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DEADLINE AT DAWN (director: Harold Clurman; screenwriters: Clifford Odets/from a story by Cornell Woolrich; cinematographer: Nick Musuraca; editor: Roland Gross; music: Hanns Eisler; cast: Susan Hayward (June Goth), Paul Lukas (Gus), Bill Williams (Alex Winkley), Joseph Calleia (Val Bartelli), Osa Massen (Helen Robinson), Lola Lane (Edna Bartelli), Jerome Cowan (Lester Brady), Marvin Miller (Sleepy Parsons), Joe Sawyer (Babe Dooley), Al Bridge (Detective Smiley), Joseph Crehan (Lt. Kane), Roman Bohnen (Janitor), Steven Geray (Gloved Man); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Adrian Scott; RKO Radio Pictures; 1946)
“Though enjoyable by virtue of its distorted mise-en-scene, affection for NYC characters and its misplaced dialogue, this is not art but run-of-the-mill film noir.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Broadway’s Harold Clurman takes his only stab at film directing, after the breakup of his Group Theater, in this odd psychological thriller noted for its flowery dialogue and muddled story line. It has humanitarian taxi driver Gus (Paul Lukas) saying such piffle as “Don’t move! The human body bleeds very easily.” Naive sailor Alex Winkley (Bill Williams) saying “Time takes so long, and goes so fast.” World-weary dance-hall gal June Goth (Susan Hayward), not to be outdone by the boys, says “Golly, the misery that walks around in this pretty, quiet night!” It’s penned by playwright Clifford Odets from a story by Cornell Woolrich. Though enjoyable by virtue of its distorted mise-en-scène, affection for NYC characters and its misplaced chatter, this is not art but run-of-the-mill film noir. Set in Manhattan, yet “Deadline” used no location shots but was filmed entirely in the studio’s back lots.

Cinematographer Nick Musuraca does a fine job creating an atmospheric scene of NYC’s downtrodden and unhappy souls roaming the dark streets.

Dutchess County native Alex Winkley is on a 24-hour leave to visit his mortician dad, but finds dad’s away so he goes into the Big Apple to get his 6 a.m. bus back to the base in Norfolk. While killing time in an Italian restaurant Alex meets trampy B-girl Edna Bartelli (Lola Lane) and gets invited to her place to fix her radio and then gets plastered to the point he has a blackout. Previously, in the bar, he lost his money to Edna’s gangster brother Val Bartelli (Joseph Calleia) in a crooked card game. At a dance-hall, armed with a night’s worth of tickets, Alex meets June Goth and goes back to her place for a meal. After realizing he has taken $1,400 from Edna’s purse, partly because he was cheated at cards and Edna didn’t pay him for fixing the radio, he enlists June’s help in returning the money he didn’t mean to take. The duo are surprised to find Edna strangled to death in her apartment. June feels sorry for the sailor, identifying him with her brother also in the service, and the two play sleuths tracking down the real killer so the sailor won’t be charged with murder. As they both comb Manhattan for clues they run into a philosophizing taxi driver named Gus, who takes a paternal interest in the pair and sticks around to help them question a long list of possible suspects. The suspects include: Edna’s blind piano ex-husband, Sleepy Parsons, who saw her early in the evening to get the $1,400 she promised him and ended up arguing with her when she said the money was missing; a lame blonde woman, Helen Robinson, who cheated on her hubby and was disturbed that Edna was blackmailing her; Lester Brady, a sleazy Broadway producer involved with Val in the shady financing of his latest play, and a drunken ex-ballplayer, Babe Dooley, who calls upon Edna by shouting up from the street. The amateur sleuths have a self-imposed deadline at dawn to get the innocent sailor cleared of the charges so he can take the bus back to the base in time.

My favorite priceless cinema moment was Steven Geray dancing in the dance-hall with his gloves on. The most annoying moments were the way Odets’ script continually patronized the ordinary New Yorkers and fed them such cutesy philosophical babble to spout. Fortunately, I found more to like than dislike and was pleased with the way the mystery story developed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”