Thursday, October 17, 2013

Two O'Clock Courage (1945)

What do you get when you combine a lighthearted screwball comedy with a twisty murder-mystery and throw in a dash of amnesia noir? Usually you would end up with quite a mess, but 1945's 'Two O'Clock Courage' does an admirable job of bringing these elements together in an enjoyable little noir-ish thriller.

What's remarkable about this movie, besides the weird combination of styles and genres, is that it's directed by Anthony Mann, who would go on to direct quite a number of much purer, more hard-boiled and overall better noirs without a trace of comedy, like 'T-Men' and 'Raw Deal'. It's hard to imagine him directing this lighthearted movie, but he did. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Gelett Burgess, which had already been turned into a movie in 1936, called 'Two In The Dark'. The director of that movie, Benjamin Stoloff, was the producer of this movie. Robert E. Kent wrote the screenplay with additional dialogue written by Gordon Kahn. The cinematography was handled by Jack MacKenzie. The score was done by Roy Webb whose work for movies includes 'Notorious' and the classic noir 'Out Of The Past'.
'Next time you want a cab, just whistle or flap your arms or something. Don't try to stop it with yer head.'
Tom Conway plays Ted 'Step' Allison, although at the start of the movie neither he nor the viewer knows his identity. In case you forgot, I did mention this movie had an element of amnesia noir... Allison has amnesia, in fact he can't even remember what he looks like. Thankfully a cabbie, Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford) decides to help him find out who he is. They find their first clue inside his hat, the initials R.D. are stitched inside it. It doesn't mean a thing to Allison however, so they head to the nearest police station. But when they get their hands on the latest edition of the newspaper outside the station, they find out that earlier that evening a man named Robert Dilling was murdered in the same area where Patty picked up a dazed and confused Allison. Patty doesn't believe Allison is the murderer however because he's 'not the type', so they decide to continue with their search for Allison's real identity, as well as his possible connection to Robert Dilling and his murder. But of course they're not the only ones trying to find out about Robert Dilling's murder, so does inspector Brenner (Emory Parnell) who in turn is closely followed by newspaper reporter Al Haley (Richard Lane). And they're taking a keen interest in Allison, who still doesn't know who he is.

Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford play off against each other quite well, he as the confused, slightly posh man without an identity, and she as the bubbly, wise-cracking cab driver who has given her cab the name Harry. Rutherford's Patty provides a number of lighter, more comedic moments, both with her wise-cracks, but also with her look and demeanor. She wears her cabbie's hat at an extreme angle on her head an has a pencil stuck behind her ear. Rutherford and Conway really make this movie work with their acting and chemistry. Her bubbly energy is infectious and because it is not over-the-top it excites rather than annoys and his quizzical demeanor works as well, it is a lot of fun to watch them try to unravel his identity and connection to the murder.

Richard Lane has a screwball like running gag throughout the movie, phoning in a new lead or suspect on the Robert Dilling murder case to his newspaper editor, who grows more and more frustrated with each consecutive call. It's not as bad as it sounds, but it does get a bit grating and ridiculous, especially near the end of the movie when the twists and turns pile up and so does his phone bill. His exchanges with Emory Parnell are more comedic than serious as well, and only work in some places unfortunately. The movie also features a young Jane Greer (still working under her real name here, Bettejane Greer), better known for her parts in 'Out Of The Past' and 'The Big Steal', who shows off her natural sultriness in her first credited appearance, but when she is supposed to act drunk later on, she comes off as slightly awkward. Either way, it's nice to see her in this one. Tom Conway in the mean time was reunited here with Jean Brooks, whom he played with in 'The Seventh Victim'. Brooks has a small role here as a stage actress, and she would do only a few more movies after this one, retiring from the movie business after RKO dropped their contract with her.

Overall, the movie is pretty light on the noir visuals. But there are a few scenes that should please noir aficionados. The opening scene with Allison stumbling into a streetsign and almost getting run over by Patty, is pretty neatly done with a simple but nice tracking shot as the camera approaches Allison. There is also a pretty atmospheric noir scene where Allison breaks into the office of a writer and finds the manuscript for 'Two O'Clock Courage', a play which plays a central part in the mystery. He gets gunned down at close range, yet the bullet only grazes his head, triggering back his memory and a small flashback sequence. The scene is as noir as it gets, devoid of all comedy and pretty well-done. The climax at the end of the movie where several people end up getting killed is also quite noir and ties up some loose ends, as well as finally revealing the real killer.
'Murder... That's a cheerful way to improve my mind!'
So to summarize, take a splash of amnesia noir (a very light one tho), mix in a whodunit mystery and add some screwball comedy, and you got a ridiculous but tasty cocktail that will keep you entertained for a bit over an hour. Worse things have happened.


No comments:

Post a Comment