had an in-service date of November 28, 1916. Built to Plan 2410F (12 section – 1 drawing room) by Pullman-Standard. Rayner was sold as TC #2082 on February 10, 1936 to the Tennessee Central Railway.
I love this guy. I believe his cap reads, “Assistant Station Master”. In a grand, sonorous voice, he announces the arrival and departure of each train. And WHAT a collection of trains use this depot. “South to Gulf” and “North to Great Lakes” makes me think our U.D. is “somewhere in the middle” (Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago).
I’m leaning towards Kansas City. At one point, the A.S.M. clearly announces, “All Aboard for the Spartan — on track #4: Des Moines, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Duluth and Winnipeg.” All those cities are due north out of K.C.
Back to the story. It’s complicated, but Chick gets into the depot with a filched Information Booth uniform, then winds up with a proper suit and shave when a passenger leaves his luggage behind in the Men’s Room. Of course, there’s some moolah in the suit, so he can go have a meal in the cafe.
Look at those big, beseeching eyes. Zowie! Chick meets Ruth and is instantly smitten. Ruth needs to get to Salt Lake City to rejoin her touring show.
Ahoy! Another person of interest enters the scene. Over at the depot’s parcel room, The Baron (con man Bushy Sloan) is checking his very valuable violin at the counter. Hey, that’s Little John from Robin Hood! The Skipper’s Dad! Alan Hale himself!
Ho! Ha-ha! Guard! Turn! Parry!
Plot twist! The violin case winds up in Chick’s possession. Just as he’s about to pawn the instrument, he finally opens it and discovered it’s full of money! (Unbeknownst to him, it is counterfeit.)
Now flush with cash, he discusses travel plans with Ruth. Note the Union Pacific System Timetable, the Information Booth guy is referencing. Union Pacific Railroad did offer passenger service at time of filming from Kansas City to Salt Lake City (Ogden) on Trains #21/#22, the “Pacific Coast Limited”.
Filming at Espee’s Central Station in Los Angeles was at night, but I was still able to identify two steam locomotives. Here we see SP #2423, a P-1 class 4-6-2, built by Baldwin.
Behind Chick — looks like SP #1119, an Alco-built (Schenectady) 0-6-0 Class S-7 switcher. At one point, there’s a foot chase between #1119 and #2423. Close clearances!
Here’s what sister engines 4-6-2 #2401 and 0-6-0 #1121 look like for comparison.
Face Hold! Chick lets Bushy have it. As the combatants are restrained, note the two classic paintings on the wall behind them: #1 is “Giant Conquerors of Space and Time” (Pennsylvania Railroad) by Grif Teller and; #2 is “Eastward, Westward – The Centuries at Buffalo Central Terminal – The New York Central Lines” by Walter L. Greene.
Great shot of the Pullman step box and Porter at attention as the conductor calls, “All Aboard”. Note the lantern under his arm and all those service stripes on his sleeve. Plenty of whiskers for the train boss!
Finally everything is straightened out and Chick is saying goodbye to Ruth as the train pulls out. That’s some heavy hand shaking, right there! “Gee it’s been swell knowing you.”
Chick is trackside as the “Mountain City Limited” pulls out (nice drumhead they whomped up just for the movie). As the credits roll, I count 4 unknown steam engines lined up for their portrait.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Union Depot:
If you have ANY information about this movie you’d like to share, please contact me at: Lindsay.Korst@gmail.com, or leave a comment. Thanks and enjoy the blog!
Too bad the resolution on that shot of the arrival and departure board is not quite sharp enough to make out all the lettering. Someone obviously went to the trouble of making up a pretty elaborate schedule just for the film.
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