Union Pacific (1939)

“A railroad from Omaha to California? One might as well think of flying!”

A shady stock manipulator (Henry Kolker) hires a gambling hall owner (Brian Donlevy) to intentionally stall progress on the Union Pacific railroad, but Donlevy’s partner (Robert Preston) — in love with the Irish daughter (Barbara Stanwyck) of an engineer — finds his loyalties tested when his old war buddy (Joel McCrea) comes on board as a “peace-keeping” troubleshooter, and romantic tensions emerge between Stanwyck, Preston, and McCrea.


Several years after “creatively” portraying the legend of Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickok in The Plainsman (1936), Cecil B. DeMille followed in the footsteps of John Ford’s silent classic The Iron Giant (1924) in offering this tale about the corruption inherent in the building of the transcontinental railroad (a massive, years-long, money-infused endeavor if there ever was one — though according to DVD Savant, the true source of corruption is sorely misrepresented here). The leads are all in top form, with Stanwyck especially appealing as a plucky Iris lass willing to face reality squarely in the eyes, and Preston eliciting a surprising amount of sympathy in a challenging baddie role. Overall, the tale is well-directed, and the cinematography by Victor Milner is impressive; but the dehumanization of Indians is distressing, and I’m not a fan of the humorous sidekicks played by Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman. While this is one of DeMille’s better flicks, it’s not must-see viewing by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Barbara Stanwyck as Mollie Monahan
  • Robert Preston as Dick Allen
  • Joel McCrea as Jeff Butler
  • Victor Milner’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for the lead performances.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.