Union Station Had a Cinematic History Way Before the Oscars

Serving as the setting for the Academy Awards was not Union Station’s first brush with Hollywood stardom

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first announced that the 93rd Academy Awards would be broadcast live from downtown L.A.’s Union Station, I was immediately taken with the choice of venue. When the Academy could have easily resorted to producing the ceremony in a hotel ballroom, the 1939 train station, one of the most filmed locations in Los Angeles, was an inspired choice. Revered by architecture and locomotive enthusiasts, and a go-to for filmmakers, Union Station seemed to be a loving, warm tribute to the films that have used it as a location.

The show, however, came and went without a mention of Union Station’s cinematic history. A segment on the train station’s cemented place in movie history would have provided context, an ah-ha moment, for the home viewing audience. Wouldn’t the airtime on a montage of that sort have been much better spent than watching Glenn Close dissect E.U.’s “Da Butt?” The producers even had the perfect segue: Harrison Ford talking about the pitfalls of editing Blade Runner, which was shot, in part, at Union Station. A missed opportunity, if ever there was one.

At a time when the Academy is inviting more location managers to join the esteemed voting body as part of the Designers Branch, a nod to the location’s use on film would have been a nice acknowledgment. Location professionals are not awarded as part of the design team, and rarely, if ever, get thanked in Academy Award acceptance speeches, despite being, more often than not, the first people to discover a location.

With hundreds of films having shot at Union Station since it opened, here are ten highlights of the location appearing on the big screen.

“Criss Cross” / Universal Pictures

Criss Cross, 1949, Dir. Robert Siodmak

“If I hadn’t been hanging around the Union Station that day, if the clerk at the newsstand hadn’t picked that moment to run out of cigarettes, to reach down for a fresh pack… ,” says Burt Lancaster’s lovelorn Steve Thompson upon seeing his ex-wife, Anna (Yvonee De Carlo), hanging around Union Station with known L.A. mobster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Criss Cross is just one of a number of film noir pictures to make use of Union Station.

“Union Station” / Paramount Pictures

Union Station, 1950, Dir. Rudolph Maté

The voiceover in the trailer for Union Station, starring William Holden, starts off, “Filmed by Paramount, right on the spot in Union Station.” The train station, supposed to be in Chicago, is the center of a plot to pay off a ransom for a kidnapped woman.

“The Driver” / 20th Century Fox

The Driver, 1978, Dir. Walter Hill

A cool and collected getaway car driver (Ryan O’Neal) has eluded police after multiple robberies, and an eager police detective (Bruce Dern) wants him nailed. After being set up by the police, the driver hides an attaché case full of cash–the result of a botched bank robbery–in a locker at Union Station.

union station films filming location
“Blade Runner” / Warner Bros.

Blade Runner, 1982, Dir. Ridley Scott

While eating noodles at an L.A. street vendor (shot on the Warner Bros. backlot), Deckard (Harrison Ford) is arrested and taken in to see Captain Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh). After landing on the roof of police headquarters, supposedly a skyscraper in downtown L.A., Deckard is escorted into the cacophonous, aqua-lit ticket concourse of Union Station.

“Bugsy” / Tri-Star Pictures

Bugsy, 1991, Dir. Barry Levinson

After traveling from New York on the 20th Century Limited for four days to take over the Southern California rackets, charming but ruthless gangster Ben ‘Bugsy’ Siegel (Warren Beatty) arrives at Union Station and ends up staying in L.A. much longer than his boss, Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley), intended.

“Can’t Hardly Wait” / Columbia Pictures

Can’t Hardly Wait, 1998, Dir. Deborah Kaplan & Harry Elfont

After a high school graduation party, Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the most popular girl in school, tracks down aspiring writer and high school outsider Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry), having been taken by a love letter he wrote to her. About to depart for a writing workshop in Boston, Preston wrestles with the idea of boarding the train or going after Amanda while standing in the ticket concourse of Union Station.

union station filming location catch me if you can
“Catch Me If You Can” / Dreamworks

Catch Me If You Can, 2002, Dir. Steven Spielberg

Posing as a Pan Am pilot, adept counterfeiter Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) scopes out the bank tellers at Miami Mutual Bank in order to cash a forged paycheck. His gaze lands on Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), an unsuspecting teller who is entranced by Abignale’s good looks and charm.

“Drag Me to Hell” / Universal Pictures

Drag Me to Hell, 2009, Dir. Sam Raimi

Just when it seemed that young ex-banker Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has escaped a horrific, demonic curse placed upon her by an old woman, she heads to Union Station to go on a trip with her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long). But when a cursed article of clothing makes an unexpected appearance, Christine falls right back into the old woman’s clutches.

“The Dark Knight Rises” / Warner Bros.

The Dark Knight Rises, 2012, Christopher Nolan

As Bane (Tom Hardy) takes control of Gotham, he begins to tighten the screws on the corrupt executives who believed the hulking terrorist to be an ally. A kangaroo court, led up the psychotic Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), was filmed in a trash-strewn ticket concourse of Union Station.

“Hail, Caesar!” / Universal Pictures

Hail, Caesar!, 2016, Dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

In 1950s Hollywood, Capital Pictures’ savvy studio fixer Eddie Mannix (John Brolin) must locate the studio’s biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) after he is abducted. The period-looking studio lot was largely filmed at Warner Bros., but the filmmakers chose the south patio of Union Station for the exterior of the executive offices.

Follow Jared on Twitter at @JaredCowan1.

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