“Union Station is one of Los Angeles' most iconic and versatile movie locations,” film historian and co-author of “Location Filming in Los Angeles” Harry Medved said. “It affords a variety of looks in one single venue: from the gleaming white Spanish exterior to the grand sweeping hallways to its art deco restaurant and intimate outdoor garden patios. When you walk into Union Station, you can't help but feel as if you have stepped into a film noir scene from the 1940s, as much of it has that timeless Any Town, USA, feel.”
Timing is another, often overlooked aspect of the structure's appeal for filmmakers.
Opened in 1939, Union Station took awhile to lure the then studio-bound industry off of its nearby lots. A few low-budget comedies first ventured there (the Internet Movie Database lists the 1940 “Blondie Plays Cupid” and “Star Dust” as early adapters). “Watch on the Rhine” (1943) was among a handful of war effort productions to take what should have been obvious advantage of the station's perfect backgrounds for traveling troops and displaced civilians.
In the postwar era, however, it became economically and technically feasible to shoot on real locations, and audiences started to expect that extra touch of naturalism.
Low-budget film noir, especially, got extra bang for their limited bucks at the visually striking downtown depot. “Criss Cross” (1949), “Too Late for Tears” ('49), “The Company She Keeps” (1951), “Cry Danger” ('51) and the totally railroad-centric “The Narrow Margin” (1952) all exploited the facility's platforms and waiting room.
And of course, there was the 1950's “Union Station,” starring the “Sunset Blvd.” pair of William Holden and Nancy Olson. The film was actually set at Chicago's Union Station, but there's no mistaking its totally L.A. look.
Those images have been catnip for later generations of neo-noir filmmakers. “The Hustler” (1961), “Marlowe” (1969), “Chandler” (1971), “The Driver” (1978), “True Confessions” (1981), “To Live and Die in L.A.” (1985), “Bugsy” (1991), “The Italian Job” (2003) and “Gangster Squad” (2013) all shot scenes there. Perhaps the strangest, and definitely the funniest, among those was Carl Reiner's hard-boiled satire “Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid” (1982), in which Steve Martin stomps around the place with toilet paper stuck to his shoe.
Union Station came to represent Hollywood nostalgia in other movies, too, such as “The Way We Were” (1973), “Gable and Lombard” (1976), “Under the Rainbow” (1981), “In the Mood” (1987) and “The Majestic” (2001).
“It is one of those rare places in Los Angeles that, when you walk into it, it looks exactly like it did in the 1950s,” Medved noted. “The tellers, the arches, the chandeliers, the hallways; they're all the same.”
Union Station was also part of L.A.'s dystopian future in the seminal “Blade Runner” (1982) — and, more recently, the fictitious Gotham City's in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012). “Dreamscape” (1984), “Species” (1995) and “Drag Me to Hell” (2009) are some other fantasy films that employed the location.
Other productions that have shot there include “Silver Streak” (1976), “Pearl Harbor” (2001), “Friends with Benefits” (2011) and such TV shows as “The Mentalist,” NCIS: Los Angeles” and “24.”
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