Wednesday, May 09, 2018
2018 Cannes Marathon: Union Pacific
(Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1939 Cannes Film Festival Awarded Retrospectively at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival)
Based on the novel Trouble Shooter by Ernest Haycox, Union Pacific is the story of a conflict over the Union Pacific Railroad plan where a man schemes to make profits over the construction as a troubleshooter tries to stop it from happening as he’s also dealing with other foes. Directed by Cecil B. DeMille and screenplay by Walter DeLeon, Jesse Lasky Jr., and C. Gardner Sullivan from an adapted story by Jack Cunningham, the film is a western set during the final days of the Civil War to the emergence of the American West where men try to profit from what is to come with those wanting to ensure that progress emerges. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Preston, Lynne Overman, Anthony Quinn, and Brian Donlevy. Union Pacific is a thrilling and adventurous film from Cecil B. DeMille.
Set in the mid-1860s from the final days of the American Civil War to the moment the Central Pacific railway line and the Union Pacific railway line meet on May of 1869, the film revolves around this monumental event in American history where a group of gamblers and politicians try to scheme their way in the hope that one of the companies succeed in this venture. With the more-established Central Pacific railway wanting to get the glory of being the railroad service for the U.S., President Lincoln authorizes the Union Pacific to do the job from linking the railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific as there’s individuals that want to ensure that Union Pacific fail in their mission. The film’s screenplay largely follows the lives of three individuals in a troubleshooter named Captain Jeff Butler (Joel McCrea), an Irish mailwoman named Mollie Monahan (Barbara Stanwyck) whose father is an engineer for one of the Union Pacific trains, and Dick Allen (Robert Preston) who is a gambler that works with another gambler who is hired by a banker to ensure that trouble emerges for the Union Pacific. Captain Butler and Allen are friends who are both in love with Monahan yet are working in different camps that would eventually cause trouble.
Cecil B. DeMille’s direction is astonishing in terms of its visuals and setting as it does play into the world of the American West. Shot partially on location in Iron Springs, Utah with some of the film shot in studio sets in Hollywood, the film does play into the world of the American West and the sense of change that emerges. DeMille’s direction would include some wide shots of the locations but would maintain a sense of intimacy inside the train cars as well as the saloons through medium shots and close-ups. Yet, there are these intense action sequences that would include miniatures for a sequence late in the film relating to the building of train tracks near snowy landscape would prove to be a marvel to watch. Even in scenes involving shootouts and chases would provide a sense of immediacy into the action as well as in the moments of the suspense where Captain Butler beings to suspect what Allen could be doing. There are also some elements of romance which does give the film a break from the action as it play into the tension between the three protagonists as they also have to cope with the fact that there’s forces that want to ensure that the Union Pacific doesn’t succeed. All of which play into this event that would shape American history when the two railroad companies meet. Overall, DeMille crafts a riveting and exciting film about a troubleshooter dealing with forces trying to stop a monumental event from happening.
Cinematographer Victor Milner does excellent work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography in capturing the brightness of the scenes in the day as well as how the saloons are lit. Editor Anne Bauchens does brilliant work with the editing as it has some unique rhythmic cuts for the action as well as a few transition wipes to play into the sense of adventure. Art directors Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier do amazing work with the look of the saloons as well as the interiors of the train compartments and the places the characters go to. Costume designer Natalie Visart does fantastic work with the costumes from the look of the suits the men wore as well as some of the clothing that the women wore in those times with the exception of the ragged look that Monahan has.
The special effects work of Barney Wolff is terrific for the usage of miniatures for sequences involving trains including one notable sequence set in the snow as well as some of the gunfights in the film. Sound recordists John Cope and Harry Lindgren do superb work with the sound in the way gunfire sounds as well as the atmosphere of the saloons and train compartments. The film’s music by Sigmund Krumgold and John Liepold is wonderful for its sweeping orchestral score that play into the sense of adventure as well as in some of the drama while the rest of the music feature an array of traditional music pieces from the Civil War and its aftermath.
The film’s marvelous cast feature some notable small roles from Harold Goodwin as the telegrapher E.E. Calvin, Henry Kolker as the banker Asa M. Barrows who is the mastermind in scheming against Union Pacific, Francis McDonald as Captain Butler’s superior General Grenville M. Dodge, Robert Barrat and Anthony Quinn as a couple of Campeau’s henchmen, Lynne Overman as a friend of Captain Butler in Leach Overmile who is a comic relief in the film, and Akim Tamiroff in a terrific performance as another of Captain Butler’s friend in Fiesta as the Mexican who provides some funny commentary as well as deal with Campeau’s men. Brian Donlevy is excellent as the scheming gambler Sid Campeau as a man that works for Barrows as he is willing to do whatever he can to ensure that Union Pacific fails by any means necessary.
Robert Preston is brilliant as Dick Allen as a gambler who is a partner of Campeau as well as Captain Butler’s best friend as he’s torn over his loyalty towards the latter as well as the prospect of money from the former which he needs as he’s in love with Monahan. Joel McCrea is amazing as Captain Jeff Butler as a troubleshooter who is trying to ensure that things go well for the Union Pacific as he’s also in love with Monahan as he tries to keep his distance to do his job as he knows what is at stake. Finally, there’s Barbara Stanwyck in an incredible performance as Mollie Monahan as an Irish mailwoman whose father is an engineer for the Union Pacific that finds herself torn between two men as well as wanting to help the Union Pacific as it’s a fiery and charismatic performance from Stanwyck.
Union Pacific is a remarkable film from Cecil B. DeMille. Featuring a great cast, lovely visuals, top-notch special effects, and thrilling music. It’s a film that play into the progress of America in the west as well as what some will do to stop progress from happening for their own selfish reasons. In the end, Union Pacific is a marvelous film from Cecil B. DeMille.
© thevoid99 2018
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