Union Pacific (1939)

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.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Akim Tamiroff Films
  • Anthony Quinn Films
  • Barbara Stanwyck Films
  • Brian Donlevy Films
  • Cecil B. DeMille Films
  • Evelyn Keyes Films
  • Historical Drama
  • Joel McCrea Films
  • Lon Chaney, Jr. Films
  • Robert Preston Films
  • Trains and Subways

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 Irish 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.


One thought on “Union Pacific (1939)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see, though it’s one of the more enjoyable DeMille films – even if it still feels slightly longer than it needs to be.

    In agreement with the assessment, overall. DeMille really lucked out in the assembly of a particularly fine, strong cast, so maybe he used a lighter hand with them and trusted them more. They certainly seem more relaxed and confident than some casts in some other DeMille films.

    As well, the dialogue for this one seems to flow a lot more smoothly than in some other DeMille films. As a result, the viewing pleasure is increased. It’s just once in awhile that a scene seems longer than it needs to be.

    And, of course, there’s the issue of those ‘pesky’ facts about the true story behind the film. As usual, viewers need to look elsewhere for those.

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