Friday Noir: ‘Deadline at Dawn’ throws a lot together…but little of it sticks
Deadline at Dawn
Directed by Harold Clurman
Written by Clifford Odets
Believability is a funny thing in movies. When two film fans enter a debate surrounding the merits of a picture, with one party claiming the story stretched the limits of credibility, a natural reply might be that the film requires one to raise their level of disbelief in order to be fully engaged. That debate may or may not be settled, but what everyone can agree on is that one’s lack of belief in character behaviour or plot revelations is a very personal thing. Sometimes, the real reason why how a given character behaved did not sit well is too opaque to decipher. It is an unfortunate predicament, that being to attempt an explanation as to why said film did not work beyond…it just did not work. In a first in the Friday Noir column, the credibility of a character’s behaviour will be at the heart of a negative review, in this case for Harold Clurman’s Deadline at Dawn.
The film offers the viewer a little tease in the first scene, presenting two characters which will play a gigantic part later in the story while not appearing very much on screen at all. It is a husband and wife, formerly wed by the looks of how they interact. The man, blind, asks for a significant sum of money which was promised to him. The woman does not have it on her. It looks as though the man is about to react to this revelation when director Clurman cuts to a scene introducing the actual protagonist, Alex (Bill Williams) a Navy sailor on a pit stop in New York, who has just awoken from a drunken nap at a newspaper stand. He only has a few hours before leaving the city to a military training ground, but has some important things to deal with first, such as returning the huge lump of money he is carrying around. On the way to the at this point mysterious destination, he stops off at a dancing hall and makes the acquaintance of one of the working girls, a tired, jaded, sarcastic June (Susan Hayward). Bill is the counterpart to June: far more shy, far too honest, and just a plain nice guy, if a little naive. One thing leads to another, and despite her not feeling inclined to spend the night with a chap, she tags along with Alex as he finally arrives at the apartment where he was to hand over the money…which is the same apartment as seen at the start of the picture. What’s more, the woman is now dead. Alex only has a few hours before clearing his name of the murder.