Union Pacific Reviews
Stanwyck delivers brogue Irish well and she's interesting enough to watch, but the romantic melodrama shares at least equal stage, if not more, with the advertised theme of forging America's first intercontinental railway.
And even much of that story feels fairly cliche - Injun attacks, trestle collapses, train robberies and such. There's not much truly historical footing to be found here either. In fact, the Chinese coolie labor is conspicuously absent.
Oddly, this film was awarded the 1939 Palme d'Or - retroactively in 2002. The first official Cannes was in 1940, but it apparently wanted to be on record regarding 1939, classic Hollywood's most golden year. They couldn't really award it to any of the titles hindsight now honors - and still be insightful - so, pass the envelope please, it's Union Pacific!
RECOMMENDATION: It's no Saturday afternoon oater, it's better-than-average Western fare compared to its period but, again, it's not truly epic in scope. Consider checking out a far-feistier Stanwyck in "The Furies" (1950) instead.
Cecil B. Demille certainly knows how to make things epic. This is a huge movie. Sure, he's using obvious models, but that was normal at the time. Who can hold that against him? Besides, I got me an imagination. I can use it every so often, then so can you. I mean, there's sh*t blowing up left and right. Not so much with the fire, but a train hitting a water tower or falling off a snowy hill. Tell me the last time you've seen two separate train accidents in one movie. Lord knows I haven't and I've seen a lot of sh*t. Man... crazy!
I love Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck. Putting them in a western is a genius idea. McCrea is just a badass nice guy. He can do no wrong in this movie (even though he does and no one has a problem with it). But he's got this tortured life because of a friend. And to be honest, I love when friends are enemies in a story. That creates a fantastic dynamic. It's the whole Clark Kent / Lex Luthor aspect in Smallville. That's right. I just compared a great American classic to a television show on the CW. I'm a turd.
But I did really like this movie. The cast is fantastic, the action is actually pretty great. There's this one scene that's really just exciting and heartbreaking at the same time. The scene of trying to get the payroll back was killer. I mean, Barbara Stanwyck is kind of a b*tch for lying, but she's doing it to save Joel McCrea's life. On top of that, even after the whole bit is over, Stanwyck saves McCrea? I mean, this guy just pressured her to marry him by threatening to kill the man she loved. I understand that there's this sacred vow of marriage and that she's Irish (one day I'll break into the whole Irish thing), but really? I mean, I expected her to shoot him. That would be a hell of a story. She has to sit and rot in prison because she murdered a man who stole the payroll, and McCrea would have to watch her? But that didn't happen. I guess I am pretty grateful for that because this movie was really kind of fantastic.
It ends a bit too neatly. Part of me was happy about that, but the other half called bullsh*t on that one. I mean, yeah, it's 1939 and you have this ruckus action love story. You really can't end it negatively, but I always like those endings so much better. Why? Because I have a hard heart, that's why! But either way, the movie absolutely fantastic and I'm a better man for watching it.