Noir City Hollywood, the Home Game: UNION STATION and CAIRO STATION

This is the first of two consecutive Railroad Noir nights, so let’s get right into it.

First up, UNION STATION.

An eagle-eyed secretary notices a pair of armed thugs acting suspicious on a train and dutifully reports them to the authorities, only to discover that they are in on the kidnapping of her boss’ blind daughter.

Yes, there’s bondage.

This is a fun, tense and suspenseful little flick. Nancy Olsen plays the plucky secretary and is paired with her SUNSET BOULEVARD costar Willam Holden as the terminally hardboiled Lieutenant “Don’t Call Me Willie” Calhoun.

Lyle Bettger is aces as the ruthless, sadistic and unhinged kidnapper.

Beloved Noir City Blonde Jan Sterling plays his soft-hearted moll who babysits the screamy blind girl and ends up left in the gutter in an ocelot coat.

I hate when that happens.

There’s also death by cattle stampede (!!!!!) Did I mention I wrote a book with some cows in it?

The big final chase, showdown and shoot out in the bowels of the station is particularly memorable, especially the scenes of the kidnapper leading the feckless blind girl through the tunnels.

Fun fact: Union Station in Los Angeles is standing in for Union Station in Chicago, even though the book is set in Grand Central Station in my hometown of NYC. But really, it doesn’t matter because all railway stations are transitory hubs, interchangeable liminal spaces that could be anywhere in the country. Or the world. Like, for example, Cairo.

Which brings me to our next flick, CAIRO STATION.

A disabled and sexually repressed drifter gets hired by a sympathetic news vendor in the eponymous train station and becomes murderously obsessed with a bawdy, curvaceous drink seller named Hannuma.

This was the film that I was the most excited to see this year, and I was lucky enough to catch it in the theater in Seattle. I had no idea what I was in for.

It’s a real knock out, disturbing and darkly prophetic in the way it explores toxic masculinity and the urbanization and changing moral landscape of Egypt in the 1950s. Frankly sexual and shockingly violent, it felt almost like a proto-slasher film along the lines of PEEPING TOM. The main character is played by the director himself and as a result, we are forced into this uneasy complicity with his twisted gaze in every shot.

But at the same time it’s also this gritty slice-of-life drama filled with fascinating little details about the everyday lives of ordinary people in and around the train station. There’s an angle about an attempt to unionize the workers. There’s this feminist sisterhood between the mobile soft drink sellers who sneak around behind the back of the official drink vendor. I loved Hannuma’s trick of splitting the contents of a single soft drink between a dozen bottles and topping them off with water so she could make more money with less product.

There’s even a musical number!

The Noir City deep cuts can be hit or miss (even though for an obsessive like me the fact that I haven’t seen something before makes it worth watching) but this one is a hit and and a half. Mistress Christa says check it out.

Tomorrow we have another triple bill, starting with DESERT FURY (technicolor bisexuals!) and followed up with another Railroad Noir double shot LA BETE HUMAINE and HUMAN DESIRE.

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