Saturday, September 05, 2009


A fast-on-its-feet pre-Code melodrama, with the aura of an underclass version of GRAND HOTEL; here, the place where nothing and everything happens is the big city train depot of the title, introduced by a stylish crane shot down a city street and into the depot. We see a bustling cross-section of humanity, among them immigrants, sailors, bums, prostitutes, divorcees, and business travelers, and we eventually settle on one specific man, a hobo (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). When drunken traveler Frank McHugh leaves some luggage in the men’s room, Fairbanks lucks out, puts on the clean clothes, and discovers a fair chunk of money in the pockets. He treats his buddy (Guy Kibbee) to a nice dinner, then runs into Joan Blondell, who gives off a hooker vibe, so he takes her to a hotel room, plies her with food and drink, then discovers, to his momentary anger, that she’s a not a bad girl, but a chorus girl recovering from a broken ankle who needs cash for a ticket to Salt Lake City to rejoin her troupe. He agrees to help her, but a couple of complications arise. For one, she’s running away from a very creepy doctor who has been paying her to read porn out loud to him. For another, Fairbanks ends up in possession of a violin case full of money which turns out to belong to a counterfeiter (Alan Hale) whom the police are tracking. The police get involved and Fairbanks and Kibbee have to work at getting the mess straightened out. There’s an exciting trainyard chase and a relatively happy ending, even though it means that Fairbanks winds up in Kibbee’s company rather than Blondell’s. The film moves along quickly and has quirky characters and good acting. The intersecting plotlines give the illusion of a “Grand Hotel” narrative, but really they all come down to Fairbanks and Blondell. Fairbanks looks like Ralph Finnes and never quite seems gritty enough to be a hobo, despite the facial smudges the makeup department has given him. Blondell gets to stray a bit from her usual hard-bitten persona here and does a nice job. David Landau, who usually plays a thug, is a cop, albeit a vaguely thuggish one. Blink and you’ll miss Margaret Dumont, Charles Lane, and George Chandler. Scruffy fun. [TCM]

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