Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

DEADLINE AT DAWN


DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946). Director: Harold Clurman.

"Golly, the misery that walks around in this pretty, quiet night."

Alex (Bill Williams), a sailor who has to catch a bus at six am to report back to duty, is on leave in Manhattan when he discovers that a woman (Lola Lane) with whom he dallied earlier in the evening has been murdered. A hard-boiled, disillusioned taxi dancer named June (Susan Hayward) feels sorry for him and helps him find out who the real killer is before he has to catch his bus -- or is arrested. They are aided by Gus Hoffman (Paul Lukas), a sympathetic cab driver. Along they way they encounter cops, blackmail victims, shady ladies (one played by Osa Massen), the dead woman's nasty brother (Joseph Calleia), her blind ex-husband, and a sad man (Steven Geray) with white gloved hands who is smitten with Hayward. This isn't much of a mystery -- the identity of the killer is pretty obvious -- but it has an undercurrent of loneliness and lost souls that gives the film a poignant and disturbing edge. Considering that New York is essentially a major character in the film, it's criminal that the movie was clearly shot on Hollywood sound stages and not on location. Clifford Odet's screenplay, awash in great dialogue and interesting characters, was based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich (William Irish). Jerome Cowan demonstrates his versatility as a nervous if exuberant blackmail victim. Hayward offers an interesting portrait of a tough, unpleasant woman who slowly allows her humanity to shine through. Joe Sawyer, who's only seen in the distance, makes an impression as a drunk friend of the dead woman's. The entire cast is excellent.

Verdict: More here than meets the eye. ***.

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