Deadline at Dawn ( Dead line at Dawn )
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Spain released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: English ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), Spanish ( Dolby Digital Stereo ), Spanish ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: Black & White, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Deadline at Dawn represented not only the sole film directorial effort of Broadway's Harold Clurman, but also the only cinematic collaboration between Clurman and his former Group Theatre associate, screenwriter Clifford Odets. While on shore leave in New York, sailor Alex (Bill Williams) is slipped a doped-up drink by B-girl Edna (Lola Lane). When he awakens, Alex discovers that she has been murdered. Though he believes that he's the killer, our hero is talked into locating the actual miscreant by philosophical cab driver gus (Paul Lukas) and nightclub dancer June (Susan Hayward). Adapted from a novel by Cornell Woolrich, Deadline at Dawn leans towards pretentiousness at times, but is redeemed by the no-nonsense performance by Susan Hayward. ...Deadline at Dawn ( Dead line at Dawn )
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Bill Williams, as sailor on shore leave, endeavours to return some money he took from his previous night's pick-up, only to discover that she's been murdered. Aided by a spirited dance hall girl,played by Susan Hayward, he decides to try and trackdown the culprit before he himself is accused of the crime.
So far, so good. But the problem begins here, because the plot, such as it is, just doesn't stand up at all - it's riddled with confusion and is just full of too many co-incidences and chance happenings. It becomes tortuously complicated and the revelation of the murderer, when it comes, struck me as so unlikely and implausible as to be verging on the ridiculous!
On the plus side, the film is nicely photographed in the noir style and Susan Hayward is as good as ever, in her hard boiled style. Bill Williams is however rather wooden in the lead and delivers his lines as if reading them from an auto-cue- maybe he was!
I bought this film just because of Susan, a big favourite of mine, and if you like her you will want this - she looks great - it's just a shame that the plot lets it down so badly. From a writer like Clifford Odets, you really would have expected more. The DVD transfer itself is good quality, both sound and picture.
Although a serviceable PAL version is available from Odeon Entertainment, it's well worth seeking out Warners' Film Noir Classics Collection 5 [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] which that does the photography full justice with a quite superb transfer that makes the film look like it was made only yesterday, and includes seven other features including Cornered, Desperate, Phenix City Story and Armored Car Robbery.
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The story is hilarious in that more and more impossible things happen that just make no sense at all. It doesn't happen once...or twice...or three times...the whole story is ridiculous. From the moment Williams brings back Hayward to return some money to Lola Lane (Edna) and they find her dead, the film just gets more and more far-fetched. Williams deduces that a man did it and how he would be feeling after it and where he would go and what he would do. At this point, it is already insulting to the audience but it doesn't stop. I can't go on. Hardened escort girl Hayward even falls in love with this backward boy - NO WAY! There is a plot to follow if you want to but the film tries to be clever at the same time as being incredibly stupid.
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Clifford Odets wrote this screenplay from a novel by Cornell Woolrich (as William Irish). It's populated with Woolrich's signature working class characters and oddballs, like the admirer from the dance hall who stalks June, a man whose pet is on death's door after swallowing a chicken bone, and a blind piano player. But critics have pointed out that Odets' dialogue is too highbrow for these characters. Indeed, it's funny to hear Susan Hayward's odd studio accent trying to talk like a struggling dancehall girl who apparently had a prep school education. At least that's what it sounds like. But June is a great 1940s helper heroine: tough, smart, independent, resourceful. She's older than Alex, and he's so unworldly that June calls him "son" at first. Though she' s often in a foul mood, June steals the show. She and the large supporting cast make "Deadline at Dawn" an enjoyable mystery.
Some guys are born fall guys, some guys grow into the role and our sailor boy Alex (played by Bill Williams a good choice with that angelic mom's boy and apple pie face) is one of them. Alex, who saw more than enough of service during the war, is a prime example of that golly-gee American manhood who nevertheless helped put paid to the likes of Hitler, Tojo and Il Duce when they needed stopping. But still naïve, big city golly gee naïve, and in the Naked City that spells only one thing-patsy, fall guy, mark, or whatever you call it out your way. So our lonely guy on furlong gets taken for a ride, or is set up for it. Naturally it involves a woman, Lisa, a woman of the night to be kind, just in case there are some gentle souls in the audience. A woman who as her protective nefarious "connected" brother said, thinks like a man. And thinking like a man for a woman, a New York City woman of the night (and not just New York City either), is the oldest gag in book. Get guys, especially married guys, to tumble, get them to tumble hard, get them asking for more and then, boom, a threat of quick call or note to wifey and then just wait for the pay off. Nice. A nice racket if you don't get too greedy, or get a wrong gee working against you.
So Alex gets himself a little drunk, well, maybe a lot drunk and finds that he has taken by mistake (remember Alex is nothing but a chump) a wad of dough from Lisa's place as he is heading out the door to return to his naval base down in Norfolk, Virginia. And as an honest guy he, by hook or by crook, has got to get the dough back to Lisa (see what I mean about naïve) before the deadline. The deadline here being 6:00 AM that next morning so he can take that dreary old Greyhound bus (with the inevitable too large, too breathe smelly, too loud snoring companion in the next seat). But New York is full of diversions, planned and unplanned, and along the way he finds himself in a dance hall, a dime-a-dance hall, if you get what I mean.
And there, as is the case with any film not just film noir, or most any film, even those centered in the Naked City, that involves boy meets girl he finds her. Her being one tired dime-a-dance girl June (played by a. how can I put it, oh, fetching, very fetching, Susan Hayward) who has been in the big city for long enough to know that dreaming about the bright lights of the great white way ain't all it's cracked up to be back down in Podunk (which by coincidence just happens to be Norfolk). Maybe she had dreams of being a dancer, a chorine, or some big theater actress, maybe working a few songs in some intimate café society bistro. Or, maybe, she was just looking for a sugar daddy and the line filled with fetching girls looking for sugar daddies was long that season in the city but there she was, jaded or half-jaded, wearing out her toes with any guy who had a fistful of tickets. And our boy Alex did.
So boy meets girl, ho hum, we have seen that theme worked about five million ways in about six million books and about seven million films.
But wait a minute Alex has to get the dough back to Lisa, June is about to get off work off, and well, maybe there is a little, little spark between the two. Alex somehow persuades June to go with him to take back the dough. See, rube that he is his scared. So they hail a cab (good luck in real New York at that hour, right) and are off to do the right thing. Oh, I mentioned murder before and there is one that has been committed, murder most foul, since Alex last left Lisa's place. And guess who is set to take the fall for that dastardly deed, to step off for it up in Sing Sing. Yah, that `s right.
Now here is where the ordinary citizen (ordinary citizens who had trudged through the war remember) taking care of business part comes in courtesy of the screenplay-writing Clifford Odets (of Waiting For Lefty fame and red scare fink infamy) known for such common touch efforts. In film noir, and in life, solving big time crimes like murder can't be left to the cops, no way.
Now they, the cops, are good for writing up traffic tickets and telling drivers to move on, maybe collaring you for some tickets to some police charity, cadging some coffee and crullers, and, maybe coming in at the end to brace the bad guys but to solve a murder when your neck is on the line, no, no. Even Podunk Alex knows that and so the pair decided not to tell the police about Lisa's untimely demise and furthermore they decide that if Alex is to keep on the square that they had better solve this crime themselves. And do it by that deadline mentioned before.
And they do. They do solve it as any self-respecting film noir fan knows because, in the end, the motif of noir is that crime does not pay. For those who actually commit a crime. Now how they solve this thing, which has more false leads and red herrings (oops, I better not use that color where Brother Odets is concerned), herrings, than you can shake a stick at I will leave to your viewing. But along the way you will get plenty of cabbie street philosophy of life, plenty of common stuff about how the lower half lives and about the glass being half full not half empty. Yes, there are eight million stories, more or less, in the Naked City and this is one of the quirkiest ones