1 January 2007 | MartinHafer
Very entertaining in a rough and salacious way
This film is highly entertaining and will probably keep your interest throughout, though it is far from cerebral or polished. Instead, it's a very good example of a drama spiced up with liberal doses of sex and violence during the "pre-Code era". Unlike a film that would have been made only a few years later, this film abounds with sleazy characters and plot lines as well as "colorful dialog" that would have been taboo once the more rigid and widely enforced Production Code was enacted due to pressure from low ticket sales and public outrage. As for me, I actually love to watch these films because they dare to be so different and because they are the antithesis of what people today think older films were.
So what were some of the pre-Code plot elements? First, the "hero" of the film, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., is a hobo who steals, lies and even slaps around a woman who he thinks is a prostitute! In addition, subplots involve a dirty old man who is addicted to having a nice young lady (Joan Blondell) read him dirty stories, a woman who walks her husband to the train where he's a porter and leaves with her lover who is just getting off this same train, pickpockets, counterfeiters, attempted murder and actual prostitution! You name a sin, and it's probably alluded to in some way during the course of this breezy film! Now despite all these sleazy elements, the film is surprisingly well-written and integrates all these subplots into a fine coherent picture. TCM described the movie as being inspired by the book GRAND HOTEL (the movie of this book actually came out after UNION DEPOT) and while this is certainly true, this film also features far more subplots and pre-Code taboos than the film version of GRAND HOTEL--which was a lot more polished and refined. In many ways, the sophisticated GRAND HOTEL (from the more polished studio, MGM) is more like an upper-crust version of this film and UNION DEPOT is more a film for the common man and woman--and so it's not surprising it's a Warner Brothers film.