641 Knight Way
Free and open to the public
The events surrounding the building and completion of the Transcontinental Railroad are woven in the history and lore of the American West. Over the course of six weeks, the Stanford Historical Society will present a series of films, each introduced by historians, film scholars, and researchers, that will attempt to put these historical events in perspective. A discussion will follow each screening.
About the film:
Union Pacific (1939) 135 minutes.
Union Pacific was directed by Cecil B. DeMille, known for films with a “cast of thousands” and an eye for cinematic showmanship. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea and Robert Preston (see if you can identify a young Anthony Quinn). The focus of this sprawling 1939 epic ranges from the political and business decisions behind the Transcontinental Railroad, to the construction challenges, the human frailties of the men and women surrounding construction to the driving of the last spike. This is a classic Hollywood version, warts and all, of the American West.
Disclaimer: There is no way to get around it. Some portrayals of immigrants, native people, women and people of color in this film represent stereotyping and are downright offensive. They may make some viewers uncomfortable; we apologize, that is not our intention. These characterizations, viewed through the historical prism of the time the films were made can provide a window into how prejudices are created and often reinforced through popular culture. As part of our film series, we hope that these images will spark conversation and positive dialog, while providing a variety of perspectives about how, over a century of filmmaking, history has sometimes been misrepresented.
Delphine Red Shirt, Lecturer, Native American Studies and Special Languages, Stanford University