Union Depot (film)

Union Depot

Title Shot
Directed by Alfred E. Green
Produced by Darryl Zanuck
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Screenplay by Walter DeLeon
Kenyon Nicholson
Kubec Glasmon
Based on Union Depot
1929 play
by Joe Laurie, Jr.
Gene Fowler
Douglas Durkin
Starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Joan Blondell
Music by Leo F. Forbstein
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Jack Killifer
Release dates
  • January 14, 1932 (1932-01-14)
Running time
65 minutes
Language English

Union Depot is a 1932 American Pre-Code film starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Joan Blondell, directed by Alfred E. Green for Warner Brothers, and based upon an unpublished play by Joe Laurie, Jr., Gene Fowler, and Douglas Durkin.

The film, an ensemble piece for the studio’s contract players, features performances by Guy Kibbee, Alan Hale, Sr., Frank McHugh, David Landau, and George Rosener.[1]


Charles "Chick" Miller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), is a hobo released from jail along with fellow drifter "Scrap Iron" Scratch (Guy Kibbee). Through a series of chance encounters with travelers in a large railroad station, he becomes, in his own words, a "Gentleman for a Day" (the name under which the film was released in the United Kingdom).

He picks up Ruth Collins (Joan Blondell), a broke and out-of-work chorus girl, desperate to raise the train fare to Salt Lake City, where a job is waiting for her. She confides she is worried about being followed by Dr. Bernardi (George Rosener), a fellow resident of her cheap boarding house. He paid her to read to him in the evenings material she found disgusting.

Meanwhile, masquerading as a German musician, Bushy Sloan (Alan Hale, Sr.) checks in a violin case full of counterfeit money. Soon after, a pickpocket steals his wallet, containing his claim check. When the thief throws the wallet away after taking the cash, Scrap Iron finds the claim check inside. Chick, who has "acquired" respectable clothing, then claims the violin case and discovers what it contains. He hides it in a coal scuttle and has his buddy stand guard, while he ponders what to do. Chick gives Ruth some of the money to buy clothes.

While Chick is away, Dr. Bernardi sends Ruth a train ticket and a message to meet him in the compartment. Believing the ticket is from Chick, Ruth goes there. When she finds Bernardi instead, she begins screaming. Chick breaks through the locked door, but Bernardi escapes through a window. However, in his haste, he is knocked down and killed by a passing train.

The suspicious dress shop clerk (Adrienne Dore) takes the counterfeit money to the station manager. Both Ruth and Chick are taken into custody by government agent Kendall (David Landau). Kendall has been alerted that Bushy may be at the station, but has no description of the counterfeiter. He believes that Ruth either is Bushy or is connected to him. To clear her, Chick goes to get the violin case, accompanied by agent Jim Parker (Earle Foxe). However, Bushy follows them, shoots Parker and flees with the case. Chick chases him down. All is eventually cleared up, and Ruth has a bittersweet parting from Chick, as she leaves on the train.


All primary cast members are deceased. Further cast:

Risque topics

Because it was produced prior to the rigid enforcement of the Production Code, the film contains many topics that would, by 1934, have jeopardized the certificate of approval needed for the film to be shown in the United States. Some of these forbidden topics include:

Critical reception

The picture launched its New York debut at the Winter Garden Theater, on January 14, 1932. The New York Times movie critic, Mordaunt Hall, characterized Union Depot as an “ingenious, rather than artistic” melodrama recalling the (then) play Grand Hotel. He noted that some of the dialogue was at times, unnecessarily “raw” and that Mr. Fairbanks appeared to have “taken a leaf from James Cagney’s book, judging by his talk and the way he slaps a girl’s face”. He also questioned the realism of a hobo speaking with Mr. Fairbanks’ excellent elocution.[4]

In addition to noting performances by Blondell and Fairbanks, Variety magazine also praised the "capital technique" employed in the series of brief scenes utilized at the beginning of the movie to establish the film's tongue-in-cheek attitude toward human (mis)behavior.[5]

Much attention has also been given to the construction of the lavish train depot station set in which most of the movie takes place. This set was subsequently used in future Warner Brothers movies.[6]


  1. IMDB. Internet Movie Database, last accessed: May 13, 2008.
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023642/
  3. The Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, reasons for Underlying General Principals, Section 1.(2)
  4. New York Times, "Union Depot, All Aboard", January 15, 1932
  5. Variety. Union Depot, film review, January 1, 1932. Last accessed: May 13, 2008.
  6. Allmovie, last accessed on May 16, 2008
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