UNION PACIFIC——HEAD RAT: “Do you think you could handle ten thousand workmen? Keep them supplied with liquor and whatever amusements the Devil might buy? Keep them drunk and disorderly for month after month?” BRIAN DONLEVY: “Go on.”
Cecil B. DeMille’s contribution to 1939 is typically big, long, dumb and fun, decorated by a couple of eye-boggling train wrecks. The ‘story’ of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, and of the good & bad folk who built it is a ripe example of collaborative Hollywood bull, prime hamming and technical craftsmen muscle-flexing.
The script and director DeMille’s handling of it is choked with corny lines and ripe situations, cheerfully violent. The cast have a ball: Joel McCrea as trouble-shooter for the law & order lineup; Barbara Stanwyck, bleeding blarney as a feisty Irish colleen; Robert Preston, arrogant and testy as a good heart in bad guy; Brian Donlevy, ever watchable as leader of the vermin—a group of casualties who include Anthony Quinn at his slickest. Akim Tamiroff and Lynne Overman, as the heroes buddies, chew the scenery with gusto.
On the technical side, the Oscar-nominated Special Effects are neat, the costumes and set decoration plush. Some of the process photography is laughably hokey. Lengthy at 135 minutes but fun all round, it grossed over $3,000,000, covering DeMilles’s layout of $1,451,000.
With Stanley Ridges, Henry Kolker, J.M. Kerrigan, Robert Barrat, Evelyn Keyes, Regis Toomey, Fuzzy Knight, Harry Woods, Lon Chaney Jr., Joseph Sawyer, Byron Foulger.
Preston, for one, didn’t think much of Demille as a director or otherwise: “he was not a nice person, politically or in any other way. I think the only man DeMille ever envied was Hitler.”