' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Deadline at Dawn (1946)

Friday, May 19, 2023

Friday's Old Fashioned: Deadline at Dawn (1946)

“Deadline at Dawn” refers to Navy sailor Alex Winkley (Bill Williams) on 24-hour leave in New York City who may or may not have killed Edna Bartelli (Lola Lane), after a night of drinking in her company leaves his memory hazy. Having until the sun comes up to prove his innocence, June Goffe (Susan Hayward) becomes his co-detective, her dance hall hostess job rendering her sympathetic to such obviously unfeigned helplessness. Based on a 1944 novel by Cornell Woolrich, Harold Clurman’s 1946 movie version sort of suggests Vincente Minelli’s “The Clock” (1945), in which a soldier (Robert Walker) on leave in NYC falls in love with a secretary (Judy Garland) and get married before he ships out again, filtered through a noir lens. That’s true up to a point, the nighttime setting heavy on shadowy streetscapes. Yet, even if “Deadline at Dawn” opens with and revolves around a murder, there is little in the way of genuine fear or suspicion. You sense world-weariness in June, especially in her introduction and Hayward’s faraway eyes, but Clurman ultimately opts for romanticism over existentialism, this version of Manhattan more akin to the Brooklyn of “Moonstruck,” a mosaic of lovesick fools, like the drunken baseball player (Joe Sawyer) outside Edna’s window and the sap in white gloves (Steven Geray) pining for June, not to mention Gus (Paul Lukas), the cabbie who chooses to help Alex and June rather than turn them in.

Lukas’s performance both does and does not work. The philosopher portion works, the Hungarian actor improbably throwing Victor Laszlo and Clarence the Angel in blender and mixing this cabbie cum philosopher. The problem, however, is that his wizened, noble, loving performance nullifies the idea that he’s capable of doing what he does, negating the big twist. At the same time, Williams’s overly polite air never convinces you he’s capable of murder in the first place, diffusing all sense of suspense. At the same time, he fails to project any of the supposed romantic spark toward Hayward or vice-versa. “Kid,” Hayward calls him more than once, suggesting she is something more like a surrogate mother. No, Alex exists more like a platonic vessel carrying all the emotional and moral failings of everyone else, and if they can just prove he didn’t do anything wrong, maybe once dawn comes, they, too, will start over as a blank slate.

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