Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Summer of Darkness: Deadline at Dawn(1946)

I think the effects of watching so much film noir are becoming apparent. Not that I find my energy or enthusiasm flagging; quite the opposite. I've looked over my letterboxd grades for these films and found that I'm rating them all pretty much the same, and have been uniformly enthusiastic in my reactions. I'm not used to this. I like movies, and I think that, as critical as I generally am, I'm also more forgiving when it comes to final judgments. I try to find things to recommend more often than I try to find things to nitpick, even in the worst films. And yet this was bizarre. Unheard of, really. I was enthusiastically enjoying every movie I was watching. Something was wrong. I was becoming blind to the faults that must be there. And so, with some encouragement from my pal Rik, I decided to take a brief break from the shadowy world of film noir. Not really a break, more of a breather. I'd watch a film or two, non-noir, of questionable quality just to reset my critical receptors.

But before that break, I watched Deadline at Dawn, a surprisingly light hearted noir from 1946, about a newly enlisted sailor who takes the fall for a woman's murder, and tries to prove his innocence in time to catch the bus that will be taking him to basic training. We as the audience know immediately he is innocent, because we see the woman alive after he has already left her, and we have a more likely suspect in her ex-husband, to whom she owed a large sum of money. But the sailor was blackout drunk, and sobers up on the street with the dead woman's money in his pocket, so he can't be entirely sure he didn't kill her. Taking pity on the boy is a taxi dancer played by the radiant Susan Hayward, and a helpful immigrant cab driver played by Paul Lukas. Together they follow meager clues and try to find someone, anyone, who could have killed the woman.

Part of my problem with watching so many films in a row of this nature is that, although I enjoyed Deadline At Dawn quite a bit, I find myself with not much more to say about it outside of plot description. The mystery itself never feels very important, even when the murdered woman's brother, a gangster played by Joseph Calleia, comes into the plot with a touch of menace. The heroes fat never really seems in jeopardy, because even though this is a noir it never feels like that type of movie. This is a movie where very early on you realize there will be a happy ending. Maybe not as happy as you might think, because there is a touch of sadness in it, but this is a movie where the bad guys are punished and the good guys live happily ever after with the love of their lives, whom they just met a few hours ago.

The saving grace of this film is the chemistry between the two leads. Bill Williams is perfect for this part, playing a young kid who's lack of guile does not equate to a lack of intelligence. He comes off squeaky clean and genuine without seeming like an obnoxious caricature of early WWII American exceptionalism. Susan Hayward is believably aloof, and slowly warms to the kid through the course of the movie. She's smart, capable, and warmly witty. Together it's a winning combination, and helps to elevate what might otherwise have been forgettably mediocre.

No comments: