Pre-Code Essentials: Union Depot (1932)

Union Depot Joan Blondell Douglas Fairbanks Jr.


After getting out of jail, Chick Miller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) heads over to the train station and hits the jackpot when he finds an abandoned suitcase with a nice suit and a bunch of money inside. He puts on the suit, gets some dinner, and starts looking around the station for a companion for the night. The train station is full of prostitutes and he sets his sights on Ruth Collins (Joan Blondell). Ruth is a dancer who was stranded in town when she was injured and had to recover. To get by, Dr. Bernardi, a lecherous, blind doctor, has been paying Ruth to read smutty books aloud to him. She can go back to her old job, but she needs money for a train ticket to Salt Lake City and she’s afraid Dr. Bernardi is following her.

Chick takes pity on Ruth and offers to buy her a train ticket, no strings attached. He buys her a ticket, he buys her dinner, and he insists on buying her some new clothes. Although they have a lovely night together, everything goes awry when they find themselves mixed up with some counterfeit money and Dr. Bernardi makes a return.

My Thoughts

If you like movies that don’t waste time, Union Depot is right up your alley. It takes a couple of minutes before the plot actually gets moving, but the first few minutes do a great job of establishing the atmosphere of this train station. Blondell and Fairbanks are a really likable duo; it’s too bad they weren’t teamed up again in any other movies. Union Depot is an excellent example of the types of movies Warner Brothers was known for making at the time: gritty and fast-paced. All in all, a pretty great way to spend 67 minutes.

The Definitive Pre-Code Moments

The amount of prostitutes you see within the first few minutes of the movie.

Poor Ruth’s job with Dr. Bernardi.

The sheer creepiness that is Dr. Bernardi.

Why It’s an Essential Pre-Code

Union Depot doesn’t get nearly enough credit for being one of the all-time great pre-codes. I have no idea why that is because it’s one of the most thoroughly pre-code movies I’ve ever seen. (And unlike a lot of other movies I can think of that are only worth watching for the pre-code content, Union Depot actually is a pretty decent little movie.) If you aren’t familiar with the pre-code era and are under the impression that classic films were all sweet and wholesome, the first ten minutes alone of Union Depot will make your jaw hit the floor. But what really cinches this as an essential pre-code is the character of Dr. Bernardi. The pre-code era had plenty of lecherous characters, but Dr. Bernardi was one of the creepiest. It’s made so clear that he was a complete pervert who preys on vulnerable women that it’s easy to understand why poor Ruth was so desperate to get away from him.