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With: Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Preston, Lynne Overman, Brian Donlevy, Robert Barrat, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Ridges, Henry Kolker, Francis McDonald, Willard Robertson, Harold Goodwin, Evelyn Keyes, Richard Lane, Emory Parnell
Written by: Walter DeLeon, C. Gardner Sullivan, Jesse Lasky Jr., Jack Cunningham, based on a story by Ernest Haycox
Directed by: Cecil B. DeMille
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 135
Date: 05/05/1939

Union Pacific (1939)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Train Trek

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Cecil B. DeMille's Union Pacific is set during the building of the first transcontinental railroad, authorized by President Abraham Lincoln. It has a lot of characters, including — among many others — a wealthy villain who's trying to obstruct it, the villain's henchman (Brian Donlevy), a pretty, feisty girl, Mollie (Barbara Stanwyck), whose father is an engineer, the war buddy, Dick (Robert Preston), and the all-around hero, Captain Jeff Butler (Joel McCrea), among others. There's an American Indian attack, a love triangle (between Mollie, Dick, and Jeff), a couple of spectacular crashes, and the driving of the Golden Spike. It's a bit graceless compared to other Westerns of the day, especially John Ford's Stagecoach (both were inspired by stories by Ernest Haycox), but it works in a kind of old-fashioned, broad-spirited way. I really wanted to see it because I have a photograph of DeMille at work on the film that was taken by my grandfather in 1938 in his home of Rawlins, Wyoming. Coincidentally, the film was also shot in my hometown, Sonora, California. Kino Lorber's Blu-ray release looks and sounds terrific, and comes with a commentary track by film historians Dr. Eloise Ross and Paul Anthony Nelson, plus a batch of trailers.

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