Friday, June 28, 2013

Deadline at Dawn

Tonight is the last night of Eddie Muller's look at noir writers. Tonight starts off with two from Cornell Woolrich, including Deadline at Dawn at 9:30 PM.

Bill Williams plays Alex, a sailor on leave in New York who has gotten himself good and drunk, enough so that he's having problems remembering exactly what he did. This is a problem when he finally sobers up at a newsstand with about $1400 in his pocket, which is a pretty substantial sum even today, but would have been huge back in 1946. Alex knows the money isn't his, and we know it isn't his either because we've already seen an expository scene in which some guy is in a woman's apartment trying to get "his" money, which of course he doesn't have because it's in the soldier's pocket. Alex heads to a dance hall, which is where he meets June, a taxi dancer played by Susan Hayward at the beginning of her career. Alex bares his soul, or at least his worries about the $1400, to June, and bizarrely enough, she has enough sympathy for him that she decides to help take him back to the apartment where he got the money. However, when they do so, they find.... The woman in the apartment has been murdered!

Alex is unsurprisingly getting panicky. Since he doesn't have much memory of what he did when he was drunk, he fears that he must have killed the woman, and that the police are going to find him and convict him. And he's got to catch the bus to Norfolk and his ship tomorror morning. June still has sympathy for him, because she "knows" that he's innocent, something which would never happen in real life but which is a staple of the movies. (Consider the Mary Astor character in Act of Violence.) To be fair, though, Alex seems too stupid to lie about his role in any murder if he had one. So June decides to spend the rest of the night helping Alex navigate the streets of a strange city, trying to find a killer within the span of a few hours.

Our young lovers -- you know they're going to begin falling in love as the movie progresses -- are helped out by Gus Hoffman (Paul Lukas), a refugee cab driver who seems to have quite a bit of book learning, as well as seeming strangely out of place. (That is, Lukas seems a bit out of place, but Gus really seems out of place.) Along the way, Alex and June come up against a lot of red herrings, and a bunch of well-known character actors from the 1940s. Roman Bohnen is one of the red herrings; Lola Lane plays the murder victim; Joseph Calleia is her ex-husband; there are a couple of other names you might recognize.

Deadline at Dawn is a movie that's more entertaining than it has a right to be. The thing is, the plot doesn't just strain credulity; it should have smashed credulity into a million little pieces and dumped them off of a bridge. June helping Alex? Being able to solve a murder in one night? Never mind being able to solve a murder like this much faster than the cops could (the murder in Naked City takes over 24 hours to solve); there's the physical problem of being able to get back and forth in all these places in the taxis. There's no realistic way of getting everything done in one night. The ending seems forced by the Production Code, too. And yet, despite all of this, it's still an entertaining movie.

Deadline at Dawn is available on one of those moderately-priced noir box sets, which you might already have if you purchased it when I blogged about The Phenix City Story or Dial 1119.

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