The camera swoops majestically through an enormous train station picking out individuals in the crush of humanity: soldiers, sailors, hookers, pickpockets, cops, Pullman porters, immigrants in peasant garb. This exhilarating opening is a tour de force of vignettes with characters delivering rapid fire dialogue perfectly timed to the swirling, unfettered movement of the G-d like camera.
A Snobby Society Dame steps up to a newsstand:
“Do you have Town & Country?”
Newsstand Owner replies in thick Yiddish accent:
“I had one, but they took it away from us 3,000 years ago.”
This heartbreaking and brilliant line of dialogue is a classic expression of the Jewish love for the land of Israel.
Of course, the film has nothing to do with Judaism or Zionism. “Union Depot” (1932) is a wonderful Depression era tale of a grifter, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., a suitcase of ill-gotten cash, and an out of work chorus girl, Joan Blondell, who’s willing to sell herself for the price of a ticket to Las Vegas. Those two lines of dialogue happen so quickly and are so incidental that for most viewers it barely registers. But the lines are so dazzling in their simplicity, so accurate in their summation of Zionism that Seraphic Secret is determined to discover the author of these lines.
And to get an answer we have to play Hollywood detective.
The credits for “Union Depot,” a Warner Bros. production directed by Alfred E. Green is the usual stew of Hollywood writers.
Story by Joe Laurie Jr. & Gene Fowler & Douglas Durkin. Dialogue by Kubec Glasmon & John Bright. Screenplay by Kenyon Nicholson & Walter DeLeon.
The credit that jumps out is Kubec Glasmon & John Bright.
Kubec Glasmon was born in 1889 in Rocioz, Poland, that ghetto land known as The Pale of Settlement, were Jews were confined to lives of oppression, persecution, pogroms, and poverty. Most all Jews in The Pale were traditionally observant and all male children had a yeshiva education. Raised in this environment Glasmon most certainly learned Torah where the eternal love of the land of Israel informs every verse.
Glasmon’s family emigrated to America where Kubec studied dentistry. He opened a pharmacy in Los Angeles and hired John Bright, 15-years younger than Glasmon, to work the soda fountain. Glasmon and Bright started writing crime stories together and achieved their first success when Warner Brothers optioned their story “Blood and Beer” as the basis for “The Public Enemy,” (1931) the gangster film directed by William Wellman that catapulted James Cagney and Jean Harlow to stardom.
Glasmon & Bright went on to write and contribute to some of the best Pre-Code films of the early 30’s: “Smart Money,” 1931, starring Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, directed by Alfred E. Green, “Blonde Crazy,” 1931, starring James Cagney and Joan Blondell, directed by Roy Del Ruth. “Taxi”, 1932, starring James Cagney and Loretta Young, directed by Roy Del Ruth. “The Crowd Roars”, 1932, starring James Cagney, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak, directed by Howard Hawks. The brilliant, soul-searing “Three on a Match,” 1932, starring Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, and Bette Davis, directed by Mervyn Leroy, and “Rockabye” 1932, an under-appreciated gem starring Constance Cummings and Joel McCrea, directed by George Cukor.
Each of these films seethes with tough guys and wise cracking dames. The stories race along at an astonishing clip with brilliant pieces of dialogue whizzing like bullets. The rhythms of urban American speech are poetry of the pavement.
Glasmon & Bright were, along with Hecht & MacArthur, among the best known screenwriters in early talking Hollywood. And along with ten other screenwriters Glasmon & Bright were co-founders of The Writer’s Guild of America.
On March 13, 1938, Kubec Glasmon was struck down by a fatal heart attack. He was 40 years old.
John Bright continued as a solo screenwriter into 1954. Sadly, his credits after Glasmon’s passing are not particularly distinguished. He died in 1989, age 81.
In the absence of testimony and the original drafts of the “Union Depot” screenplays it’s almost impossible to credit two lines of dialogue to a particular writer. But in this case, Seraphic Secret feels certain that Kubec Glasmon is the author of these lovely, bitter, funny and subversive lines that express the Jewish yearning for Zion in “Union Depot,” a Hollywood classic.
Karen and I wish all our friends and relatives a lovely and inspirational Shabbat.